happy international women’s day!
Today is International Women’s Day. My friend Samira asked me only two days ago if I would be doing a special feature for the occasion. I said no. Don’t be mistaken, March 8 is a special day to me. In the first year of Wear Oh Where’s conception, her identity, not unlike mine at the time, was basically a bowl of sand—the bowl being the world, the sand, me and whatever I created, you get the picture. Then one ordinary February day, an idea was kind enough to pay me a visit—and quite out of the blue, I was thinking out of the
box bowl. Forget “it” bags and fashion week and the best shade of red lip to wear that season (the kind of sssstuff I was writing about then). No, I wanted to write to women I admire and ask them five questions each, questions whose answers I really needed at the time: What they thought of success, happiness, why do they do what they do, how does someone like them think/feel/deal when shit happens? I was not in a great place, so, I could use some answers, as I was sure there are others out there like me. Plus, International Women’s Day 2013 was coming up—perfect!
I didn’t overthink it, I charged straight to my laptop and wrote to women like Kelly Wearstler, Sylvia Toledano, Lena Dunham, Victoria Beckham, among others I’m a little embarrassed to disclose at this moment. To be honest, I expected nothing because the website wasn’t much then—I had maybe eight stories and five readers (me and four friends). But something happened. Kelly and Sylvia replied, both said YES. (I even met up with Sylvia at her studio when I went to Paris, where she’s based, the following year.) Lena and VB, well, I didn’t hear from, but one day, one day they will write back, and the answer will be yes. As Sophia Amoruso famously said: “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”
Anyway, that was the beginning of it all. The kindness, generosity and support of one woman can change everything. I was, AM, lucky because I had one, and then another. And another. That was how the WoW Women series came to be. I felt it—I couldn’t articulate it then, but I felt the aha!: That celebrating women, and telling their stories would become the heart and why of Wear Oh Where. It would be my purpose. Fast forward to International Day 2019. Am I doing a special feature this year? No, because every day is a day I celebrate women here. Every day, we celebrate you, our friends, and I’d like to believe that we are working hard to celebrate ourselves, too, in our own ways.
So, what is this story then? Well, something a little out-of-body and a lot incredible happened. Beatrice Tan, my friend and founder of Klarra, asked me in January if I would be a part of a campaign she was planning for IWD. It’s called “I Am: A Portrait Series”. It would involve an interview and a photo shoot. Basically, I would be on the other side of what I do—I would be in my version of Bizarro World. It would be uncomfortable, it would be a little stressful for this introvert, but it would also be an opportunity to confront my fears and evolve. After all, I have suspected for a while now, deep down, that I am ready to stop hiding (so much)—behind my computer, behind the camera, behind the stories of others. It is time I practised what I preach—use my voice, tell my story. Own it. I mean, what more significant day than March 8, what more empowering declaration than “I Am”, and who better than a friend (thank you, Beatrice) to dedicate my first step to?
So here it is, my first proper interview, first published on Klarra.
Journalist turned digital media entrepreneur, Karman Tse is the founder and editor-in-chief of Wear Oh Where. One of her greatest passions, apart from Fashion and anything French, is possessing the ability to be able to empower others through her writing and storytelling. To Karman, it is absolutely heartening and uplifting to know that her work can allow someone who reads a story on Wear Oh Where to feel something positive — moved, inspired, emboldened. It is her hope and intention to encourage women to own their story, to tell it. In turn, to garner support and celebrate one another — not only in success but also in failure. That in its essence, is nothing short of a dream come true.
Klarra: What does Sensitivity mean to you?
Karman: For a very long time, I used to believe that being “sensitive” is a bad thing. If everyone is always telling you, “don’t be so sensitive”, everyone must be right. Something must be wrong with me. When girls/women show signs of sensitivity, they’re perceived as being weak. When boys/men show signs of sensitivity, they’re told “don’t be such a girl”.
It took me a long time to unlearn and unfetter myself from the labels and opinions the world so readily imposes on you — they need to in order to be able to fit you into one of their categories, to understand and feel comfortable. But what if you didn’t fit anywhere? Would you be content to be “othered” for the rest of your life? Or be told you shouldn’t be so… you?
I was already in my late 30s when I had my aha! moment: The world’s opinion is not my reality. Their rules, the “norm”, need not apply to me. “And it’s OK,” my friend Ciara said to me just a few months ago. It is not wrong, or unbecoming, or unattractive, or uncool to feel too much, to care too much and to love too much.
“That is your superpower,” she said.
I swear my world stopped for a minute. And just like that, the thing I thought was my weakness all my life becomes my greatest strength. I suspect it had been all along. It’s like Chuck Bass says, “Dumbo always knew he could fly. He just needed a magic feather.”
So, there’s a word for people like me: Empath. I spent years trying to suppress that part of me, to de-sensitise, to not care, to pretend to be something else. Not only because of what people might think, but because when you care as much as you do, you are setting yourself up to be hurt and disappointed. Looking back, all I can think is: What kind of life is that? I had been living like a zombie. Now, I say, empath is the best path. You just have to decide for yourself.
