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Heart Open ConversAsians Podcast: Motherhood during Covid & Meaningful Legacies

It was an honour to be a guest on the Heart Open ConversAsians podcast and speak with Lilian about my journey in developing varied Asian cultural dolls for children. I am glad for the opportunity to share my story, the motivation for the brand, and how my WHY’s have helped me through difficult times.

The podcast provided a secure and inviting environment for me to open up about my brand experiences and goals. I hope our discussion inspires people to explore their passions and take action to make a positive difference in the world. I’d want to thank the podcaster sincerely for the lovely talk and for sharing my experience with their audience.

Podcast Episode Transcript

Samantha Ong  0:00  

My youngest who can’t speak she touches this screen and she doesn’t do that with anything else. But when she sees the dolls, and when I have the dolls in hand, they just go and hug it and my youngest pet adult so I just feel like this is instant connection even with my daughters and the dolls and I really can’t wait to see how this will resonate with other children.

Lilian Wee  0:33  

Hello friends, welcome back to a new season on the hide open conversations podcast, a thoughtfully curated container, where heartful and honest conversations are had and held for and with a community that I hold near and dear the Asian collective. You’ll be audience’s stories and life journeys I explore and exchange with fellow agents I had the honour to connect with who have inspired move and guided me, you’ll also be audience to my occasional nuggets of personal learned experiences, observations and emotions. My hope is that this container will inform and remind you that you’re not alone. And equip you with the tools and insight to add to your personal toolbox. As you journey on this often messy and nuanced path towards a version of your life. That’s most true. And most you I’m your host, Lillian. And thank you so much for joining me here. Ready? Get cosy. And let’s dive in.

Hey there, Dear Ones. Thank you so much for joining me back in here for another episode on the Heart Open ConversAsians podcast, I hope you are doing well. And keeping well. We are into the last bit of April at this point. And to where I’m located here in Houston. We’re definitely experiencing some erratic weather days, where you get both rainfall and sunshine in the same day. It really makes for the hours when the sun’s out even more cherished and desired. I’m also enjoying the longer days that gives this false perception that I somehow have more time on my hands for people for things and for my beloved baby girl, dog Sadie, that who? And what would ultimately matter in the end? How do you feel about this time of the year that in between that transition through seasons, I’ll be curious to hear from you. I know people from both spectrums of really not being a fan of this switch. And then some who actually find this time because it’s so fleeting, a time where before we jump into today’s amazing, impeccable story, I want to give a shout out to the previous episode that we have on the podcast with Nick Garcia. And thanks to your overwhelming support. It is an episode that I seen the highest downloads since the start of this new season three. And I am just completely thrilled and grateful that that has happened. I think that is testament to and being such a great guest and how impactful Her story is. And then I we are definitely going to be reconnecting to bring you more meaningful conversations, be it through the podcast medium, or for our view, possibly through a different platform. And I still hope that you’ll stick around for that. As for today’s conversation, this is a story that had me feeling deeply wrapped in hope, light and warmth at the end of it. The kind that leaves me in admiration and respect the kind that stirs and inspires you to reconsider and break open norms and boundaries. The kind that makes you think, wow, she’s someone I want to emulate when I become a mother. Joining me on the podcast today is Samantha, the founder and owner of Joeydolls a company that creates diverse Asian cultural dollars for children. Samantha began an intrapreneur a journey with a successful photography and videography business before pivoting to Joeydolls in response to the rise in anti Asian hate around the world during the pandemic lock downs as a mother of two young girls. She wanted to help younger children feel proud of their heritage a few valued in society. graduating with a degree in finance, Samantha knew she was a Creative At Heart and held aspirations to pursue careers in those areas, and aspiration not exactly shared by her Asian parents who like many held beliefs that creativity should only stay a hobby, and that one should focus on getting a real job with a steady income to provide a reliable source of sustenance and life for you and those that come after you for the tenacious Samantha that only deterred her for a while, until she couldn’t ignore the nudge and voice within her to pursue a greater and truer calling that involved her uprooting her life and moving to Australia to say the least. With the encouragement and support of her husband and loved ones, she dipped her toes into photography, which led to a series of successes and wins. And it’s with the same tenacity and determination and the courage to listen to the nudge inside her that she embarked on her quest to make Asian cultural dollars for children. Her biggest why her two lovely, adorable daughters, you’ll hear Samantha walk us through the intricacies of how caring for her young daughter during the COVID pandemic times led her to embark on this quest to make dolls that look like her daughter so that she doesn’t feel alone, we also dived into the juiciness of how the sheer strength of her wife was what supported her through that trying moments in this journey, when it seems that there’s more working against her and for her, her aspirations for the brand, before bringing us to appointment yet gentle close, as she shared with us a guiding principle that helped frame her mindset whenever she’s met with challenging situations. This is a truly hopeful and heartfelt one for me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, having the conversation. And that perhaps it will stir and encourage you to give that one wild idea that you’ve held in the depths of your heart a little nudge and take one small action to steer it towards the direction of being able to meet this wolves at one beautiful point. All right, friends, I hope you’re feeling cosy and ready for this. Without further ado, I give you the wonderful Samantha. I Samantha, thank you so much for joining me here in this space. And I am so excited for us to dive into your story and your business and all of it. Thank you so much.

