Writer Ngan Lin sat down with Athena for an interview to kick-start Women’s Weekend, teamCARPE’s collection of new, unreleased stories featuring women who have a message to share, about the impact they’ve made. Being profiled by teamCARPE was an honour for Athena, who started Carpe Bloom when she was going to turn sixteen. This serves as a reminder, too, of what the team stands for as we launch into our special features over the next few months. Written by Tay Ngan Lin:
In lieu of International Women’s Day (March 8), a day where we celebrate and commemorate women for being awe-inspiring, stunning and extraordinary; we have an exclusive interview with Athena Tan! Creator, founding editor and the amazing boss-woman in charge of Carpe Bloom. In this new age of technology and the blossoming of female creators, we sit down with Athena to explore the inspiration behind the creation of Carpe Bloom, some fun facts about Athena herself, and dig out some insider’s information regarding Carpe Bloom’s future releases.
For our new followers as well as our long-time readers, could you give us a short introduction about yourself and what motivated you to create Carpe Bloom?
I think it’s really timely to ask this question ‘cause I just got my business cards printed, and to see this small rectangle with my design on it, linking people to my own name got me thinking: who am I really and why did I decide to actually create Carpe Bloom! [smiles]
To introduce myself: everything I do is driven by my desire to connect – people to people, people to ideas. And oftentimes, the most difficult connection to forge is the connection between people and themselves — their own passions and dreams.
When I was sixteen, I realized that there were barriers to entry with regards to people entering the creative industry, particularly when you’re young. It was very difficult for young people to get accepted into, for instance, larger literary journals because of the lack of experience. Or, it was challenging for young people — in Asia, in my country, Singapore, at least — to openly declare that they wanted to start a career in the creative industry. I wouldn’t say that there was a stigma, but there were already negative preconceptions that had to do with being a ‘starving artist’, when in reality, the creative industry is diverse; career pathways are diverse with creative skill-sets. So to empower youth with the idea that they can be courageous and chase a creative passion, I created Carpe Bloom to feature their work, to give their work — even at its roughest — a home. So that they can see and remind themselves that they produced this, they collaborated with (one of our professionals from our network), and continue to pursue their passions.
What is Carpe Bloom about, and what are the beliefs and goals of this magazine?
Carpe Bloom translates to SEIZE THE BLOOM. You know that phrase “You’re just a late bloomer?” I wanted to sort of subvert that notion that people bloom at set times, that their time will come later – I wanted to instead highlight to young people how their ‘time for success’ or their ‘time to be alive’ and pursue what they want to, to express themselves, to be heard – that time is now. So, I worked with the idea of ‘seizing’ – a material verb – and this idea of a ‘bloom’[ing] period, to embody the message of enabling youth to chase their creative desires.
And that actually leads onto the goals and beliefs of the magazine — that we’ve now become MORE than a magazine. I hope to perpetuate the idea that as a platform, we’ve evolved and grown [from a magazine] along with our readers, supporters and team-mates. Now, we aren’t just a magazine but are also a sort of creative collective, bringing together collaborators from all around the world in the areas of art, photography, design, technology, video, audio. And, recently, having expanded the core team, we’ve also become a creative agency that enables young people to have experiences in the media and creative industries and scenes in Singapore. As I texted my photographer and other Carpe “interns” — really, people I’m so glad to be around and work with — the other day, “Girls, my main goal is to enable you to learn from experience and come out a stronger person in this area”. So it’s like, I don’t want to restrict my girls from covering events, from taking big interviews, from editing Instagram stories and scheduling posts – because these are all aspects of running and keeping a creative collective afloat. I always recommend that they pitch and provide ideas of their own, and always always make sure that we touch base on these ideas to develop into larger ideas that THEY believe in, to craft out multimedia stories and messages that THEY themselves stand for.
So our main belief and value-system is really really that there isn’t a need for a time in the future — the time is now to be confident and courageous in expressing yourself creatively, in pursuing a passion that develops your creative skillset.
Quick! Give us 3 fun facts about yourself!
I actually started a ‘beta version’ of Carpe Bloom when I was fifteen. It was a hot August day and I’d just gotten a paper cut from my O LEVEL Biology ten year series [laughs]. So I looked at the cut and I was like: it’s a fine time to start a little online thing; I’ll call it “Paperguts”. We had an email address for two weeks: thepapergutspeople. I featured literary work only. To me, I love looking at things from a big picture perspective. Hence, I shut Paperguts down, because — I wanted people to be able to “spill their creative guts”, and limiting it to writing wasn’t sending out the right message for myself, as someone who wanted to get involved with the entire creative industry.
