Interview from HalfKorean.com
David Sanders of HalfKorean.com at recent picnic for anyone of MixKor heritage and interest in things Korean.
LINK Here to HalfKorean interview: Aein Hope / oki tokki
Oki tokki (오키토끼) is a Los Angeles, California-based handmade jewelry and accessory line by Aein Hope.
Founded in 2010, oki tokki specializes in making products that represent a love for the Korean language and culture.
HalfKorean.com had a chance to discuss with Aein about her background and oki tokki.
Hey Aein, so what is your mix?
My mother is Korean and what we know of my father’s heritage is that he’s Scottish/German, but my sister and I want to one day really map our family tree to find out more.
Where you born, raised and currently live?
I was born and raised in Georgia! I lived there for pretty much my entire life, living on biscuits & gravy, fried chicken, BBQ and delicious Korean food made by my mother. I moved out to Los Angeles six years ago and I’m still here, loving every minute of it… but the search for LA’s perfect biscuits & gravy is still ongoing.
Do you speak Korean?
My mother taught me the basics of Korean and sent me to Saturday Korean school for awhile. I learned how to read and write 한글 (Hangul) and I had a basic understanding of commands- I definitely understood when she wanted me to eat, close the windows or sleep, but I didn’t really know how to make my own sentences. After I moved out to LA I started looking around for Korean classes and began studying at the Korean Cultural Center. I also ended up studying in the Korean program at CSU-LA and abroad for a summer at Korea University. I will always be studying and learning more, but yes, I can speak Korean!
What was your mixed Korean experience like?
As a person of mixed descent, I understand what it’s like not being able to reach both sides of my heritage. There are always those few sentences that relatives tell you when they haven’t seen you in awhile, from, “Oh, you look just like your mother!” to “Ah, you are shaping up just like your father.” From an outsider’s point of view, I may only resemble my mother because of my dark hair, slightly slanted eyes, or perhaps even my button nose. However, I feel within myself a sort of indifference as to what I look like, or to whom I resemble the most. What kind of importance does this have on who I am inside? Why must people look towards outside appearances?
I remember the time when I applied for my driver’s permit when I was 16 and filling the “Race” box proved difficult. I put both of my heritages down and handed the lady my paper. She gave it back to me and instructed me to list only one answer. One answer? Am I not both? “Write down what you look like the most,” she told me. I then went into contemplation of a mental image of myself. People on average consider a person’s ethnicity by what he looks like and ‘hapas’ are usually more difficult to solve. Asians think I look more white, Caucasians think I look more Asian. What am I supposed to think of myself?
Growing up in the South (within the “Bible Belt”), even in my small town there were numerous Korean churches that my mother took me to. There was an immediate, yet unconscious, segregation of us all, between the ‘hapas’ and the full Koreans. The full Koreans never accepted us hapas and we would just huddle amongst ourselves, unwanted by the rest of the community. It saddened me to a point where I made sure I never attended again.
To this day, it continues to amaze me how often I get the question “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” I don’t think people understand how the question “What are you?” can be so hurtful. I was born in the U.S., I grew up here. My sister and I faced a lot of racism and prejudice from all races in our hometown. We’ve heard the “ching chong” thing way too many times as well as probably every racist term created for Asians.
I think it took me a long time to become comfortable with myself and grow out of the hurt, pain and rejection from my youth. It is still a work in progress, but learning the Korean language and more about my heritage has helped me slowly overcome it.
What is oki tokki and when was it founded/created?
oki tokki is a cute & eco-friendly shop featuring handcrafted, one a kind items designed & made solely be one girl: me, Aein! My goal is to capture one’s love of language & culture and translate it into wearable, shareable art. In 2009, I started scrounging money together for supplies and began to work out my ideas into designs. I officially launched oki tokki in July 2010, but because of extenuating circumstances I had to close the shop for most of 2010 and reopened in January 2011.
How did you come up with the name?
I love trying to think of bilingual puns- I guess it’s like a game for me! I once said “oki dokie” to someone, and then thought- are there any Korean words that would sound similar? The closest I found was “tokki” for the “dokie” so I started saying “oki tokki” instead. I wanted the name for my business to be something related to both of my heritages and decided that funny phrase I came up with earlier would be a perfect fit.
Why did you decide to start oki tokki? Was it a hobby that you decided to turn into a business?
When I was younger, I always wanted things with Hangul on them. Every time my mom took me to a Korean store, I would look around for stickers or anything with Hangul. Later when I went to Korea for study abroad, I looked again for t-shirts or jewelry with Hangul or something distinctively Korean on it, but found mostly t-shirts with Engrish on them! I realized that apparel and accessories featuring 한글 (hangul, Korean writing) were severely lacking–especially ones that are design-oriented and cute, but also eco-friendly & handmade as well. I’ve always thought that art is a great way to learn and teach others about culture & language, so I strive to maintain a positive, educational approach to all of my designs. I love that somewhere else in the world people can not only like my designs, but maybe learn little tidbits about Korean culture or language as well.
Which product/design are you most proud of?
The Sarang Earrings are one of the first earrings I designed from start to finish and it was a very rewarding experience for me as a designer. Also, I love taking traditional Korean folk tales and creating my own spin on it, like the Flower Foxes. Before I wanted to be a designer, I wanted to be a story teller and I get a chance to do both by writing background stories and personalities for my characters!
Which of your products would you consider your most popular?
“Of Course! It’s the Carrot!” tote bags always go very fast and a lot of Sarang Earrings are often bought to be given as gifts for anniversaries or birthdays.
What kind of feedback have you received from your customers?
I think one of my favorite messages was from this lady who bought the Sarang Earrings to wear on a Valentine’s Day date with her husband. Another one would be from a girl who bought the tote bag–she told me that using her bag was a great way to find more people who were interested in Korea as well. I’m so glad that people send in their photos or messages about the products because since I only sell online, I don’t have many chances to actually see people wearing or using the things I’ve made.
Are most of your customers Korean-Americans or is it fairly diverse?
My first customer was actually a woman who adopted a Korean girl; she bought the “Of Course! It’s the Carrot!” tote bag for her child to carry her books for Korean class in, which I think is such a sweet story. I would say that the customers range from Korean Americans to simply people interested in Korean culture or language. I usually receive messages from half Koreans saying that they’re half Korean, too–I think that meeting another half Korean is just so exciting that we always have to let each other know.
What are some of your goals for oki tokki (both short and long term)?
Short term: I want to release more products (especially tees!) and find the time to paint more.
Long term: I would like to reach and interact with more half Koreans. I also want to continue to find new ways to improve my products and find new & better ways to become more eco-friendly with products, packaging and the like.
Okay, got to ask… is Aein Hope your real name?
Most Americans think that my last name is fake, but I’m very proud to be a Hope child. As for Aein, most Koreans think it’s fake because it’s 애인, which means lover or darling, however it is my “official” Korean name– however odd it may be. I spell it as 에인 though, to avoid confusion.
Any final words or anything you would like to share with the mixed Korean community?
I am always comforted (and yet, saddened) by the fact that there are so many of us with similar experiences. I love that HalfKorean.com has become an easy and accessible gateway to meet kindred souls. I think we can become stronger through these connections with each other, sharing our stories and finding solace from our friendships. These common bonds will help support us to look past the ignorance we have faced and accept our identity–however we may perceive it.
Thank you to Aein for her time and HalfKorean.com would like to wish her and oki tokki all the best and much success!
(Images courtesy of Aein Hope / oki tokki)