Samantha Ong  8:15  

Thank you for having me. All right.

Lilian Wee  8:17  

So let’s start off by maybe sharing right off the bat with my audience because I cannot wait. I’m personally so intrigued and inspired by your business, the story behind it and what inspired it. So can you go ahead and share? What do you do? And what is your business and maybe share a little bit at the moment? What does a typical day look like for you?

Samantha Ong  8:44  

Yeah, so that’s all a lot of other ones. But I thought a little bit but I’m a wedding photographer actually. And so I sort of moved into this because I feel like I’ve always been a creative soul. But I was a finance graduate actually. But I hustled until I was able to move into wedding photography full time. So I sort of followed my dreams in doing that. And then when COVID hit, I wasn’t able to work for so long. And so I lost so many contracts. I lost so much income all at once. And I didn’t know when I’d be able to go back to work. And so I was like stuck at home. It was a good thing in hindsight where I was like, I was able to spend more time with my daughter who has a baby at the time. But it really forced me to look at the world through her eyes. And because I was looking through eyes, I was also really reflecting upon my own childhood. It’s funny how this happens when you become a parent where you really relive your own childhood to you see yourself through her as well. And so as I’m watching the anti Asian hate on TV, I’m really become so fearful about the world that is developing in front of us. I don’t want her to be ashamed of who she is of how she looks. And so at the time, my husband was working on the front line so it was really me and her at home a lot. So we really felt so alone, we couldn’t really see anyone. My family was all the way back in Australia. And we really kept a distance from everyone because she was so young. I was like, Oh, I really want to find a companion for her so she could feel not so lonely. And then she had someone that she could relate to being so young. And so I started looking for dolls. And then I was reflecting it was just like me growing up with dolls. I grew up with blonde dolls. And I remember feeling this sense of unworthiness about myself that I was meant to be on the sidelines, that it wasn’t meant to be the princess or couldn’t be an actress couldn’t really be who I wanted to be if I wanted to, sort of that thing. And so I started to look into Asian dolls that I hope that she could relate to and feel a sense of self worth as well. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was. It was then when I had the idea of trying to create dolls that was more reflective of the Asian diaspora, but also really celebrate our culture, because it was around like when she was one years old. And we like to put them in our cultural outfits. And I thought, Well, we do this without kids, why don’t we have them with our dolls. So that’s when the idea came about.

