Often times it’s the person who looks least likely to be a power player, that is indeed holding all of the cards. Let’s face it. Our perception shapes our reality until we are proven otherwise. It’s not necessarily a negative thing. Perhaps it’s just human nature. If you’re a fan of defying the status quo, then you’ve got to love it when someone comes along and kicks normalcy in the mouth. Monica Lin depicts this scenario in more ways than one.
As the Marketing Director of Popular Demand, Monica has been charged with the task of knocking the industry door down and seeing to it that Popular Demand is mentioned in any conversation involving streetwear. At the young age of 25 and in a male dominated industry, Monica Lin has become a respected voice and an inspiration to industry hopefuls worldwide.
Like most Millennials, she’s used social media to create transparency between herself and followers who find pleasure in looking into her daily adventures. She’s more than a Popular Demand employee, she is a brand herself who has garnered a social following addicted to her every move. At first glimpse there are a few things for certain. She’s fly as hell, works her ass off, and has fun doing it. She answers career development questions from her fans day in and day out via DM, and she keeps the positive energy flowing.
Despite the transparency, few people know the behind the scenes story of the young woman from a tight-knit Taiwanese family; raised by her mother through a childhood cloaked in a love for streetwear and pop culture. Brave and assertive, this is someone who has habitually taken life into her own hands. No matter if that meant leaving home at the age of 17 or dropping out of college to pursue the career she leads now. This is the story of Monica Lin. I believe the saying goes, “You gon’ learn today!”
“I come from a Taiwanese family that’s super proud of our culture but at the same time, very open-minded. My cousins are all between the ages of 18-30 and our parents all raised us to be around each other constantly, so we’re still close to this day. I’m blessed that we were all raised to have diverse experiences and to be accepting of different cultures.”
Monica subconsciously grinned as she reminisced on the adults of the family taking her and her cousins to try a variety of different foods and divulge in a never-ending amount of ethnic enclaves. She recalled the freedom of never being pressured to pursue careers such as medical, legal, etc. that typical Asian families tend to push on their kids. She was always free to figure life out on her own.
That’s a major point that must not be ignored. The autonomy to take the world in for all it has to offer, and feel empowered to do what feels right intrinsically is the catalyst for greatness. Add the fact that Monica’s mother introduced her to streetwear at an early age and you’ve got the ingredients for a hot plate of dopeness. Monica attributes her love of streetwear to her mother’s early, and still present influence.
“My mom is super in tune with all that stuff. She was the first person to show me CDG. In Taiwan and Japan, they are ahead of the game in streetwear. She pays attention to pop culture to this day. She still shows me new stuff now. She’s very in the mix. I moved to Taiwan when I was 9 and lived there for 4 years. Being out there is pretty cool, a lot of the trends I saw ended up coming out in America like 3-5 years later. There are streetwear pockets like Soho and Fairfax in America, but over there they’ve always had young people who made it their life business to sell their own clothes and accessories. They started so early that they didn’t jump on the social media wave so they aren’t as big as they could be. If you pay attention to what’s going down out there, that’s what’s going happen in a few years. Most people don’t realize that a lot of trends come from there.”
As Monica grew older her natural interest in streetwear grew with her. As an adolescent she read blogs like Nitrolicious and took note of the fact that people were making true careers out of it. It made her hone in and pay attention to the culture as a student just as much as a fan. During her time in college she hung out on Fairfax frequently and kept up with brands and their owners knowing one day she’d be in the game herself. Of course, she didn’t imagine it would be to this magnitude. In the early days, she figured she’d just be blogging and taking pictures. A slight underestimation of her own potential but let’s forgive her for not knowing her potential right away.
Unsure of how or when she would break into the streetwear industry, Monica started where many creators do with her own blog.
“When you have a blog you have the potential to give other people a platform. Everything I learned about editing photos and writing came from my blog, teaching myself. I was using my blog to maximize my network and get into a lot of shows. I built a network off of it because people would want to hit me up when they were in town. At one point I met Ben Hundreds and Bobby Hundreds. They had a huge blog at the time; they took a pic of me and posted my blog. I had a big spike from that and a lot of people hit me up. One who did was my friend Philip. One day he told me this brand called Popular Demand was looking for interns and I researched, and saw that they were still brand new and growing. I was in school and working full time so I didn’t have time to intern for free. A little farther down the line they were looking for a marketing person. I reached out to hear more about it, it was entry level enough for me to have an opportunity.”
During the summer, Blake Ricciardi (CEO of Popular Demand) would bring Monica in to get her feedback. Her opportunity with the company grew from there as she interned for about a month. Laughingly, she recalled her first day.
“I showed up in a pencil skirt and a button up when we don’t even have a dress code. You can just show up with good ideas and make it happen. I kind of carved out my own role.”
For Monica, that meant getting the brand into the spotlight where young kids would pay attention. One sure way to accomplish that was to tap into music videos. Equipped with the companies 4 shirt styles and a steamer, she would go out to different sets to try and help out with wardrobe. After building enough contacts she created value for herself.
