Written in HerStory | Jes Chang
Known for her heart towards the youth community, Creative Director of Children of Promise Jes Chang uses ethical fashion to give back to different youth charities and organizations. After going to a conference and left deeply impacted, she took a step of faith to use her love for design to a bigger purpose.
Jes always put her best foot forward when it comes to COP, and sometimes that means stepping back and taking a backseat in your business.
Valerie: Hi Jes! Thank you so much for being a part of our HER interviews. First things first, tell us more about who Jes is.
Jes: Originally from Taiwan, moved to New Zealand when I was eight, grew up in Auckland and went to school there. I've pretty much been in the Chinese community like going to Chinese churches with mom and dad. We are a super tight family! So that's where I learnt and like kept the language.
And yeah moved down to Wellington maybe like nine years ago with mom and dad. (Is that for study?) Well that was...because I graduated back in 2008. I'm quite old! *laughs* (You don't look like it.) It's the Asian genes. *laughs* (Yes, I love it! Oh thank you Lord for that!) Yeah, I know right?
So yeah, I went to AUT for fashion and graduated, and did work for different companies. I did a little bit of PR stuff and then sort of managing my own production and dispatching. Along the way, I was learning more about the fashion industry.
Then, I moved down to Wellington because I guess mom and dad were down here. My dad is a pastor and he was sent to Wellington to start up a church. Now, they've ditched New Zealand after 15-16 years. They now live in Adelaide in Australia and church planting there as well.
So yeah, I've always been drawn to design and just love the creative side of it.
Oooh I was a pastor's kid (PK) as well. My dad was pastor back in the Philippines. I've always wondered what it was like for everyone else. I was pretty stubborn and a lil' naughty when I was young so looking back I always thought I needed more salvation than everyone else.
Oh my goodness! Tell me about that *laughs* I was super rebellious. (Really?) Yeah and it's like by God's grace you know that I am here now. You know, I was like living secondhand faith. I wanted to experience the world - got into bad relationships and getting into wrong group of friends. But I think you know, God's grace is so beautiful. Just the fact that I can be where I am today, as cliche as it is, but it is really just Him pulling me and carrying me through all the ups and downs. So totally! I can imagine you being PK going through all the crazy things that I probably went through as well! *laughs*
Totally agree on that. I would never have thought that I would be doing a Christian blog, to be honest. Before, it was more just like head knowledge but experiencing it for myself, I was like what the heck?! You can go in some many places and impact so many people with God's grace in your life. It's just amazing! (Yeah it's so cool!)
So when I was interviewing Hollie, she actually mentioned you. She was like, "you should totally interview Jes! She's amazing!" I went's straight to Instagram stalking phase! I immediately fell in love with your kimono and your tote bag! Gold! What was your journey founding Children of Promise (COP) - from coming up with the brand and the heart behind the label?
I think from when I was really young, I have always questioned my existence. I remember doing a speech at school and was like, "why am I me? Why am I not like this blonde-hair, blue-eyed Caucasian? Why am I this Asian girl?" And growing up, I really struggled with my identity. Not only in being that cool teenager trying to fit in, but also in my culture. I struggled a lot with my confidence and self-worth. I think it's like competitiveness and comparing myself with others which a lot of girls do. (Yep!)
I never really embraced my culture so that I think as I grew older, I think God taught me through experience to really embrace my culture, and I think that's the reason why I started COP. Long story short, I had a rebellious teenage period but I am honestly thankful for mom (and dad) for her ongoing prayers. She would be in tears praying for me to be safe and I think God heard that. After that, I decided to have God for myself when I was around 21 years old.
I have always wanted to design for a greater purpose. I went to a Be Inspired Conference one year which is a leadership conference focused on tackling your fears. In that conference, God addressed a lot of issues in my heart and when I came back, I realised I had to start something.
I've always wanted to do like a label or a business, but then now I was kind of sure that I needed to use this to glorify God. To do it for a greater purpose. Coming out of the rebellious stage, I discovered that I really love young people and helping them get through that stage. Because of this, I found out about New Zealand having the highest suicide rate in the developed countries, and having a good group of close friends who are around teenagers struggling with emotional stability and things like that has really driven this purpose and built confidence in running this business in this sort of way.
It's kind of hard to pinpoint the details but everything is really God-inspired in terms of running the business and using the money we gain to build a better community for younger people. The label name is inspired by His word, but I also think COP stands for identity because it is essentially what everybody in the world is trying to figure out, right? So that's COP in a nutshell - combining faith and creativity which are two things that I love the most.
That's so awesome! I love that you and COP have such a big heart for younger people. What was the hustle life like for you when you started COP and what was your greatest challenge at the beginning?