Lilian Wee  11:18  

There’s so much information there. But then also, what I’m hearing and picking up is that there’s this beautiful combination of you. Well, first, I love these stories about the COVID Yours are times that I adore, which is where people are being forced to isolate. But then the more positive aspect of it is that they are being forced to slow down and examine and hand take the time to actually nurture the relationships with the people that are closest to them. And honestly the people that you hustle and work hard for? Well, first, I love that you had the opportunity that since when she’s such a tender young age as an infant child, that you’re there for her and you’re able to see the world through her eyes in your words, which I love. And then also for you to even take that a step further and to try to help her find support in terms of companionship. And then to even take it one step further and be like, Oh, wow, you go through this earnest and hardworking process of looking and searching for dogs that actually look more like me and you and your daughter, and it’s not quite available. And that was what sparked you to start thinking about making the dogs which, honestly, I am just floored also by that courage, because I think it’s one thing to be like, Yeah, I want to do it versus I am doing it. I would love for us, and maybe the hive a little deeper there for you to maybe expand a bit here and talk about what gave you your daughter aside. Let’s also maybe talk about the practical aspects of it. Right? Where, like you said, you were more in the financial field and more in the corporate world. What makes you felt like or gave you the motivation? And what or who that is like, yeah, I can do this kind of thing. Yeah,

Samantha Ong  13:13  

that’s interesting question, because I feel like if you look back at my life, actually, a lot of time, you will say that I’ve made these life choices that I could have dressed like me moving to Toronto. So yeah, it was a finance graduate, I fell into the world of insurance. I deeply hated it. But I was working in Australia. And I didn’t know what it was. But I just knew that I need to do something different. And so that was when I just quit my job packed up my bags, and I moved to Toronto, and I didn’t know anyone. And that was just me following what I thought like I needed to do for myself. And I really just started from complete scratch, I didn’t have that much money, I didn’t have a job. And this was in 2009 during the global financial crisis. So a lot of people may say that, Oh my gosh, it’s so foolish to like, quit your job to go find a job, completely different country on the other side of the world where no one was really hiring, especially a foreigner. But I felt like I had to do it. And so I just did. And then I ended up falling back into insurance because that was the only type of job I could get at the time. And then I just went on with it. And then it came to a time which is I can’t do this anymore. I need to do something that I really love. I want to wake up in the morning and love what I do or want to wake up want to get out of bed. So it was that time when my husband was he was like women at the time. But he was like What about photography because I was always the girl that always had my camera everywhere. Like no matter where we went, I was always like, I’m like, Oh, I don’t know if I can make money from that. But it was around the time his friend was getting married. So I shot their wedding and I just fell in love with it. And they also fell in love with the photos I took so it was like it all just spiralled from there. And so I just decided like I was committed to the If this was my passion, and then I just worked like crazy, and then just followed my dreams and did that, I did it. So I was able to quit my job and do that full time. And then when it came to this idea, I also was like, I don’t know if I could do this, or if it was a viable idea, but I just kept thinking, after all these years, there still hasn’t been like much change. And I wasn’t just doing this for me and my daughter, but there’s just must be so many people, like so many other parents and children out there who need and want this. And so I just stayed true to that mission, and just really followed that. So there has been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of doubts. And a lot of am I the right person to be doing this? Or should I keep going. And there’s a lot of that, but I just keep listening to or I keep turning back to the why. And when I get that feedback from everyone else, like knowing that I have the community behind me because they really resonate with the story and why I’m doing this and how much need there is for this, that just really keeps me going.

Lilian Wee  16:10  

And I love that what I’m hearing in what you just said is that it’s you making this conscious decision, that maybe family members, and maybe even some friends around us may see that or view that as rash or even rational. But to you it was conscious to you. It was intentional. And I’m hearing it’s you putting yourself out there is you saying yes to opportunities and possibilities instead of turning things down. And what I find really helpful in what you just shared is that, I guess I’m also in that phase of my life where friends around you who are just either entered or they’re young parents or just new parents, and then I witness and here more so than not where it feels like the lives are just about their kids, and they don’t have their own sense of centre and purpose. So what I find really hopeful about what you just shared is that it is the introduction of your data in your life that actually spurred you to take on this pivot and give this business an idea and opportunity, which is coming together really nicely as we speak. I want to go back to the point where you said in times of doubt, how would you describe? Or what would you have to say if I would ask you How are families and friends and people that you care about how they feel and see you view you? How supportive have they been and are there times you get affected because they are not as supportive as you wish they are when it comes to chasing this passion project.

