AAPI Perspectives: Lin Chen on Facing Fear and Defining Moments

Founders discuss their upbringings, challenges, and paths to success

AAPI Perspectives: Lin Chen illo

Design: Julie Bang / The Balance, Photo courtesy of Pink Moon

While May marks the annual celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, this year’s commemoration takes on perhaps even more significance because of what the community continues to endure during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while unfortunate circumstances may have led to a brighter light being cast on the AAPI community, The Balance aims to focus on the success stories of founders across regions and industries who’ve faced their own set of challenges and perseveredall the while maintaining their cultural roots and heritage. These are their experiences. 

Lin Chen based her beauty and “wellcare” (wellness + self-care) company Pink Moon on the concept of “by women, for women,”, but in just a few short years of existence, it’s come to represent much more. Operating as both a consultancy and digital boutique that thrives on inclusivity and social impact, Pink Moon welcomes all customers, including those who identify as cis, trans, and non-binary. It sells a substantial number of products produced by firms owned by Asian women and women of color. Pink Moon also donates a percentage of its revenue to a selected charity with each purchase. This model reflects Chen’s vision to run a business focused on female-founded brands that value sustainability, philanthropy, and holistic wellness.

The Balance recently spoke with the New York City-based Chen about AAPI advocacy and taking the nontraditional career path, as well as her challenging and defining moments. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

You've made a mark in representing not just women, but the AAPI community with Pink Moon. Did you feel this was an underserved market?

I've been an advocate for Asian American or AAPI for quite some time, since college actually. After I graduated college, I moved to San Francisco, and was part of two nonprofits that are specifically for Asian Americans. One is a magazine called Hyphen, and they talk about the issue of lack of Asian representation in media and Hollywood. That was one of the organizations I volunteered with, and helped them with fundraising and marketing. Another organization is called Taiwanese American Professionals, which helps Taiwanese Americans, or Asian Americans, really, network and build a community.

I really always saw such a lack of Asian representation in all realms [including] the fashion and beauty industry. It’s something that I talk about often with other Asian brand founders, that we really feel like we're so underrepresented. Even when I launched my career, after college, I was working at a wellness, natural skin care company, and in the industry and networking events I would go to, I always felt like I was the only Asian in the room.

It definitely is good to now see more Asians being represented, but I think there's still so much left to do.  

One of your primary focuses is on social impact initiatives. Can you shed some light on these?

Philanthropy is a big part of my personal life. Growing up, my mom has instilled this mission of giving back, so I really wanted to incorporate that into my business values as well, and really help support people in need as much as I can. We partnered with Beam, which is a platform that used to work with restaurants, but started going more into e-commerce. So when someone is checking out in their cart or after checking out, they can select one of four charities to donate 1% of our revenue to that charity.

We have four charity partners. One is Womankind, which supports AAPI women in the New York City area who are survivors of domestic violence. And then, there is Loveland Foundation, which supports Black women and girls with mental health care, Grow NYC, which supports the farmers’ markets and sustainability environmental programs in New York City, and Animal Haven, which helps abandoned dogs and cats in need in the tri-state area.

Find out what the eight types of charitable giving are, and which may be best for you. 

You mentioned your mom’s inspiration, and that ties into your upbringing. Were you going against the grain by heading into beauty/wellness?

I was going against the grain, for sure. My brother is a doctor, and my mom works in health care. My dad was an entrepreneur himself, so he was more in support of me. But when I first launched the consultancy four years ago, my mom was not very supportive, and was really like, "I think you should rethink this, and maybe come back home and live here for a bit, go to grad school, or consider a career in health care." She was very apprehensive at first, and now that she sees that Pink Moon is featured in all this press, and that we're really growing fast, she's finally like, "Wow, Lin is making it."

In terms of starting the business, were there any challenges or adversity as an AAPI individual? 

Sometimes I felt like my emails were being ignored, and I was not fully accepted. For example, I used to consult for a Mongolian skin care brand. Because this brand uses a lot of traditional Mongolian ingredients including animal fats, when I was pitching the brand to retailers here in the U.S., most of them were not receptive. They were kind of grossed out by the ingredients, and so that was one example of feeling like I was ignored, and people were not fully accepting. Another brand that I consulted for was a traditional Chinese medicine brand, and I had pushback from retailers saying, "Our customers don't understand traditional Chinese medicine, I don't think they'll be interested.” So it was just people not being open to learning about traditional, ancient, and rich Chinese and Mongolian history.

Then, as a retailer, after the “Crazy Rich Asians” movie came out, I wanted to do this fun PR pitch. I created this pitch with my Asian brand founders that I was consulting for, and now carry in my store, which we called  "Crazy Healthy Asian Beauty Routine.” We sent that out to many editors, and I only got two replies, and they were actually both Asian beauty editors.

In that sense, I also felt like Asian beauty is not important. I really wanted to push the narrative that there's more to Asian beauty than [Korean] beauty. There's Japanese beauty, there's Chinese beauty, and Taiwanese beauty. Asia's a vast continent.

What would you say was a defining moment in your career?

Launching my store has just been a lifelong dream of mine. Well, actually my lifelong dream initially pre-COVID was to open up this cool space in Manhattan to serve as a sanctuary for women to come in and be themselves and really build an inclusive community. Because of COVID, I launched online instead first. But just having this online community, and hearing from customers who directly message me, and say,  "Your products and your mission have really helped me take better care of myself,” that has been really rewarding—to know that my mission is reaching these people, and they feel the benefits of what I'm trying to build.

Learn about the pros and cons of online shopping. 

What advice do you have for younger AAPI people who are hitting a roadblock in their career?

I always tell people to not let fear stop you. When I first launched Pink Moon four years ago, it definitely was very scary at first. I had left a full-time salaried job and I had just moved into my own apartment in New York City.  But I was thinking, "OK, well, I know that if I go back into corporate, I won't be happy," and I really wanted to think for myself. So the twofold advice is to really believe in yourself, and trust your instinct. Second is don't let fear stop you, and don't let people, whether your parents or outside voices, tell you, "No, you can't do this."

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you? 

It definitely is great to get more exposure, because I remember in previous years, every time AAPI Heritage Month came around, it didn't feel like a big deal. I think it feels like a bigger deal because of everything going on, which is a bit unfortunate, but these events had to happen for people to shine more light on AAPIs. It's great that people are recognizing the struggles that we go through and learn more about Asian American history. Not all Asians are crazy rich as a lot of these films and TV shows have made it seem like. People are starting to let go of these stereotypes, but I think there's still so much more that people need to do. It’s definitely good to see this shift, but AAPI shouldn't be celebrated just during this month, it should be all, you know, throughout the year, with [a focus on] advocacy, too.