In the predominantly-white industry of natural wellness, Organika is a standout. The B.C.-based and family-run natural supplement company was founded by Chinese entrepreneur, Thomas Chin, who immigrated to Canada from Malaysia. He saw an opportunity to make supplements accessible for a wider, different audience than who the industry catered to in the ‘90s and built the company despite the racism he endured.
Fast forward 30 years later, and Thomas’s son, Aaron Chin, now CEO of Organika, still hasn’t seen much change in diversity in the industry. However, rather than see his cultural background as a challenge, Aaron views it as an advantage that has helped grow the company to one with products carried in 5,000 outlets in over 26 countries. Since joining the company, both Aaron and his brother, Jordan (Organika’s president and COO), have made changes to appeal to younger consumers, including moving from supplements and vitamins to powders, launching Canada’s first collagen and bone broth powders.
Below, Chin speaks to The RepresentASIAN Project about the pivotal point in his life of recognizing his Chinese roots, his plans on changing the industry with his brother, Jordan, and continuing his father’s legacy.
On learning to be proud of his Chinese roots
Growing up, there was always difficulty with my last name being Chin. I used to play ice hockey, [which is] a predominantly white sport. I would get called different names because of my last name and in school, [I was] always made fun of because of my stinky lunch. I grew up in Richmond, B.C. [during a time] when a lot of Asians were immigrating here and the news [would cover] people spitting everywhere or [urinating] in a garbage can in a public mall. I also grew up when [there was] SARS and people [were] piling that onto Asians in general. There were a lot of jokes that pushed me away from my Asian side growing up.
It was only later in life when my wife asked me [about my culture that led me to] connecting with my grandpa and learning about his roots. [That] was the turning point for me to start being proud of being Asian instead of hiding it.
On taking over the family business
[Growing up], I saw the things [my dad] went through when he was building the business [in an industry] that is very predominantly white. My dad would drive his van as an Asian immigrant to places like Kamloops, B.C., the prairies, or Cobourg, Ontario, where there [weren’t] any Asians. [I became motivated by] what he managed to build, despite the racism that he felt. He would tell me stories of when he would go to a store with a catalogue and people would literally rip up the catalogue in his face and say, “Get the f out, you dirty Chinese bad word”.
My dad never forced us once to join the business or go to business school — it was out of my own desire to join the business. When [my brother Jordan, Organika’s president and COO, and I] joined [the company], we were [not only] able to present things that would work and [explain] why it would work, but [our dad] also allowed us the freedom to actually do it and make mistakes. [I] made a ton of mistakes at first and I’m still making mistakes today, but he let us make those mistakes and let us learn from them, rather than always coddling us in a typical family business where the Asian dad doesn’t let go of any control until the day he dies. [As] soon as we joined he said, “The ceiling that I have set is your floor, taking everything I could have possibly dreamed of and worked for is where you’re starting”. [It] was a good motivating factor to know the sky’s the limit to take this to the next level.
[Working] with my brother, Jordan, has been an incredible ride so far because we work really well together. He’s more methodical and strategic, where I’m more, “We gotta do this now, let’s go get it.” [We’ve attained] market leadership in six different categories in Canada, whereas when we first joined six years ago, we didn’t have any leadership in any market. We see our dad’s legacy live on. He started Organika to help people live healthier and we keep that mission today on having good quality products and prices in places where people may not necessarily be looking for health products [so they can] experience it and gain the benefits. For us, it has been a really fun, challenging and incredible journey.
On using his age and background as his advantage
[I don’t look at] being a young Asian in a [predominately]-white industry leading a company as a disadvantage at all. [I] look at it as an advantage because it’s how our company has been built. We’re one, if not the most, diverse company in terms of cultural backgrounds and religious backgrounds in the industry. Diversity is our strength and we’re really proponents of giving people chances in a new country because my dad was given a new chance [in Canada], so we have a strong connection to making sure we’re creating diversity and inclusivity, not just with our people but also with our products.
I feel like when you don’t look like the typical person that runs a health company, [I need to make sure] I go in. [and do] my homework the best I can, prepare the best I can and also execute the best I can to prove to these retailers that we are going to be the best partner that [they’ve] worked with [and] that Organika is more than just your supplement brand. We’re a full service partner that will help you identify trends before it happens. We’re going to help you grow your business because your success is our success. We want to keep pushing the boundaries on what’s possible because that’s how you stay relevant in today’s world with so many distractions, so many brands, so many companies, and so many options.
On the meaning of diversity in the workplace
Diverse representation means to me exactly what the word entails. It’s not everyone who looks the same or thinks the same or is from the same place. It’s really a diverse set of people from different ethnicities, different cultural backgrounds, different income levels, different sexual preferences. True diversity is when you can bring people together in a room and work together towards the same goal by having diverse points of view and when you can take different viewpoints that you may not have thought of before. That’s why diversity is Organika’s strength—specifically because we have so many different viewpoints. It’s incredible that we’ve been able to leverage a lot of these different viewpoints to create one really strong campaign or message or initiative. For us, diversity looks like exactly what it means — people are different but working together towards a common goal.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.