Peer Portraits: Joanna Zhuk, Garmentory

Peer Portraits: Joanna Zhuk, Garmentory

Joanna Zhuk is currently the Senior Marketing Coordinator at Garmentory. We first met Joanna during the pandemic over Google Hangouts (always with her tea in hand!) and immediately felt her commitment for supporting small, independent businesses. She was born and raised in the Seattle area, where she current resides with her husband and two cats, Boba and Butter. She loves people, long history podcasts, endless bowls of Summer fruit, platform sneakers, and strongly believes that fashion combined with data can truly change the world. Check out the full interview below!

How did your journey begin to where you are now?

I am born and raised in Seattle and I love this city. The thing in my life that’s influenced me the most is being a first generation immigrant. While I’m born in America, I lived in an immigrant community of Slavic refugees from the Soviet Union. My world perspective completely changed and was shifted because of this immigrant perspective. I learned so much about hospitality, working hard, community, how to care for others rather than just yourself and the respect towards elders which is a very different world view than what a lot of people have. It is shared amongst immigrants of different nationalities and ethnicities. My work ethic and desire for positive change came from the fact that I understood how hard life is but when you take care of one another, there is something beautiful in the midst of it. From a very young age I had this super strong work ethic that was gifted to me through the labours of my grandparents and my parents who worked so hard to get us here. I definitely think that shifted my whole life and I am where I am because of that. 

Professionally, I studied at the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii and I studied abroad in Papua New Guinea for about three months. That was a very transformational experience for me because Papua New Guinea is very beautiful, very diverse and very different than America. Up until that point, I had this big goal for my life to be a lawyer. My perspective of my life was a lot more intense, a lot more extreme. I imagined myself as this woman with rough edges, the bad ass woman that would live life exactly how I wanted. I learned so much about empathy through the experience abroad. How do you actually make positive changes in communities rather than striving to make a big name for yourself. I knew at that point that I really wanted to empower women. I knew that cultural and economic change starts from empowering women in communities. I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that the women I know have strong jobs and can provide for themselves and their families and I knew I wanted to use fashion to get that done. I had this desire to be in fashion. I am not a fashion designer by any means. I am not that creative when it comes to making new things but I knew that there are people who are really good at it and I wanted to help direct and drive their vision forward through marketing. I also love data. I originally focussed in data and then tied the world between marketing and data together. I joined Garmentory and have been here for almost three years. What I really love about Garmentory is that every single day, I am living out missional business. Every single day I am doing my big picture vision which is helping empower women, communities and creatives. I am helping environmental and economically sustainable businesses thrive while not being a creative myself using my tools and skills. 

What was the work in Papua New Guinea that you mentioned built a sense of empathy?

I went with a hiking group. My leader’s uncle lived there in the villages and we were staying with his family in their home. We got to know the family intimately. The family ran a school out of their backyard. We worked with a lot of children, we did a lot of healthcare aid work, cooking dinners for families, showing up and helping repair parts of their homes, talking to children about handwashing and general healthcare ideas. I got so submerged in the family lives and cultures of Papua New Guinea children specifically. The famous quote of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, is so true and you see it so clearly there because everybody mutually takes care of the children. On a personal level, I got to see how poverty affects people. I saw how challenging poverty is when you are worried about caring for your most basic needs. Caring for you emotional needs definitely is not on the forefront of your mind because each day you’re just trying to survive’. But I realised that, when you can’t fully control the situation, little moments of joy is what matters to people. Making a baby laugh can brighten up not just the baby’s day but the mother’s day too, spending an evening with a grandmother and drinking tea can brighten up her day. While I can’t control the outcomes of their lives, I can’t build them all them beautiful homes and give them access to food and water, I could in the moment, make them smile. That taught me a lot about empathy and how that impacts their lives. I wish I could do more. This is why I didn’t want to just pursue my vision of making as much money as I can and living a comfortable life for myself. 

The Garmentory x HNDSM candle makes a contribution to ReWA, a charity that supports immigrant women.

We chose to support ReWA specifically because I knew that I wanted to support women in immigrant communities. In Washington there is a large Asian, South East Asian and Middle Eastern community of immigrants. ReWA works heavily with them and that matters a lot to me. I had the privilege of being in an immigrant community that was supported and I know how big of a different that can make in people’s lives as well. People like you and me and other immigrants is what makes our nations great. This is a melting pot of communities and cultures, styles and flavours of food, ways people live and celebrate and experience joys and I think every immigrant makes America better.

What is something you believe everyone should experience?

I think that one thing everybody should do is live abroad. Even if it is not for missional or spiritual work, just take a season and live somewhere. I know it is easier for college students who are studying abroad but I have family members who have children and have decided to live in Amsterdam for a season. I think there is something so special about submerging yourself in another culture that widens your world view. First of all, it is a ton of fun. It definitely breaks you out of your shell and teaches you so much about yourself. Things you never noticed about yourself because you're in your typical routine of where you live and where you work and where you grocery shop. You’ll notice, ‘I never knew I am actually a little bit more introverted than I thought’ or ‘it really matters to me when people speak words of affirmation around me’ or even the challenge of a language barrier. I think living abroad teaches you a lot about the world and about others but also about yourself. I would highly recommend it for everybody. 

