I met Christina during our photoshoot for a recent Peace Collective Campaign. She's a staple in the city who always has her hand in a new creative project. She spent that morning making connections among the women at the shoot, sharing what she was working on and being an all around positive energy. Later that evening she called me to invite me to an event she felt was well aligned with easy period. Christina has an openness and a desire to help connect the dots for people that is really commendable. I sat down with her at DAIS, a creative launchpad where she spends some of her time, to ask her about her journey, the influence of being a young mother on her creativity and her advice for those up and coming.
What is your name and what do you do and/or what is your passion?
My name is Christina Cheng with an “e” everybody spells it with an “a”. I am a social media strategist and digital content producer and storyteller, I’m officially freelancing and I decided that, maybe 6 months ago.
I left a salaried job - and I always felt like I needed a salaried job because I am a mother. I’m a young mother, so I needed something consistent. But I never really fit in when I gave salaried jobs or a full time job a chance. I never felt like I belonged, I wasn’t passionate about the work that was coming my way from those gigs, because they’re just not what I’m into.
My passion, I think is definitely storytelling, I love people.
How old were you when you had your son?
I was pregnant at 15 and had him when I was 16. So I turned 16 in June and he was born in August, literally two months after I turned 16.I celebrated my sweet sixteen and my baby shower the same day.
How did becoming a mother influence your creativity?
I definitely became more of a go getter. I just kind of never stopped, never took no for an answer at all. A little bit rebellious - obviously, having him so young. I just never liked safe, anything safe. I would always try to break the rules, you know? Just ‘cause I think that’s what I’m passionate about, really telling the story, getting to the bottom of something. So I went to journalism school, that didn’t really work out. Got kicked out. There were rules and I didn’t like rules. The story that I wanted to cover was about marijuana, and me doing investigative journalism on that story was shunned. But now, it’s one of the biggest stories being covered. There are so many clinics opening, it’s in the midst of being legalized in Canada, it’s legalized in so many other states.
I just always broke the rules, I would see a vision and I would only stick to that, and go for what I wanted. Staying with guidelines but breaking them at the same time. I never really took no for an answer, I let my creativity run free and having a child, I encourage that. I let him think for himself, make his own decisions. When he comes to me with a project he wants to pursue, I say okay, let’s do it. I support it.
Never taking the safe route, I never really worked well with rules. I think as a creative you don’t really work well with rules. Creativity always pushes boundaries. Having him so young I became a little bit more rebellious in my creative thinking. It made me think, I know what I like, I know what I don’t like.
With my background in journalism I knew what I wanted to cover. When it came to internships at Discovery Channel, ET Canada, Global News, I set in stone, I’m an intern here and this is what I want to come out of this three months. At Global News they wanted me to do hard news and health and I wrote those, cause I could, but it just wasn’t my thing. I said hey fashion week is coming up can I cover that? Grammys are after that, Oscars are after that, they were like okay if that’s what you want to do you have to stick with your own resources, basically you’re on your own. It’s your job to package up your whole story. So I was able to cover fashion week all on my own, I published a shit load of articles and they could see I killed that and asked if I wanted to cover the Oscars.
I kind of just paved my own way, I saw what I wanted out of the opportunity.
Can you walk me through how you got started in your career and what that trajectory has been like?
Life’s interesting. For a very long time I was interning, I was doing work for free. I would always be proactive. If I said for example, I want to work at Complex Magazine, I would be proactive in searching for that editor to contact and being persistent but respectful.
I did journalism school and I always knew I wanted to be on TV, so I got myself an internship at Discovery Channel. This was when I was still at journalism school and it wasn’t time to take internships yet, again, making my own rules. I told my profs, I landed this full time internship, I’m not going to come to any more classes but I’ll make sure I have all my work done. So I made my own rules and said I don’t want to lose this opportunity and they couldn’t really say no because that was the path that I wanted to go on. That led me to Fashion Magazine, Wedding Bells, Canadian Living, a whole bunch of publications to intern for, get my foot in the door.
Is your son born at this point?
How are you doing all this!
I have a really supportive family, really supportive. For my parents, it’s their first grandchild and they wanted me to grow up like an average teenager. They allowed me to really find myself and they still are.
It might seem like I have my shit together, but I don’t, I’m still on a trajectory and I don’t know where that leads yet.
It was a lot of interning to get where I wanted to get. And really learning throughout the process what I like and what I don’t like. I thought I would love ET Canada, entertainment news, and I didn’t. Went to Global News ended up loving it, but again, I made my own path on that and said this is what I want to cover, and allowed that to happen.
Then I became an editor for Complex Magazine in New York but worked from home. That didn’t work out because I’m a people person. Always working at home, submitting articles to and from New York, communication wasn’t that great.
