Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is T and I’m a Los Angeles native now residing in Portland, Oregon. My fiancé has been a huge supporter of my jewelry, so when the time came to decide on a name for my line, we brainstormed and basically brought it back home. We each grew up in poor neighborhoods that had a great sense of community, with a common goal to better ourselves by striving toward the idea of an upper middle class lifestyle. With that comes strong values, hard work, determination and knowing where you came from. Upper Metal Class symbolizes and embodies all of these things.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I hang out in my pajamas and bum around my house. I usually hover around my fridge looking for good things to eat. I can never get enough of tasty food and drinks and traveling so I love exploring new restaurants, bars and visiting other places in the world.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
Humble Beginnings: The Root of My Heart.
Times weren’t easy for my family when I was a child. My mother survived the Vietnam War, lived in a camp and was lucky enough to make her way to the U.S. with me in her stomach, my two brothers (one sick with leukemia) and my uncle to start life over, learning a new language, culture and lifestyle along the way.
I believe my hard work, determination and creativity definitely stems from my mother. When I was little, I remember helping her with small sewing projects she’d take home from her second job as a production sewer in the fashion industry. She didn’t have money to constantly buy new clothes for a growing girl, so she made my clothes by hand. Her love for nature and plants eventually led her to go back in school for landscaping, which turned into a very successful business. When I turned 12 she started taking me along with her team during the summer — not only to keep an eye on me, but also to put me to work digging in the hot sun. Now my mom is retired and travels back to Vietnam every year; she uses her own money to help poor families and orphans. I never saw it back then, but through my mother I learned to reach for my dreams with hard work and determination. I will always remember where I came from.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from architecture, construction, math, science and the natural life all around us. I also like strong, sleek lines and curves in buildings; imperfect, but beautiful cracks in sidewalks; cool shapes in objects; and the unbelievable patterns formed by nature.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
My mother has always been the greatest influence in my life. No matter what I wanted to do, she has supported me all the way.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I always enjoyed drawing, painting, sewing and creating as a child, but I don’t feel like it ever crossed my mind to label myself as an artist. It was just something I did, like breathing.
How would you describe your creative process?
For the more creative designs, my process usually involves staying in my pj’s and taking my ideas from thoughts to physical form. There’s really no secret to creating — it’s just taking the time to sit down and try again until something happens.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Salvador Dalí! I first saw his work was when I was in 9th grade; I was blown away and couldn’t believe he was a real person. Dalí was so eccentric, wild and unpredictable. I think it would be pretty awesome to really feel the energy of his studio.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
If I ever feel hopeless, sad, frustrated or annoyed I know it’s time to step away with my hands up. I usually like to move on to other projects, and when I feel like I’ve let those feelings go I know I can come back with a clear mind to start over again.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I think it’s very important to give back and help others as much as possible, even if it’s just a little bit. I really feel good about contributing to the community and helping non-profit organizations with my jewelry. I don’t really know what will be in my future, but I’m determined to see my work grow and expand. I am definitely thankful and happy for what I have now.