Samantha Ong  17:51  

That’s interesting. My parents interestingly, over the years, I think they’ve become more supportive. Because when I was younger, I remember finishing high school, I actually finished like top of my class. And even my teachers were like, pushing me to follow a different path where I wanted to be a web designer. I felt like that was really frowned upon not just my own parents, but my teachers as well. So I decided, well, I don’t know what else to do. So I’ll go ahead and do like the State House where everyone thinks like, we should do, go do the corporate thing or go follow fine. Like that should be a stable career. Because I said I want to be a web designer. Of course, I didn’t know how to do it at the time was like so young. I didn’t know how to be a freelance person, but my parents just like, oh, that just doesn’t sound stable. And at the time, I was just like, I guess so. So that’s when I listened to that doubt. And then I followed it and I felt like I ended up in a place where I wasn’t true to myself. And so I think over the years I have let other people thoughts and feedback and opinions affect me but over time I think I’ve realised how I really need to shut out some of those opinions and really stay true to myself because I know myself best in a way so in the last year actually I started working with a therapist like I’m learning more about myself which is really helpful because I’ve really learned that I have become over time like the people pleaser so if someone says something to me that oh why would you like that really? Sometimes it’s like was in my brain and then I want to sort of fulfil their opinions like so that

Lilian Wee  19:37  

yes, yes, absolutely. I’m not in ferociously here as you can see, but like yes, all the I get it. This whole this people pleasing aspect is something that I am personally also working through and it’s a process it’s a marathon, it comes and goes it ebbs and flows. Like some days I feel like I got this I have all my boundaries. I’m like super orphan and then Sunday As I’m like saying yes to 10 things when I can only handle two. And I love that you’re taking this conversation in that direction because I think starting a business not only requires you to be physically strong, but I think more so emotionally and mentally also resilient. This whole aspect of being able to strongest cheerleader when the world probably isn’t there for you for that and then also to work through the difficulties which in our little connect catch up call before then also following your journey I did notice and learn that this journey of creating these dogs isn’t the most straightforward and a better roses all the time. Hi lovelies, I hope that you are soaking in all the goodness of this conversation. So far, I wanted to take a moment because you know how much I adore supporting my fellow Asians making strides are leaving their minds in this beautiful world. And here’s me showing an exciting news on behalf of Joeydolls. So the team at Joeydolls has dedicated a tonne of commitment to hard work and meticulous attention to details to make sure that the essence of Asian cultures and traditions are encapsulated in every detail of those dogs. And I am thrilled to announce and help share that the wait for these beautiful dogs to meet the wall will very soon be over. Because we are fast approaching the launch date for pre ordering. The current launch date for pre ordering is going to be in May. For more details of the different timelines, milestones and what to expect prior and after the pre order in May head over to their Instagram page at Joeydolls. As well as on their website triggered the view to joeydolls.com where you can find a slew of information available on there. If you like me don’t want to miss any step of the way. And any new updates that are rolling out, head over to the website and over there, you’ll be able to sign up as a VIP to be amongst the first ones to be kept updated with the latest and greatest, I cannot wait to experience the joy of receiving your comments or photos holding these precious looking dolls. Alright, thanks for listening now of back to the conversation. I wonder Sam, if you can share a little bit with our audiences? What is say? The most difficult piece? Perhaps the most fulfilling piece with the process with the creation process with the business? Why would you be able to share their?

Samantha Ong  22:44  

Yeah, I’d say the most difficult piece would definitely be just because I have no experience in it. And so there’s been a lot of research, but also I want to do every ethnicity and culturally Correct. I don’t want to do things like misappropriate like a certain culture or anything like that. That’s not my intention. My intention is to really unsay true to their tradition and like celebrate it so that my goal with the adults is that to really represent the Asian diaspora and show that we’re not a monolith, that we’re not just Asians that there’s so much beauty and diversity within us. And so, in doing so then I can’t just like assume certain things. There’s been a lot of like research and like back and forth, but also there’s so many ways to do things. So it’s like, trying to decide what we should or shouldn’t do. But also then I’m trying to think, What will people like or what will resonate with people. And so there’s a lot of those sort of decisions. But at the same time, like, I don’t know, a lot of that, like, I don’t have any fashion experience. I don’t have any sewing threads. I don’t have any other design experience. So I’m really learning so much. But at the same time, I have so limited time because I am full time with my children. My daughter only just started going to school recently and she only go through like three hours a day and I still have 16 month old at home. So heads up all year old and like I still a baby’s Yeah. Yeah, they need so much attention. So I really only have time to work when they go to bed. After I clean the dishes at night, that’s when I get time to work. And like that’s when most people wind down for the evening. But that’s when I have to rev up and like do all my work. And I feel like in this day and age with social media, that’s just like a full time job in itself and just keeping everyone updated and all that content creation is just so crazy. I’m also trying to really respond to everyone personally because I feel that need to want to be in touch with everyone because I feel like everyone is so valued in their support. So this dealing with limited time has been so challenging because sometimes I think I can get all this stuff done. And I think my day is like 72 hours, but then I really have to really realise that there’s really only 24 hours and I just leave. That has been challenging, just trying to decide what I need to focus on as well.