Favourite moments or grounding/wellness rituals that are a part of your day.

Every day, or most days, I am doing hot yoga as soon as work stops. I set a hard stop on the calendar for myself. A hard stop because when you work from home, one of the challenges is that it feels like a never ending work life. Especially for workaholics, somebody who makes their life their work, it feels like the morning is work and the evening is work because the living room is your office. I have a hard stop and go straight into yoga. That really resets my anxieties of the day and I can start fresh. In the mornings specifically, I practice prayer and meditation and nothing has impacted mental health and my feeling of balance more than those two things. It is very grounding, balancing but also very inspiring so I love to start my every day with that.

How has your meditation practice evolved over time?

There has definitely been an evolution. In the beginning, it involved a lot more journaling and a set time with questions and writing things down. But the more I got into the practice of prayer and meditation, the more it is subconscious now. I don’t need to follow a prompt. I am lot more sensitive to how im truly feeling in the day, what is most important to me and channeling that. One thing I like to practice is doing it as soon as I wake up. It is hard when you have your phone and your cats and your husband. Even it is for 3 minutes, setting the tone for the day. I’ll say ‘today I want this day to be focussed on patience. I want to be a patient person. I want to be a patient person at work, I want to be patient with my body, with my family’ and I don’t do it everyday but when I do, I notice that my day is so different.

Work from home essentials?

I know not everyone could have this but if you can, have fuzzy friends. They are live walking serotonin machines. Every time I am in a meeting and my cat is jumping behind me, yes it is annoying and yes I have to apologize and be a little embarrassed, but I’m happy and the person on the screen is happy. I guess besides the cats, because I know not everybody can have pets, for me personally, I drink a lot of tea. Having a strong tea collection is very important. That is my guilt free caffeine. I think the other thing is a Barefoot Dreams blanket which I always thought was a hype-y blanket that is very expensive for no reason. The Kardashians made them famous. It is expensive for a throw blanket but I have never experienced a blanket like it - it wraps around you like a cocoon and you’ll find me in many work meetings with my blanket.

Any advice for people in the industry?

This is more personal but almost everyone in the fashion industry that I have talked to has had a moment like this and is something I wish I was more prepared for. Being in the fashion industry, we are very lucky to get to see a lot of beautiful things, touch a lot of beautiful clothing, experience what to us feels like the never ending cycle of new launches, which are very exciting. When you are in fashion, you love fashion and you love beautiful clothing but I think what can happen when you see so much new stuff all the time, is there becomes to be this general feeling of an overwhelming sense that your closet is not enough. That you are constantly seeing all this beautiful stuff but your personal style and personal closet doesn't meet the criteria of new, beautiful and shiny and so you get this feeling of guilt. ‘I’m in the fashion industry so my style must keep up.’ You start to feel overwhelmed and you need all these new beautiful things and then you feel embarrassed when you put on an outfit and you don’t suddenly feel like its the most awesome, stylish thing. I’ve noticed this pattern and this season of people who enter the fashion industry where they feel like their personal style is not matching up. What I would like to tell people is that when you’re entering into fashion, you get to see beautiful things all the time but that doesn't make what you have any less special or unique or valuable to you. You do not need to keep up with the world of endless change and trends and releases that seem to happen every three months. You can practice sustainability in your closet and you can truly value the things that you own. The things that bring you joy not because the catalogues tell you that they need to bring you joy or all these influencers are no longer wearing the things you are wearing or you see so many different releases that you feel your company needs to keep up. But you on a personal level don’t need to change your closet every three months. I found that I needed to separate myself from this feeling of guilt that if im not proving myself in the clothing that im wearing that im not a fashion expert and you can you love and appreciate beautiful things without needing to own them. 

What are you most looking forward to when the pandemic is over?

I definitely cannot wait to go to Moscow with my husband. I want to go to Russia and go walk the red square. I want to go right as the seasons are changing and hold a cup of chai and that is just what i want.

Your favorite spots in Seattle?

I love boba. I actually named my cat Boba. I probably have tried almost every single spot in Seattle but my current favourite is called Don’t Yell At Me in University District. What makes it special is that they actually specialize in Taiwanese tea and what’s most important in a good boba is your foundation. If you have a strong tea, then you have a good boba and this place does great teas. 

There is also an icecream spot called Frankie and Joes and they do non dairy icecreams. There is a strawberry rose beet icecream and it is the best icecream in the world. There is nothing better. Maybe that is the Russian in me because it has the beet but I love this icecream and any time anybody is coming to Seattle I always recommend they go to Frankie and Joe’s. 

Photos by Joanna Zhuk

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