I was always a stylist, throughout university. I was a frame stylist for like 5 years. I always loved men’s fashion which is why I was one of the editors at Complex Mag, for mens street fashion. Then I went on to work at Stussy, which was at Ossington and Queen. From there I became a men’s stylist at Holt Renfrew. From there, I moved on to Roots Canada to be their social media coordinator and copywriter, that didn’t work out.
With Roots I had decided to give corporate another chance.
I worked really, really hard to land the job, I had to submit a tape, and I landed it. But again, we weren’t talking the same language. I was a little ahead of the game and wanted to move a little too fast for them, they’re still conservative and they speak to a certain audience.
I landed a creative agency job as a copywriter and social media person again. That was cool, loved the people I worked with. But the clients there just weren’t speaking to me. It just so happened that Free Agency contacted me. I’ve been friends with Chris for a while and we’ve been wanting to work together but he didn’t know how to place me because I do so many things.
Opportunity came and now I’m a project manager for a project called Off the Feed. Then this came about, Trung who is the brand identity for DAIS took me through this space when it was gutted, none of this existed yet. He was walking through the space trying to visualize what would be here, what would be there and he told me they were eventually going to need a social media person.
So, the same time that Free hit me up, DAIS also hit me up and said can you be Community Manager and Social Strategist so now I’m doing both.
Then, I’ve been in contact with Nike for a long time as part of their media team and I wanted to merge Eastroom and my connect with Nike.
I wanted to share my contacts, I never understand when people in the influencer world are selfish with their contacts, I’m not like that.
So I came up with an idea and pitched it to Nike, I said hey I want to partner with Nike and Eastroom because Eastroom houses entrepreneurs,young business’, freelancers, creators. People who don’t have a 9-5 and are glued to their MacBooks and don’t have time to work out, are grabbing something quick to eat so they can go back to work. So I wanted to give them a creative break.
So we started East Run Crew so those people get a little break, by the time they get back to their laptops they’re rejuvenated and refreshed, they have new ideas. So now I’m a business vendor with Nike.
So I kind of worked my way through corporate and working with different brands and figured out where I fit in, where I don’t, what I like, what I dislike. Now it’s to the point where I’m freelancing, I can make my own hours.
We’re really blessed to be in a time where we can make up our own title and sell that title to someone. We’re fortunate that we’re in that space where we can make up our own title and run with it.
Along your journey what things have been most influential for you?
I definitely look at the people I’m around. I stick to those who are really creative.
For example, Sean Brown, he’s a friend of mine, he’s a genius. He thinks way beyond, like oh everyone's doing pop ups? Well I’m just going to build my own pop up and have it in the middle of the forest. Who does that? Aesthetically I’m definitely inspired by him.
A lot of the older cats who have been in the Toronto scene for a long time and are still around. For example, Bryan Brock, he does 1 Love T.O., they’re celebrating 10 years. He's also the dean of the academy of creative arts at The Remix Project. So they give marginalized youth who are creatives the space to house their creativity. Maybe they don't have money for post secondary or they just don't want to go that route. Those who want to be producers, a music artist, a film writer, a videographer. They leverage their creativity within Remix. A lot of success stories have come out of there
For example those who want to be DJ’s, DJ Killa Kels is a remix alumni and now she’s killing it out there. There are those who are videographers who are now on tour with Drake. They know the right people to connect them with or introduce them to or at least point them in the right direction.
It’s really just the people around me, because I love people I really take to them and see what they do and what their ethos are and get inspired by it. Not being competitive but soaking people in and appreciating people for their minds.
In what moments in your life do you feel most powerful?
I think I never really step back and think and see myself from the outside in, I’m just always doing.
I think that now more than ever I feel really powerful, making the decision to go my own route.
Seeing where I’ve come from journalism school to now I’m really paving my own way, really making my own decision, even if it’s wrong and strong I’m still making my own decision.
I’m really just figuring myself out along the way, but I’m being true to who I am. My parents would say yeah you’re stubborn, it’s your way or the highway, but it’s kind of worked for me in a sense. And not only is it my way or the highway but I love people and I love to collaborate and make shit happen together.
I’m starting to share my contacts and if I can’t help you, it’s like I know someone who can help you. That’s when I feel most powerful. I’m really proud to be able to help people connect the dots.
Do you have any advice for our easy community which consists mostly of women who are creatively inclined or working toward making a living through their passions?
Those who believe in what you’re doing will definitely help you. If a friend is starting their line, people assume you’re my homie you’re going to hook it up right? No. It should never be like that.
You should always want to pay full price. If your own friends are not going to support your line, no one else will, that’s where it starts, with friends and family.
A good example would be Bryan Espiritu, he had a pop up and I ended up walking in there and spending way more than I expected. But it doesn’t matter. If I don’t purchase, then his line is not going to be successful. Friends are not supposed to ask for it for free, is that going to help his brand grow? No. Is that going to pay his rent? No. Is it going to pay his production costs? No.
Definitely collaborate, build a community. Support people through and through.