We had the good fortune of connecting with Wonji Grace Lee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Wonji Grace, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I went from working a full time corporate job to opening my own small business, during this COVID-19 and quarantine season. It wasn’t by choice that I had made that transition initially, as I was simply furloughed from my job and was expecting to return to the office. Now that I have fully transitioned into running a small business as my main work after being fully laid off from my corporate job, I can say that the work life balance has changed tremendously. Working a corporate job meant that I had to be in the office Monday through Friday, 8:30am until 6pm and many times with having to work overtime. By the time I came home after a long day at work, I had barely any energy or the mental capacity to enjoy spending time with friends and family, go to the gym to get in a workout, go on date nights with my boyfriend or even cook a decent dinner. Weekends were the only time I had the energy or the time to do the mentioned activities, but I always felt so limited because of the chunk of time I spent at church on Sunday. Being a small business owner means that I have a flexible schedule. I’m not bound to the typical 9am-5pm job from M-F, and there is also not a consistent income. However, I have more time to enjoy during the week with family and boyfriend (not as much with other friends due to COVID-19) as long as it is not interfering with my work schedule with the orders I receive. Weekdays and weekends are no longer fully differentiated, meaning weekends are not much more special than all the other days of the week. Gyms are not open here in LA so I cannot spend some of the free time I have in between orders to go work out but if the gyms were open and it was safe to go, I would be spending a chunk of time there as well. It’s hard to say which I like better, just because I have always been a very planned person with writing out my schedule on a calendar and expecting and wanting things to go according to plan. But having this season of my life where I’m not stuck working a corporate job, I am learning to be more flexible for the better with all the different areas of my life and not be so rigid. And regardless of whether you are in a corporate work setting vs a freelance/small business owner, it all comes down to setting your priorities and making sure to spend time with your loved ones as well as by yourself, to gather your thoughts and reflect on how you are spending your time.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I started my small business by opening an Etsy Shop and listing my crocheted scrubbies. Crocheted scrubbies were quite a fad in Korea, and so many Koreans both living in and out of Korea have switched over to using crocheted scrubbies over sponges for their dishes. I have always wanted to make my own scrubbies and after having made some scrubbies, I saw an opportunity to offer them to others and I seized that opportunity. I hand crochet these scrubbies with 100% polyester scrubby yarn from Korea. They are reusable for months at a time if not more depending on how well you take care of it, and you can wash them in the washing machine then air dry for continued use. These are a cute and eco-friendly alternative to washing your dishes, even pots and pans! I then saw an opportunity to sell my very well-loved cookies as well. These are not posted on my Etsy Shop, but I have been posting them on my Instagram account and as with the scrubbies, it was being ordered by friends and family and they loved them. They came back for more. They recommended to their friends and their families. Even people who were not fans of cookies said my cookies were the best they have ever had and wanted more. It was crazy, the amount of love my cookies were receiving when I was initially unsure about making the cookies available for purchase. People ordered from out of state and paid to get them shipped to them, people were ordering them as gifts because they made such great gift options. If there’s one main thing that sets my cookies apart from the other cookies out there, is that I use a lot less sugar than a generic cookie recipe. It’s the perfect amount of sweetness without it being overwhelming but also sweet enough to get your sweet cravings satisfied. The texture of the cookies were also very loved. It’s soft but firm – soft and not crispy but it’s firm enough to hold its shape and not crumble. People who love coffee and pairing sweets with coffee have expressed that my cookies are perfect pairings for their coffee breaks. It was not easy, because going into all of this I had to take a leap of faith. I wasn’t sure if people would buy from my shop, I wasn’t sure that other people would find my goods to be as good as I felt and believed. I wasn’t using cheap ingredients and I wasn’t using cheap materials. I wanted to make sure that my goods, both scrubbies and cookies, are as good of a quality as they can be without breaking bank. I had doubts even after I launched, because the orders seemed so slow for a while and it felt like it was just friends who would order them rather than being able to expand to other customers from outside of my friend circle. But I also learned that if I believe in my goods, and people around me believe in my goods, they will share with other people and it will gain the customer base and follower base eventually. I am still in the process of further developing and bettering my shop, and I will experience more hardships along the way but I have also learned that I need to be patient and diligent and continue to put in the hard work to see the fruits of my labor.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I have been living in Los Angeles for 18 years now. That’s more than half of my life! I live in Koreatown, and I know of different spots around here and even just in the LA area in general with good food and good vibes. There are a ton of Korean restaurants here that serve good food. There are also a ton of cafes here that serve delicious desserts! It’s so hard to pick and choose just a few of these places because it all depends on what kind of dish you want to eat. There are some nice rooftop bars out in the DTLA area, that I like to go with my friends once in a while to enjoy some amazing skyline of LA. It’s a pretty iconic scene depending on where you’re seeing the skyline from. But regardless, they are all beautiful. There is also the Griffith Observatory where you can see the LA skyline both during the day time after a hike, or at night time with all the lights glistening in the dark. It’s definitely one of my favorite spots of LA! There is also Little Tokyo, where you can find a lot of Japanese restaurants as well as local shops. There’s the Little Tokyo Village Plaza where you find people singing outdoor karaoke on the weekends and is just a super cute area to hang out in. If you drive a bit further West, there are the beaches. Some of the beaches here in Southern California coastline is beautiful and I would say it’s a must to go to at least one of the beaches here. There are so many places you can go to have a great time, especially if it’s your first time.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
A huge shoutout to my loving and supportive friends and family, without them I would not be where I am. Without them, I would not be a small business owner. Without them, I would not have been able to even have the courage to start what I started, and continue to put in the work and the effort to create and curate my brand. I am so thankful for all of them!
Nasim Haena Kim Esther Park