1. What inspired you to start Lotus and Luna?
One day I got a email from Photo Bucket, informing me about a contest they were running called “Life is an Adventure”. I knew I would be a great candidate for the contest with all of my travel stories, so I decided to apply. I really went for it 100%- I put my heart and soul into telling my story. I put in countless hours, and even told all my friends and office mates that I was going to win- I really believed I would.
I received a call a few weeks later letting me know that I received second place in the contest. First prize was $25,000, second place was $500. I wasn’t meant to get first place because that would just make my life too easy, but getting second place, and having my story sent to millions of people, was just what I needed. After that contest, I realized if I put 100% of my effort into something, I could be successful at anything. It was one of those “ahah” moments- where you work really hard, and actually see results.
I happened to be going on vacation to Thailand a week after I won the contest. I had been there previously, in 2012, and fell in love with the people and all of the handcrafted products they were making. So six days before I left, I decided to start a business and see where it would take me. it was just the right time in my life. I was working at a job that I liked but didn’t love. I was happy but not satisfied. The Photo Bucket contest was the confidence booster I needed to realize I could do anything I set my mind to.
2. Where did the name come from?
The lotus flower is a very significant symbol in Thailand. The flower rises from the bottom of rivers and ponds to bloom above the water, symbolizing a beautiful rebirth or spiritual ascension. I wanted to inspire others to rise out of their situations, no matter how dark they may be, just like the lotus flower. Luna, means moon in Spanish. I spent much of my childhood in Mexico City, and also just liked the ring of it. Moon is pronounced “Jan” in Thai, which is my nickname- so it just fit.
3. Tell us more about your mission to help women escape the cycle of poverty?
We employ women of all ages- from young single mothers, to older women and even grandmas! Working with single mothers allows them to spend time at home with their children, while they hand make our items. Otherwise, these women would have to bring their children with them to work- which I see all the time- children sleeping on the streets while their mothers work at a market. By providing them with consistent, fair employment, they are able to spend more time at home with their children, and provide for a better life for them. There is a ripple effect as families grow stronger.
We also employ older women who would otherwise be out of work- as old as 75 years old. Many jobs available in Thailand are manual labor, and once a women reaches a certain age it can be very difficult to work. We employ all different skill sets- for example, if someone is older and has trouble seeing the beads to make bracelets, they can put together tags or cut fabric for kimonos. We try to make a place for everyone in the village to work. As these women make our products, their village economy grows stronger, allowing them to better provide for their children and generations to come.
4. What was one of your favorite moments working with these women?
One of my favorite moments working with these women was actually the first time I met them. I can’t tell you how surprised they were to see someone like me in their village. I was actually introduced to these women through a little bit of good karma: I was supporting an orphanage in Bangkok, and raised 150 pounds of medical supplies, but had no way to translate the supplies to English. I asked my friends in the USA, and was eventually referred to a friend of a friend named Eddie, who met me at the airport in Bangkok and helped to translate the medical supplies to the orphanage. We ended up becoming friends, and he traveled with me to Chiang Mai the next day. I told him that I was looking for artisan products, but didn’t want to work with a factory- I really wanted to know the workers. He then invited me to lunch with his uncle, but I said no, because I had rented a bike for the day and had a tour planned. About one minute after saying no, I came to my senses and said yes! We went to lunch with his uncle, who was Thai and living in Thailand, who then called his wife, and some of her friends, and next thing I know we are driving two hours outside the city in a pick up truck into the village.
I remember that moment when I first arrived, and the look on their faces – who is this young girl with all these Thai people coming into our village? They speak no English, and at the time I spoke no Thai, so we just looked at each other and smiled, and that was the beginning of a great business relationship. A smile means hello in every language.
5. What do you think people think of when they think of women travelers?
When people think of women travelers, they think of strong, independent women. They think courage, as many people are afraid to travel, especially alone or without a man. I think of a bold spirit and adventure. Some people think I am crazy for doing what I do, but that’s just because they have never done the same thing. People fear what is unfamiliar to them, until they experience the joy for themselves.
6. What type of traveler are you?
I consider myself an adventure traveler. I try not to have expectations, go with the flow, and say yes to all opportunities presented to me. I always tell people: don’t invite me because I will really go! Trekking, zip lining, diving, exploring with locals and seeing how they live, and good conversations are a few of my favorite things. I love to meet new people and try new things. That being said, you also have to be smart about what you say “yes” to. I feel very safe traveling in Thailand, but in other places you have to be a bit more guarded. My best advice is yes, to take opportunities that come your way, but always be very aware of your surroundings, keep your eyes open, and listen to your gut instinct.
7. What is the craziest thing you’ve done/experienced while traveling?
So many crazy things have happened on my travels. Three examples: I was approached to be in a Colombian soap opera in Colombia (I speak fluent Spanish) and of course I said yes, and landed a small speaking role. It was amazing to do hair, makeup, wardrobe change and mingle with Colombian celebrities. I was also hospitalized in India, mugged in Cusco and caught on a burning bus in Vietnam- but I can’t tell them all 🙂
8. Where was your favorite trip? Why?
My favorite trip was my first trip to Asia in 2010. To be 21 years old in China, Japan, and go to so many countries that were so different than anything I had ever experienced was life changing. My entire life direction shifted after that. I found myself to be much more compassionate and understanding after seeing how so many other people live. It also opened my eyes to the fact that I myself could be different. Living life in the USA before was my only option, but once I saw Asia I realized I could live in so many different ways.
9. Who do you prefer traveling with?
I prefer traveling with my best friends – we all have a great sense of adventure and similar interests. I like to say “best friends make the best adventures “
10. Why is travel important?
Traveling is a way to open your eyes to how other people live. It helps you to understand and be more empathetic to others – even when you’re back in your own country. Travel is important because it breeds understanding, on an individual and a larger level. Understanding leads to respect, and respect leads to friendship. I believe travel is an integral part of building a peaceful worldwide community.
11. When did you start traveling?
I took my first trip in 2005 with my three best friends- I was 17 and had just graduated high school. We spent a month in Europe and had the best time! The funny thing is, i didn’t even want to go. My parents pushed me, basically shoved me out the door, and I had the pressure of my three best friends who insisted that I go with them. I was a bit of a homebody before. I guess my parents were kind of worried that I would have a tough time moving away for college and that I wasn’t ready to be away from my comfort zone. Well, that sure changed after Europe. I am so grateful to every one who pushed me to go because it changed who I am as a person, and my life, forever. There are some pretty amazing stories from that trip too 🙂
12. What is your favorite souvenir?
I tend to travel pretty light, so my favorite souvenir isn’t an item, but rather the memories I make and the friends that I have made around the world. Those two things are worth more to me then any souvenir I could bring home!
Check out Janelle’s Lotus and Luna HERE.