A couple months into the start of Covid lockdowns, like many in our industry, we started to experience major setbacks. During this time we were afforded the ability to focus in on how these newest collections, when the time came, would be introduced to the world. One thing was certain, it needed to be a community effort.
Fast forward to the launch of our Imagination Development collection, we were able to team up with folx like Shay and her family at playfulmodernkids/imagenfotografi. We wanted to give more depth, and bring these creatives and entrepreneurs forward, providing a platform for them to be seen through our Conversations series. Shay takes us through a stroll in the Chinatown district of her hometown in Philadelphia, just in time to celebrate Lunar New Year!
Enjoy our conversation and photos below.
Thank you for making yourself available for a conversation with même. and our readers. Let's kick off with the basics, can you give us some background on yourself, your family, and playfulmodernkids/imagenfotografi?
Well I’m Shay (short for Shanlynne) I’m a first generation Filipinx from Chicago. Mama to Adonay, Adonis, and Akiko (our Shiba inu) I’m married to my homie lover friend Fran! He is from El Salvador so two cultures clash together. Imagenfotografi is basically our third baby!
Imagenfotografi was first thought of back in 2016, it honestly wasn’t much until we went through our "self -awakening" in 2020 during Covid. My partner and I are working hard to break generational curses, and build value to our work.
If everything works out, I’m hoping to start my own magazine (online) to help put BIPOC and marginalized artists to get on the spot light they deserve. We have big plans to expand Imagenfotografi and find more ways to help the communities around us (and maybe one day world wide) I want art to be accessible for everyone because we make art for everyone.
The idea of creating an online magazine to center BIPOC and marginalized artists is what this world needs more of. Are there any photographers, stylists, or artists in the kids space whose work you admire?
I wish I knew more but I guess imma just drop some Instagram @s
Well us in particular, we admire that you and Fran are putting the chips all in on your future. You both have such a refreshing perspective when it comes to capturing moods and the environments you’re surrounded by. Was there any formal training prior to starting the business, or did you ultimately just learn as you went along?
In all honesty, we learned everything by ourselves meaning "youtube university". I was in interior design school but unfortunately, I dropped out when I found out I was pregnant. So college only lasted me 4 months and the only thing I learned from it was color theory, but school literally drained me of my creativity so I was eager to leave and financially it was hurting my grandmother.
My partner Fran is literally all the brains when it comes to business, I gotta give him his credit for that. I’m the networking artsy type, never seen it as business. So we make the perfect team.
Starting a small business definitely has it's share of challenges. What are some of the pitfalls you experienced at the beginning, and how have you managed to adapt to the new landscape during COVID times?
Before the lockdown Fran was busting his ass with a 9-5 for the past 7 years, he never had enough time for us and being together again made us realize what we wanted. We researched on how to start our own businesses and we decided to get our LLC businesses together, it’s such a weird time but lockdown gave us the time to realize we should be working together.
2020 was a really crazy year of enlightenment and realizing self worth, I always felt like our work was never good enough to actually start a business. The years before we made Imagenfotografi an official LLC, there was a lot of people trying to take advantage of us. It was really time for us to get some backbone!
If we didn’t start Imagenfotografi at the time we did... it would be hard for us to survive during Covid. I feel people always think "influencers" got it all or portray a perfect lifestyle but we DON’T got it like that so it was the perfect time to value ourselves.
What was it like growing up as a child of Filipinx immigrants in Chicago?
Growing up in Chicago was the highlight of my childhood, there is definitely more diversity. My grandmother actually adopted me when I was really young, it was her first time taking care of a child. She always worked so hard and tried her best but it was still so strange for her. I would never get home cooked meals when she worked but she always tried to keep the culture alive, which means she also got our food at a small mom and pop Filipino restaurant or she would try to take me to Chinatown.
Chicago is a melting pot I grew up with so many different cultures, she owned an apartment building named (our lady of Lourdes) also known as the house of mercy because she helped a lot of people and let people with addiction live rent free sometimes. Lourdes, which is my grandmother’s name, was always too busy juggling life so as I grew I learned it was important to learn my culture myself!
Any teachings from your childhood that you’ve carried on through having a family of your own?
I honestly learned nothing in my childhood. For me it was a darker time full of trauma. I’m still learning today how to heal but I just want to build a better life for my children so they don’t have to struggle.
Fighting dark demons is never easy, but the beauty is that you're on a road to healing, while also being able to provide for your family in positive ways. We’ve talked before about representation in the children’s industry, and how important it is to uplift kids from all backgrounds and abilities. During this past year, have you seen improvements within this space? What advice do you have for brands or magazines that are trying?
Maybe with some brands but honestly... some it feels so forced (sorry not sorry) I can just tell when a brand is completely genuine about their intentions but some just tokenize BIPOC. Which ain’t cool, do better brands, we need better representations and opportunities.
For this story, Adonay and Adonis are enjoying an afternoon in Chinatown — can you share the creative direction and thoughts you had while working on this project?
Chinatown is where I feel most connected really. I just enjoy having the kids around culture and them learning from it. Plus the food is great... its our favorite place to be besides the Laotian / Cambodian summer market.
Before you go, we have some rapid fire questions for you!
What’s your favorite activity to do with the kids?
MUSEUMS AND ART ... or eating sweets
What are some words to describe your style?
No style, just art for everyone :)
Do you have a favorite magazine?
None but my own because that shit gonna be lit!
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
Tokyo or Spain. Mostly Tokyo because I’ve been an otaku since I was 10 :P
Styling and photography by Shay and Fran of Imagen Fotografi
If you'd like to support the works of Shay and Fran, please visit their website here, and follow them on Instagram here
Adonay and Adonis are both wearing: ARTIST Jacket, KANE Balloon Trousers, and DOTS socks