I think the greatest challenge was just overcoming my own fear. I'm not saying I'm not now, but I'm much better. But I used to be a perfectionist, like the reason why I didn't start COP earlier because I was so scared of failing. There are times that I find the motivation to start then immediately think that I'm gonna fail, you know. I was going back and forth, but once I got over it, it obviously got easier and I noticed that it's also easier when you take it step by step...slowly chunk along...
It's crazy! So crazy to run a business, honestly! I'm sure you understand with Her Progress. The time and energy that you need to put into it. Probably because it's your project, it's your baby right? (Yup, brainchild!) Yeah! You essentially want to do every aspect well. You essentially be every role in the business - there's like sales and marketing and all these areas. When you start, you don't have the money to hire someone so you have to do everything. (That's so true!) Yeah, I mean that was crazy. Honestly, I've had a couple of breakdowns here and there, just because I didn't manage my time well. And because I was so passionate about it, I'm like I'm gonna give my all! 7 days a week! Your brain is always full-time thinking about it even if you're not physically working on it.
Yup! Yup! I'm at work doing some data entry and editing student profiles and the next thing you know, I get a word in my heart and I'm like scurrying to find a pen like, "I have to write this somewhere!" Totally know what you mean, it's full-time up in there! And it's not easy to balance a lot of things. (No, no) And being everything in one role is like say whaaaaaat now?! (I know right?) That's why I always believe that our passion projects or businesses truly help us grow in the different aspects of our lives. In you experience, how did COP help you grow personally and in your faith? What was the verse of scripture you strongly held on to through the whole process?
Yes, the verse that comes to mind is Acts 5:37-38, where it talks about the apostles who were out preaching, and then the Pharisees or the leaders were like they shouldn't be doing that and wanted to prosecute them. One of the guys, I can't remember his name, but he stepped up and basically said like if this is a plan of man, don't worry about it because it's going to fall to pieces; but if it is a plan of God and so you find yourself fighting against God.
This has always been at the back of my mind like, "okay, obviously God gives you a starting point then I'm always like is this me or is this God?" You always check your heart along the way, right? So I feel this verse always remind me that it's okay to go for it, just do it, because God will correct you along the way if it's not what He intended , or if the plan fails, then you know that it was your own desire and not of God, right?
This verse has been really good when it comes to anchoring me, and knowing that it's okay not to succeed in certain areas because maybe God has this other thing coming through. The that's probably the verse that I carry the most!
I love that! Because sometimes you just do something and you kind of gage: is it me or God? But then it's funny because sometimes gaging something makes you doubt and second guess yourself to a point that you just don't try and you know (Yes, it's all about trying) just do it because either way, God will support you. That's one thing I learned big time, God is your best business partner ever.
Yeah I do like that, because I always thought God is the CEO and I'm just an employee. If you have that kind of perspective, then everything is a little bit easier. He calls the shots and you follow through.
Going back to youth, you mentioned in our off the record conversation about your heart in helping the youth community and how that developed a new passion into becoming a youth mentor. Tell us about that experience.
Yeah...I think reflecting on my personal experiences and struggles I've been through and overcame, I felt obliged to support the youth now. I'm lucky to be close with some members of the youth in my youth group from my old church because I used to go in a Chinese church. But they're like me. They're like cultured kids, probably like you as well. From different culture and we're in this culture, and we developed our (hybrid *laughs*) Yeah! *laughs* we're the hybrid kind! The awesome ones! *laughs*
We would catch and hearing them talk about their lives and their struggles, I felt God moulding my heart to be very compassionate for this age group. I also work casually as a young mentor to a young girl who comes from a tough background. She was sexually abused when she was younger. So basically my role was pretty much to hang out with her and give her an older sister type of role model.
I think through this, it's not easy actually. I think when you're traumatised as a kid, you don't grow up to be "normal," like you brain functions differently, so I really had a tough time with her. It really breaks my heart because I feel like yes I can love this girl as much as I am able to, but there's also so many kids out there that are not in an awesome place like she is where I can come in be like: we can be friends. We can build a good relationship and I can teach you some life skills.
I think it's that time when you're a teenager, it's so hard to be yourself. It's really hard now because there's social media and cyberbullying and many more. Because when I was at that age, I wasn't brave enough to make my own decisions. I look to my friends and celebrities. But now, I don't care too much about what other people think to a certain aspect and make decisions confidently. That's why I feel like maybe we can or maybe I can somehow through design, which I think is a really cool industry, engage them and be like...yeah.