If you think about it, superheroes are sensitive people. Literally, their senses are amplified. Does it make them more vulnerable? Do they feel pain more profoundly and struggle with their dark side constantly because they are so tuned in to their feelings? Yes. In that sense, you could think of sensitivity as Kryptonite. But it’s also the very thing that fuels their desire to fight evil and make the world a better place.
Ultimately, to feel is to be human. My sensitivity means I have the ability and power to empathise and connect meaningfully with people. In my personal life, I have great friendships because of it. In my professional life, people trust me with their stories — to hear them, to tell them. And so often, that means having someone who’s going through tough times feel a little less alone, a little more hopeful. Superpower or not, that is definitely something I’m grateful for.
Ultimately, to feel is to be human. My SENSITIVITY means I have the ability and POWER to empathise and CONNECT meaningfully with people.
Klarra: What does women’s empowerment mean to you?
Karman: Women’s empowerment can sound like such a big, intimidating notion. If you’re not leading a march or don’t have your own talk show, can you be empowering?
For me, it has always been about the little things. You don’t have to be Gloria Steinem or Oprah to effect change and make a difference. They started somewhere, too. Do what you can where you are, with what you have.
To empower, by definition, means to give power to, and to enable. If you have uttered words or taken action that have given another woman or a community of women courage, strength, inspiration and hope to speak up, to dare greatly, to dream bigger, to feel good about themselves and their bodies, to take that first step, to be exactly who they are and becoming who they are meant to become, to live their truth, and to be an agent of change herself, then no word or action is too small.
What I have is writing and storytelling. In a way not insignificant, I think this is what I have because I have been a lucky recipient of much kindness from successful women who have been generous with their time and with sharing what they have learned with me, women who saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself and helped me to believe. This is true in the early days of Wear Oh Where. And it still is. They have, no doubt, inspired me to be that for others. Before them, surely, they had their own female mentors and role models who have inspired them to be that for me. And this is how the way is paved. Everyone counts. You count. It is vital that we support and celebrate one another — not only in success but also in failure.
That said, I also believe very strongly that before you can go out there and empower, you must first AM-power. Be your own cheerleader and heroine. Be kind to yourself.
Klarra: What keeps you motivated and driven?
Karman: The possibility that my work, my words, can bring a measure of solace to someone out there — maybe through one of my stories on Wear Oh Where, or a PowWoW session I host from time to time, where our readers come together to have conversations and trade stories in an intimate setting. I am a classic introvert who has also been dealing with anxiety for years, so speaking in public is, as you can imagine, not my natural milieu. I would spend at least a week preparing myself mentally for it, and a few more days afterwards recuperating, often with a migraine. Yet, the connection and camaraderie I witness and experience at every session, the support we so generously give one another — there’s nothing like it. It’s magical. So yeah, I am very motivated to overcome my fears and my anxiety and migraines if it means I can continue to do this for a long, long time.
It is vital that we support and celebrate one another — not only in success but also in failure.
Klarra: What are some values you live by?
Karman: Kindness and honesty.
Klarra: Why did you start this business?
Karman: I didn’t know it when I started Wear Oh Where, but I believe that everything happens for a reason. I think I started it as an escape from my unhappy life. I was battling depression then. I know it’s not a noble or ambitious reason you’re probably hoping to hear. But that’s the truth. Looking back on how far I have come, I think that writing and the women I have encountered along the way have played a key role in my recovery. Writing has become my therapy. And in listening to the stories of others and understanding them, I found strength and my way back to me.
So, why did I start my website? If I could answer this question on behalf of me six years ago, I would say it is to tell anyone who feels like it’s them against the world that they’re not alone, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that if it sucks now, it won’t suck forever. You have the power to re-write your story.
Klarra: What do you hope to achieve with your business?
Karman: It is my hope and intention that anyone who reads a story on Wear Oh Where will walk away feeling something positive — moved, inspired, emboldened, solace, hope, understood, a connection with someone else or with herself. To encourage women to own their story, to tell it. To invite them to ask questions, to find answers — their own. Again, to remind them that they’re not alone. To celebrate life and all her little moments, good and bad. To start, to have difficult and sensitive (there’s my word again ;)) conversations, honestly.
Words are a very powerful tool, and stories are — and have been since time immemorial — what connect as humans, starting with the stories we tell ourselves.
Klarra: What is your idea of success?
Karman: Living the life you want on your own terms. And freedom.
Klarra: What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Karman: I have so many: Master the art of saying “no” quickly. Don’t take things personally. Kill ‘em with kindness. Know what you stand for. Know your why. Feel the fear and do it anyway. But if I must offer only one piece of advice, it’s this: Make your own rules and define your own success.
Five more interviews of five remarkable women in the “I Am: A Portrait Series” on Klarra.