Lilian Wee  25:26  

And now would you be able to speak to the most fulfilling part, I feel like it’s also feel like, obviously, you probably would be really difficult to pinpoint, though, if you could,

Samantha Ong  25:35  

what was definitely the most fulfilling is hearing that feedback from everyone. Every time I put out a post, like that excitement, that happiness that finally someone is doing this change. And I hope that my story as well will be able to inspire others. People like me, moms who want to do something for the world that they can also see and do it. But I hope that the story will also resonate for my own children, but just to share a couple of stories, but often when I’m on my computer, like doing the design, and often I’m like, Oh, I hope my kids stay away from my computer. They’re always trying to touch my computer. But like I can’t get anything done when they’re constantly trying to touch it. But whenever I’m doing looking at the dolls on the computer, they come over my shoulder, and they’re like, Oh, it’s so cute. Oh, my youngest who can’t speak she touches the screen. And she doesn’t do that with anything else. But when she sees the dolls, and when I have the dolls in hand, they just go and hug it and my youngest pet the adult. So I just feel like this is instant connection, even with my daughters and the dolls. And I really can’t wait to see how this will resonate with other children.

Lilian Wee  26:53  

Yeah, that’s all it’s just giving me goosebumps right there. And then it is so good. It’s just all I’m hearing. It’s there’s all this hearts, there’s all this passion. There’s all these intention, and just pureness really around the whole idea. And the fact that you’re almost creating this avenue for Asian looking dogs to become a reality one that actually also in addition to just how they look, but also the way they’re dressed to represent and signify our culture and communicate that to the world. It’s just so it’s phenomenal. Like, it’s so good. And I can only imagine how going forward, you’re going to get so teary eyed probably when you see like, people sharing how these dolls are helping the kids see themselves through the eyes of like these dolls, and they’re able to find connection with or without a timeline. COVID. I mean, speaking of excitement, though, let’s take a moment because I love talking and giving my Asian fellows and guests on the show and opportunity to highlight and talk about their businesses. And I know that we are approaching a very, very important milestone in your business Joeydolls. So Samantha, take a moment and say loud and proud. Tell us a bit more about what’s upcoming for Joeydolls.

Samantha Ong  28:18  

Yeah, so it’s been a long time coming. But I’ll target launch date is May 2023. I don’t have an exact date right now. But in the next couple of weeks, I hope to finalise that. But that’s our target launch day. And then hopefully, during that time, we’ll be able to have everyone be able to preorder. And then in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be putting out a timeline with when people will be able to expect when they’ll get the dolls in hand. So we’ll have our pre order date, and then they’ll go into production, and then there’ll be shipping later this year. So there’s still a little bit of time to wait until we get them into our hands. But I think the first date that we will be excited about is the lunch day.

Lilian Wee  28:59  

So we’re excited. It’s going to be so good. I mean, yeah, the world needs to know about there’s no doubt about it. So anyway, that I can be of support to the business. I’m completely here for it. Take a moment, maybe tell us where the audience can find you, follow you and support you.

Samantha Ong  29:18  

Yeah, so you can find us at www.joeydolls.com That’s the best place to put in your email address and stay updated with our launch and any upcoming news and stuff like that. But you can also follow us on Instagram at Joeydolls. And there’s tik-tok, I’m not on there as much when I’m trying to a little bit but that’s at Joeydolls Cole.