“A lot of people think networking is about what others can do for you when it’s about what you can do for others. One day a director named Fredo hit me up and asked me to come through a shoot. It ended up being the “Show Me How To Function” remix. Big Sean, Birdman, etc. was there. I was like “Oh shit this is my biggest shoot to date,” I was there for 14 hours in heels and since they didn’t have a stylist I was able be responsible for wardrobe. That was why I got hired. It gave me a chance to show Blake and everyone else my abilities.”
Blake made a safe bet on Monica, since becoming Popular Demand’s Marketing Director she’s pulled off activations and partnerships with the likes of Karen Civil, REVOLT, Def Jam, Puma, and plenty more. As she adds more wins to her list of career accomplishments, Monica still faces stereotypes, stigmas, fears, and insecurities just like the rest of us. All while growing her own exposure, and attacking new goals outside of Popular Demand. Here’s what she had to say about it all:
What about your relationship with your father, did he have any type of profound impact on you like your mother did?
“My confidence, my assertiveness, my resourcefulness, and my extroverted side are all thanks to my dad. My dad and I had a tough love relationship when I was growing up and nowadays, he is still a crazy ass person, but I appreciate him wholeheartedly. I definitely wouldn’t be who I am today without him.”
Why did you leave home at the young age of 17, and how did that experience mold you for the better?
“I won’t go too much into detail (maybe one day), but in short, I had to leave in order to take control of my own life. I packed three bags in the middle of the night, had my best friend Ashley pick me up, and then I never looked back. I got scholarships and educational grants that paid for my college tuition + dorms, which helped me out immensely for 3 years before I chose to drop out to pursue my career full time. Sometimes, it’s now or never and you have to have the balls to take that chance.”
What are some of the doubts or fears you have about your future plans, and what do you do to overcome that doubt?
“You can’t doubt yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else? There will always be times when things don’t happen the way you envision it. It’s okay to have to take an alternate route to get to the end goal. I’ve learned that successful people aren’t the ones that are great at everything, they’re the ones that are great at adapting effectively.”
What are some preconceived notions that people may have about you and how do you go about proving otherwise?
“I guess I’m sort of an outlier in my industry. I’m a 5’2” Asian girl. Sometimes, people don’t respect me right off the bat because they don’t take women seriously. Once in a while, I come across people who stereotype Asians and think I’m probably shy and timid. I’ve been doing this for over 4 years now, I don’t really go out of my way solely to prove them wrong – I just do what I do and be myself.”
Most people might ask you to speak on the disadvantages you face in a male dominated industry. Are there any advantages that this gives you?
“I’m marketing a lifestyle and the product. Sometimes you look at a product and it’s dope. A year later you’re over it. For the retailers they still love it. I can’t let my personal stance override that. In terms of being a female in a male dominated industry, on one hand you have to work 5x harder because people won’t take you seriously. Sometimes people come in for meetings and don’t realize what my role is and shake everyone’s hand but mine. You have to make people take you seriously. I’m not here just to chill. On the other hand it helps because people remember me. There aren’t a lot of girls and there aren’t a lot of Asian women. We work closely with the music industry too and there aren’t a lot of Asian girls.”
What are some standout moments in your career thus far? Tell us about times when you succeeded, and failed. How did you use those moments to learn and grow?
“The things I am most proud of include being able to work with an incredible team at a company that we built from absolutely nothing. I get to work with extremely talented people across various creative industries, who are beasts at what they do and it’s inspiring to be around that all the time.”
How have you been able to utilize your own following to boost your efforts with Popular Demand?
“It’s a mixture of the brand and my personal self. I get opportunities outside of the brand. I’ve made myself a resource for other people. I reference Karen Civil and what she did with Beats. There are parallels between us. I give the brand a platform and use it as my platform as well. People ask how I built my following. Whenever influencers would ask how I built that, I just connected with influencers chop it up and they’d always take pictures with me and shout me out for helping them. Leverage what you have to offer and build genuine connections. Think about where you spend your time and allocate it wisely in terms of who you’re learning from. You can’t be out here saying yes to everything. Know yourself, know your brand and your story so you don’t sell out.”
As for right now, Monica appears to have found her sweet spot. She’s kicking ass at Popular Demand and every day is like a reality show. No seriously, they’re working on reality show. It’s one big family, and with that comes plenty of pro’s and con’s. The company is young with pretty much everyone being under 30, and they’ve literally grown their careers together; half of them dropped out of school to work at Popular Demand full time. Everyone wears multiple hats and plays a major role. So much that no one dares to take off for weeks at a time. Even when on vacation, everyone stays on call.
“You have to sacrifice personal time. Day-to-Day life involves everyone talking shit to each other all day. We all love food. Soon as we hit the office we’re plotting on lunch lol. It’s chill until after 12pm and then rappers and actors start showing up and it just gets crazy. Everyone gets their shit done there’s music blasting all the time.”
Popular Demand aside, we can expect way more coming from Monica. She’s helping to creative direct a women’s line for Karmaloop. She’s also working on a women’s sunglasses boutique. Not to mention her #ThundercupandFriends photo series where she reinvents anime cartoons that inspire her. She’s linked up with painters and graphic designers to create original work through it. Eventually, she wants to do an actual gallery showing.
As for the next 5-10 years Monica doesn’t have any concrete expectations. She just wants to continue doing what she’s doing and having a good time. In essence, she’s remaining true to the lessons she learned as a child. Keep an open mind, and find your way according to what moves you.