When Amanda Poh was deciding what to call her brand of handmade, upcycled jewelry, she looked to her Chinese name for inspiration.
In Cantonese, her name is Ka-Soon, which she says are two characters that aren’t usually put together. The first character ‘Ka’ represents the words family, household, and everyone, while ‘Soon’ means to go smoothly with ease and prosperity.
“Put together, to me, it very much represents this harmonious way of living where you are not only receiving care from your community, but trying to find ways to give back,” says Poh, a digital product designer from Port Coquitlam, B.C.
Her jewelry line, K SOON is the physical embodiment of these values.
Profit was never the goal for Poh. She launched K SOON in April, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon after, the world erupted into protest for the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of George Floyd. Poh wanted to use her platform to raise awareness and also give back to BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. Each month, she donates a quarter of sales to BIPOC organizations and charities. In June, for example, she donated sales in support of prison abolition.
The 25-year-old designer is incredibly mindful about what she shares on K SOON’s Instagram. She informs her audience about important social and political issues through educational infographics. She also makes a conscious decision to have Black and brown models of different shapes, sizes, and gender identities wear her jewelry in soft and dreamy photographs.
“I just wanted to create a place where we could learn more about the people that are doing that work already in the community, especially for communities of colour,” says Poh.
Read on to learn about how Poh is reconnecting with her culture through K SOON and about her sustainable approach to giving back to BIPOC communities.
On how jewelry helped her bond with her mother
I actually learned how to start making jewelry when I was probably about 10. It was an activity that I used to do a lot with my mom. Coming back to it was a really nice way to ground myself and do something that was familiar. My mom and I used to visit a close friend of hers every month or so. We’d cram in her tiny studio and make tea and then make jewelry together.
I think back then growing up as a second generation Chinese-Canadian, there’s always this misunderstanding or miscommunication in terms of how love and affection is shown between parents. Especially with Asian parents, sometimes you might feel like culturally, they’re a little bit colder and they don’t like to show affection in that way. I think having those nights where we would make jewelry together was really meaningful at the time because it really allowed me to spend quality time with my mom. I can kind of see how jewelry making has always been a really intimate craft and a way to connect with others, whether it’s a group activity, or the act of creating something for someone else. So that’s kind of the way that I viewed jewelry making and how it all started.
My mom’s friend was actually my mom’s physiotherapy patient. She was getting arthritis in her wrist, which was really sad, so she gave me a lot of her jewelry supplies and beads, which was really sweet of her. My mom had many patients over the years that donated a lot of their materials to me and I always kept them. So, this year, actually, when I moved back home for a little bit, I just seeing all of the materials reminded me of how fun it was when I was making jewelry. It made me want to pick it up again.
On reconnecting with her culture
I grew up in Port Coquitlam, B.C. and at the time the demographic was very, very white. I often found myself pushing away from my culture for the most part, growing up, probably until I got to university and I started meeting a lot of other Asian people that had really similar values that just kind of made me open up to it a little bit more. Ever since then, I’ve almost felt this feeling of like crap, it really sucks that I repressed it for so long. I’m now at this point of wanting to reconnect with my culture. I think part of me starting K SOON was a little bit of me wanting to reconnect with it.
But when it comes to my jewelry, I would say that I haven’t yet taken the step to really connect with whether it be traditional Chinese jewelry, and so on. But it’s definitely something that’s been on my mind of finding the time to sit down and even just find a way to connect some items that I’m making to my heritage.
On her sustainable approach to giving back to BIPOC organizations and funds
Creating spaces for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour, I think having a model that gives back and is sustainable, whether it’s through donations and proceeds is really crucial to that sort of community building.
I think when it comes to donating and giving back, I personally felt like there weren’t a lot of brands that were doing that. When I was in design school, our teachers and mentors would always talk to us about how we could give back to the community, whether it’s what we build, the conversations that we have, the problems we’re trying to solve. I think this was just one of the ways that I’ve really had that lesson ingrained in me. My only hope is that the companies that are starting to do this as well can find ways to make that a sustainable practice.
In researching all of these different organizations and charities, I actually put together a Google Doc. At first, it was a reference for myself of all the different places that I had looked up so far, but eventually, I was thinking this actually might be helpful for other people too.
On representation in the fashion and jewelry industry
I think you do see some Asian folks. A lot of the time, specifically Chinese communities, I would say we have the privilege of sometimes being white-passing. So, I would say that our representation in the fashion and jewelry industry has been there. The place where I would like to see the shift is for more Indigenous and Hispanic faces. I think like having brown and black-skinned people where it’s not just a checkbox, if that makes sense, because I think that’s what I see a lot. I worked really briefly in the fashion industry and that was very much what I saw. It was almost like one-off transactional relationships, which was really unfortunate to see.
I think one thing that is really missing in the fashion and the jewelry industry is also a representation of different sizes of bodies. I think that’s something that we still don’t see very often, especially with jewelry. I also have to be conscious about making sure that my products are inclusive of size even from my necklaces and my rings. So, that’s definitely a push that I’d love to see more when it comes to the jewelry and fashion industry.
On K SOON’s future
I would love to try and reach out to more Black and Indigenous people of colour online and creators that are very much in line with the values that I’m trying to portray. I think the future is trying to reach out and create more of these connections with other like-minded people. I think that would be a great way to hopefully build a bit more of a community.