I’ve known Ani Vong, boutique owner of Humanity for a long time. She has always been super kind, super creative, and super fun. As we reconnect, I realize nothing much has changed other than she is wiser and more determined than ever.
Honestly, talking to her was refreshing. I admired her truth and vulnerability. This whole following your dreams thing is tough, so it’s nice to discuss the reality of “the road less traveled.”
Let take a look on how she has grown, and gain insight on what encourages her to keep pushing everyday.
Did you always aspire to be a boutique owner?
I remember at a very young age, for some reason I wanted to own a clothing boutique. I'd fill it with cute clothes, local designer products, sneakers, artsy things and serve coffee and alcohol...I suppose some of this did come true. =) I also wanted to create an environment where everyone was welcomed. Growing up, I always made sure I visited boutiques in places I've traveled to. Half of them had snobby employees and awful customer service for no reason except they were an "exclusive cool boutique." I always said to myself when I have my own boutique - I'd welcome anyone and everyone.
But then I also had aspirations to be a photo journalist and a teacher of some sort. I'm slowly beginning to see that I have been able to do these two things too in a different way.
Tell me a little bit about the look of your boutique. I love the aesthetics of your store. What is the inspiration behind the clothing style and decor of Humanity?
I want the style of the shop - whether clothing style or interior style to be a reflection of me and the places I’ve traveled and fell in love with. As for clothes, I'm in love with vintage inspired pieces from past decades, feminine cuts and styles, throw in some boho chic in it and a dash of tomboy looks. I also take back street styles, inspired by travels and people I meet.
I love bright and bold colors, but I also like subtleness and monochrome. I wanted the shop to have a feel of warmth and joy. With the white walls on the first half of the shop to bring out the clothes better, and the back half a contrast color of dark grey - just because I wanted a neutral contrast color. The time most spent at the shop is at the cash wrap, AKA the counter, so I decided to paint it a cheery canary yellow.
Congrats on hitting 5 years of being the boutique owner of Humanity! That is huge! Since the first day your store opened, what has been your greatest victories?
Ahh, thank you! Sometimes I have to pinch myself because it all still seems so surreal. My greatest victory is not giving up. All the little victories that has led me to where I am now adds up to the bigger picture. Because I am always on the go, trying to get to the next thing and always worried about making the bottom line - I hardly allow myself that quiet time to reflect on milestones and accomplishments. But in these past few months, I told myself that if this doesn't work out the way I'd hope it to for any reason in the future - that I will be proud of all the little celebrations and remember to also live in the moments and bask in it. I've learned to just enjoy the ride better now. AKA, you're going to make it to 5 years (hopefully) woohoo!
What has been the toughest times?
What most people don't understand about owning a business/being an entrepreneur is that it isn't the glitz and glam it appears to be. Immediate lifestyle change includes not getting a paycheck anymore until the business can sustain itself; your social life and relationships will change. I'm always having self doubts and often deal with impostor syndrome. I would think “I’m a phony”, “why did I ever think I can make something out of this” or “what was I thinking?” For the longest time I didn't know how to have a steady work-life balance. If I focus too much on the shop - my social life and relationships would suffer. If I am being "reckless" and going to more social settings - the shop suffers. I felt guilty either way. I was starting to believe that no one can have it all. (I was wrong by the way.)
There will always be naysayers and people giving you unsolicited advice. But take it with a grain of salt, grin, thank them and turn that into fuel to push you even further. Tough times will always be there, but I know now that they're there to see how badly I want this. It'll only go as far as I'll let it go. So, I allow myself a lot of room to keep learning, growing and to better myself. I try to be grateful and appreciate the journey every single day.
In spite of the tough times, what keeps you going?
To be honest, from time to time I would get into these bad funks depending on what the situation is. Sometimes it takes me just a day to get over it - other times a few weeks. And that's when I really start to worry and question every single thing. Because time is money and the longer it takes for me to get out of my own head the work load would keep piling and piling up. I've been on a crazy emotional roller coaster ride since 2014, but I do have to say that I've been able to handle things a bit better now with experience.
I would take day trips to nearby New England towns, head into Boston or find a new coffee shop to clear my mind and to get re-inspired or seek out one on one alone time with close friends. And I would always think about how far my parents have come since the days of suffering and devastation under the Khmer Rouge reign in Cambodia in the late 70s. My parents came to the U.S. a month or so after I was born in 1981. I grew up in a single parent home since I was 4 years old and I can only imagine all the hardships and challenges my mother faced. How often she must've felt hopeless and alone and yet she still risen (?) from those dark days after we lost my father and even up until now. I have never heard her complain in front of me. I've only seen her bulldoze through everything. So when i feel hopeless, I reel myself back down to wherever my mind led me to and understand that my hardest days will never ever compare to my mom’s worst days. She is my strength, inspiration and motivation. She is my hero, my heart, my soul. I am me because of her...because of them both.
If you can only give one piece of advice to someone who is following their dreams, what would it be?
That no dream is really impossible and too far out of reach. I am a living example of that. Once you've finally built up the courage to pursue it - just remember even though it won't always go the way you want it to - nothing worth it ever comes easy. You can't expect dreams to work if you don't put in the work 210%. And when life throws curve-balls, and it seems like those dreams are still so far out of reach, just remember how far you've come. Don't just accept what is being thrown at you - fight for it and through it. You've chosen a life off the beaten path and you should consider yourself one of the lucky ones who are able to do what they love. It won't happen over night so take it day by day. Step by step. Don't stop, but do allow yourself to rest cause that's extremely important. Surround yourself with good friends and family, supporters and like minded people. Also, get you a significant other who shares in your dreams and visions; someone who will remind you of how incredible you are everyday and is ready to be part of your crazy journey. They are the ones who will continuously uplift you and help you reach your dreams. But don't forget that no matter how much someone pushes you and help you - it is up to you and solely you to see it fully through. Have faith and give yourself some credit too.
Would you rather start living your wildest dreams in reality or keep dreaming of where your life could be?! Chase those dreams. Make them real. Live it and Love it.
Visit Humanity and get inspired in person. It is located in the center of downtown Lowell on 128 Merrimack Street. And if it’s more convenient for you, check out the boutique’s website here, at https://www.humanitystyle.com/.
And a special thanks, always to @katiejannphoto for the pictures.