(That's really cool! What kind of programme are you in?) This is through Wesley Community Action. (I might look into that! That sounds really good!) It's basically like a youth mentor role. You do activities and hang out with the young person assigned to you. There's other charities and orgnisations that do it. I think they called it the Big Brother and Sister.
That's so good that there are communities out there that tackle these issues and make healthy communities for the young people.
I find this current generation, including me, always seeking a sense of purpose in everything that we do and have a mindset of helping people around us in whatever shape or form it would take. Seeing how COP flow into you being a youth mentor and doing that alongside each other, what is your top piece of advice for someone who wants to find purpose in their profession or a profession with purpose?
I definitely lift it up in prayer. God essentially puts these dreams in our hearts and we are pretty much reflecting who He is. I love that everybody has a passion for something and I definitely think to just to go for it and try! Just to try and step out of the boat and then walk on water *laughs* It's so scary! With anything, especially stuff like you and I, it's our passion project, something that we feel very close to.
When I started COP, I was really scared of getting feedback. I mean like, don't criticise my work *laughs* (my baby! *laughs*) Yeah it's my baby! But you need that to grow thicker skin and be better.
So I think my advice would be just to check with God and see if it's from Him and part of His will, then just try it! Sometimes it's all about testing and lifting it up to God. And try put effort into it. As long as you feel it's right!
I know what you mean! Sometimes you gotta let your idea sit and see if it works or not. If my heart battles with it, then I'm like, okay! It's not the right one. Trial and error. (Yeah! Exactly!)
Now, I'm going to ask you two questions that we ask all the women in our community. Her Progress is about women who continually grow in God and support each other in different pursuits. What does being a work in progress mean to you?'
It means to always be willing to accept challenges. Being open to accept a challenge and to be disciplined. Sometimes, I don't like discipline (me too!) I know you love me, but please teach me through this! *laughs* (I know! Oh my gosh! I wasn't a big fan of it either when I was growing up *laughs* Might be those rebellious years.) Yeah 'coz you're the youngest, aye? I'm the oldest see. (heeeeey!) My brother is such a goody-good because he saw how much dad disciplines me. He'd be so scared like oh my gosh! I shouldn't do anything wrong because I don't want to be like Jes! *laughs*
*laughs* That's so funny! So part of being a work in progress is that you go through different stages in life. One thing that we strongly encourage in this community is self-celebration where we celebrate ourselves and our victories, no matter how big or small. To you, why is it important to celebrate yourself in your journey? And in what way do you celebrate you?
I like to treat myself from time to time, so like going out for coffee. But it's definitely important to celebrate yourself. I mean, it's really hard for me to do that because being a perfectionist, I don't ever see something worth celebrating. It's always like I will celebrate when I reach like 2000 followers but then you get there, you're like oh no! This is not enough! I'm always tough on myself which is good but you also need to celebrate yourself. Appreciate what you're doing. Enjoy it! I think that's it!
Yes, I know what you mean! I feel you! And we've reached the end of our interview. We always want to stay connected with the women around us and support them in their future endeavours. Are there any personal gals or anything COP that you are currently working on?
Yeah, so it's interesting! COP is in the season where I'm needing to learn a whole lot more because the industry is so big and broad. God really addressed this time of the year through a really good friend who's kind of help me with COP. Previously, I was kind of like I think I know everything and you just keep chunking along and thing's don't work out. So I talked with this good friend of mine and he's like I think these are the problems and then we realised it's actually me needing to gain more experience and insights in the industry. To just absorb and learn. That's why I stepped into the role in Good as Gold doing sales and marketing. So, COP is currently just taking a back seat.
It's interesting because even though I haven't really worked on it full-time, it's just slowly growing and more organic. It's not like I had to head out PR and get press but it's interesting sitting back and be like okay God, you orchestrate this. You do this. I feel like it's still actually pumping without me stressing over it.
You just have to gage the season you're in.
Just on that thought - what is your faith like being on the backseat and letting God do His thing?
Before I decided that this is my season to learn and not my season to do full-on COP, I had a sense that something wasn't working, like practical things. My friend and I did a whole evaluation, and I discovered that I need to learn more about the ethical fashion industry and also New Zealand being a small market. There's definitely differences to what I have been taught in uni and what I have experienced.
Yeah I think it was really tough at first, but this is not me giving up on my dream. If you want to be in on the long run, sometimes you just need to take thing a bit slower and park it to one side. Parking it aside doesn't mean you are quitting and giving up but about learning a whole lot more and coming back. Once you figure out what season you're in, go for it and then you'll be in another season where God is maybe like Okay! I think you're ready to come back to this with a better perspective. I think that's the thing - having hope that you become better after all that.