I worked part-time during junior college/high school and also immediately after O Levels to save up to buy the domain name (.com) and certain digital elements. I worked retail. I got scolded all the time because of my clumsiness. [giggle] Literally everyone thinks I worked as a writer or designer but I worked retail; like genuinely, because I really liked this place. However, I have stopped to pursue exactly what people thought I was doing — I’m now a journalist and freelance creative.
I think the last fun fact is that I’m exempted from mother tongue ‘cause I grew up in California and have stayed there for around eleven years, picking up Spanish instead of Mandarin. I think that’s why I enjoy working with people to draw out aspects of their culture or highlight the diversity in their heritage or voice through creative projects. Creativity is like my language; multimedia storytelling is like my mother tongue [chuckles].
As a young female founder and creative, it can be hard to stay afloat in this rat race; especially because of the underlying discrimination against younger female content creators due to ageist and misogynistic outlooks. What are some struggles you’ve faced, and how have you managed to conquer them?
I’m literally squeaking. [blushes] Thanks for asking me to share about some challenges on behalf of our own team and other youths.
When I was seventeen, teamCARPE was invited to an event. We were a year in so we knew like our branding, I knew what we stood for and the type of content we produced. However, upon arriving at the event, the coordinator realized we were younger than he had expected from viewing our work online, and pushed us towards a table that he claimed “for unimportant people”, which – it was a bit of an offense, don’t you think, to everyone on that table, such as editors from Europe/Asia magazines – not just us. He also skipped over us because he thought we would be “too young” to have name cards or hold a conversation – oh, sweet seventeen was such a year! I think a challenge is that sometimes, people will see that you’re young, and won’t see your cause as something worth supporting or talking about with you. I was hurt personally lah, but even more hurt on behalf of my team. I stand for providing them with good experiences to learn from, that help us to champion the message of inclusivity in creativity ourselves – so to experience that and other such events from partner companies that tried to work with us in the past and present have honestly been a harrowing experience that highlights how your youth can be your boon, something that is viewed as a “weakness”.
I think another challenge generally that was physically straining for me is something that I feel is not as….bad, but rather a challenge we can grow from. This challenge is an underlying thing that occurs throughout every sort of event we cover. It’s basically the challenge in coordination. When we’re at a festival, I have to do things like prepare around five different folders of design, question and interview/press protocols and equipment lists. So you might see our team having “fun” at a festival, but we’ve had these extremely challenging two weeks to three weeks of event preparation before that. This challenge is something that we can grow from and really, always learn from because we’re a creative agency and collective, so each of our team members learns how to create social media posts and material from scratch and certain skillsets for interview, or even the small things like where to crouch when taking a photo in a crowd. I also train and emphasise on the fact that during these events we provide unique live coverage, to highlight perspectives on the spot, while our readers/followers are with us. So this vision is challenging but something that we learn from as a new-age “content creators”.
You’re a real inspiration to many! Myself included. From having founded Carpe Bloom to shaping the magazine and gathering an amazing team; a major contributor of the incredible magazine it is today. Are there any available slots for potential female journalists or photographers who wish to join you in this journey of female empowerment, and how is the selection criteria like?
Thank you so much! I am blushing now [HIGHKEY BLUSHING], I look like a red tomato.
As I always say on my Instagram, there’s always a place for people who want to join in. Our team started off with my guy friends as photographers and designers — we’re currently an all-female team, yes, but we definitely welcome anyone who believes in the same vision of empowering young people to be confident and courageous to pursue their creative passions, and who has an innate respect for people, and a love of highlighting perspectives. There is always a place – currently, we have our our core team, my beautiful girliepops – however, we’ve always had the culture of supporting guest writers, photographers, videographers, opinion writers, artists.
The selection criteria is really about the character that you have and the values you exhibit – we enjoy working with kind people, who have a passion for creating positive social impact.
Lastly, could you let us in on some sneak peeks on what and who the magazine will feature in the future; and how would you hope for this magazine to bloom?
The collective will be launching Women’s Weekend this very weekend – we’ve brainstormed and created special features to highlight International Women’s Day on 8th March. We’ll be showcasing perspectives of women from the nightlife industry, the cafe industry and lots more. Just want to say a shout out to my writer, Ngan Lin, for profiling me in the list of features as well [giggles]. It’s such an immense honour.
We’ve also launched our column ‘Stay WITty’ or #WITs – Women in Tech. I’m able to reveal warmly that we’re working with tech partners and talented and passionate women from all around the world to continue producing features for this column that makes technology accessible to all youth via the perspectives of women.
Lastly, teamCARPE’s also breaking up – jokes! [laughing] Just kidding! We’re “breaking up” into sub-units right now to work on special features that involve very different but important groups in society. Keep up with us on INSTAGRAM for more of that!