I started my project attempting to pay participating families for ingredients along with a small gift when I arrived at their house. The money was refused and the gift I brought—a votive candle intended as a gift of appreciation—didn't feel related to the experience or project. So I designed an apron using vintage fabric design that was ubiquitous and charming—to me.
Problem I was excited to give the aprons as a token of my appreciation to the next family I'd visit. Strangely, I noticed a cool reception of the apron. The next family reacted similarly and the next few families were the same. I asked my assistant if she noticed the reaction and she suspected it might have something to do with cultural history.
Apparently, the vintage print that was adored by Western audiences for its folksy-charm was a bitter reminder of times when little was available and all there was to make curtains, bedsheets, and tablecloths with was the tired red vintage pattern. Who wants bad memories? And who wants unfashionable digs? Around the same time, I was wearing a quilted coat with a different folksy design, but cute. I bought it in the wholesale clothing markets in east Beijing. When I wore this coat around, I was complimented by Chinese women from all walks—from the elderly female janitor in a posh mall to stylish young ladies in a club restroom.
Solution I returned to the coat vendor and commissioned aprons made using the same fabric as my coat.
Result The new aprons were warmly received by the families I later visited. I noticed that everyone loved the new print, but people from Western cultures were especially drawn to the vintage print.
By selecting a fabric print with consideration for historical and cultural sensitivity, recipients were delighted to receive the apron and I was able to sell more aprons in China. The vintage pattern was widely received in United States and sold for $40—120 units sold
Demodé aprons made from the vintage print
Aprons made using the favored new print informed by my quilted coat.
Case Study: Let Them Eat Food Porn
I believe in sharing what I learn. My dream to travel, learn, and share Chinese cooking turned into a website connecting hungry-curiosity to the satiation of learning. Problem I started my food blog with long essays detailing my experiences, the ingredients, methods, and only a few photos. As a featured blogger on China’s MySpace, the readers left comments wanting to see more photos.
I hopped onto some of the food blogs and noticed how profiles with lots of “food porn” had a lot of engagement and followers. It made me think of how much I like clicking through photo essays—the pictures told the story.
Solution I changed my format and structured blog posts as photo essays for the user to scroll down while providing short bursts of narrative in between. I also started food styling dishes after learning to cook them and in post production I juiced up the contrast and saturation.
Result By increasing the amount of visual content in the blog posts, I improved the experience for readers, increased followers, and connected with more people to participate in the ShowShanti project.