Lilian Wee  29:40  

Yeah, awesome. I’m here for it for the journey to unfold. And you bet I’ll be one of those that would be there at your launch day true. Now as we slowly wrap up this very hopeful and warm compensation, I wanted to extend this question to you and that is A lot of listeners who listen to this podcast are people that look like you and me who maybe have passions inside themselves, but they, because of imposter syndrome and doubt and just lacking the conviction or support that they find it really difficult to take that first step to try something new. What would be a tip or tips that you think for someone that needs that shaft, a little push to take their first steps into starting something? What would you advise or share?

Samantha Ong  30:36

Yeah, I always go back to this quote, it’s by Desa Coqueta. And he writes, those who continuously strive to improve themselves by devoting every spare moment to learning have unlimited potential and face no deadlock. And I think that’s really true, too. I’ve lived my life. I mean, there’s definitely times where I felt so stuck. And I didn’t know which road to take. And I just felt like, if I keep moving forward, if I keep learning, if I keep just pushing myself forward, even just a little bit, I will get into the direction that I want to go. And it might take longer, I might take a couple of words here and there, but it will still keep moving. And I won’t ever be in a deadlock. So that’s how I sort of lived my life. And you can see it through my experience. But that’s how I’ve sort of seen how I started this business as well, where I really didn’t know where to get started, there was a point where I took a really, really long pause, because I just didn’t know which direction to go, where to attend to. But even just every little miniscule step was walking in the right direction.

Lilian Wee  31:46

I really appreciate that I love I really respect the notion of that everything that you try to do doesn’t mean or relate to failure. And even if it’s not, that it’s not the right step, or it ends up taking you in a direction that it’s not the way you desire. It’s actually a learning point, a point for you to develop and realise and then have knowledge and information around what does not work and then focus on what does work. I love that. This entire conversation has been so helpful is one where I know that I will personally come back to a lot and especially whenever becoming a mom, it’s it becomes a reality in my life. And I feel like no, I don’t know what it’s good to happen to my whole life. This is a conversation I’m gonna come back to because you make the the idea of starting a beautiful family versus not losing yourself in the process. But actually even finding more purpose in that process, something that is a reality and something that sounds so assessable. So thank you, Sam, to round things up. Let me ask one more question. And that is, what are you looking forward to, since we’re kind of still fresh in the New Year fresh ish, personally, and say also for the business?

Samantha 33:05

Yeah, good question. I guess in the last couple of years, we haven’t really travelled or anything. So I really am looking forward to launching and then getting the dolls in her to production and then hopefully finally getting some vacation time with the kids. I really hope to take them somewhere warm. I was thinking I really wanted to go back to Malaysia and Singapore. I just like to really like the culture and really teach it to them and enjoy the food. But even just somewhere like really relaxing. I think I definitely need and I think our family needs it. And just because of all the pressure we’ve been in the last couple of years. So it just love to go somewhere. Relaxing Hawaii, Caribbean, whatever.

Lilian Wee 33:53

Sound Divine. You, we all need every every once in a while and I wish and I know already. I don’t know that you need it. But I’m still gonna wish you all the very best and launch and the business and I cannot wait to see how it unfolds for you.

Samantha Ong 34:04

Thanks so much.

Lilian Wee 34:11

Hi there, dear ones. This podcast started from a place of need for myself to find community, connection. Friends, really in my new life in this new city, I was needing to find home in since the fall of 2018. I was in search of something. Maybe it was a sense of purpose, or a sense of belonging. But more surely I was in need of an outlet outside of my daily grind, a place that I could indulge in creativity and flow without judgement or the expectations of results or productivity. I struggled, of course with acceptance of being messy and imperfect. I battled with self-doubt and impostor syndrome. But it was also through this process where I found my peace, my centre at home for my inner being to show up to speak to rest. I count my blessings often for the ones I’ve had the honour to cross paths with through this medium. And for you, fellow friends and family off the podcast for making space for affirming me how needed and precious this container is and for allowing this passion project of mine to become a reality. Well, friends, thank you for meeting me here in this container today. I’ll meet you back here in the next episode. Till then. Deep breaths always, dear ones.


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