Beauty, brains, and ambition. What more can a Chinita aspire for?
Having returned with its highly anticipated second season on CNN Philippines, CHiNOY TV’s Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart is back with new content that explores the modern Chinoy identity through dialogues with noteworthy characters from across the whole country. True to its theme #BeyondBorders, the documentary series covers stories that transcend both geography and convention.
And what better way to break convention than with the power of the internet?
In an exclusive sit-down with CHiNOY TV, entrepreneurial fashion blogger Camille Co reveals the history and behind-the-scenes of what it means to pursue passion, opportunities, and love with a stereotype-breaking career in the rapidly booming landscape of social media — and more!
Corporate vs Fashion: The Passion
Like many Chinoys, Camille Co was raised in a traditional household with a general set of expectations and values. She grew up speaking Hokkien at home, graduated high school with honors, and pursued a business management major at the Ateneo de Manila University. In the midst of said undergraduate studies, she also established her own, at the time, online ready-to-wear store Coexist.
Stereotypically speaking, that’s about as perfect a Chinese child you can get. In fact, based on her childhood, one would believe that Camille would continue that conventional trajectory after graduating.
“Of course, everyone expected me to go corporate. Those were also my old expectations of myself,” commented Camille.
But she didn’t.
“Actually, during college, you usually get all these invites from other corporations. They would start sending invites to top students to apply for them. I would say yes. But then, when the time came closer — like if I had to set a schedule — I’d never reply. I just couldn’t bring myself to go to these interviews because I couldn’t imagine myself sitting in front of a desk and just working nine-to-five,” continued Camille.
What ended up happening instead was a venture into fashion. Since her online store Coexist was rapidly growing into something bigger than it was ever expected to be, Camille took a leap of faith and entered fashion school.
“Magazines started to feature Coexist. I got a lot of features, as well,” Camille explained.
“I was like, ‘You know what? This business looks like it’s profitable. So mom, why don’t I get some official training for this? I want to do fashion school and focus on Coexist before I head out into the real world again.’”
And so she did.
“So while I was in fashion school, I continued Coexist, and then I just never ended it. I just kept doing it because it kept getting better and better. Slowly, I realized this is actually a viable career for me. Before I started this, I thought it’s foolish to just go into fashion. It was super ingrained in me that I had to do this traditional [corporate] set-up, so I never really thought that I could do fashion as my main career.”
Fashion Blogging: The Opportunity
The truth is that one of the best ways to advertise fashion is to create a well-manicured online catalog for social media users to consume. This is how Camille started out blogging.
“I wanted to market my designs without having to spend a huge [amount] because, at the time, I was thinking that [Coexist] was going to be a side hobby,” said Camille.
Back then, Instagram was not yet the world’s go-to app for collating #aesthetic photos and OOTDs. Instead, Camille would share pictures of herself wearing Coexist pieces on online fashion platforms like Chictopia and Lookbook.
Camile supposed, “That’s where people started to identify me as a blogger. I myself never identified as a blogger because I always thought, ‘I don’t have my own blog.’ I’m just posting for Coexist. I’m trying to grow my community, so that I can get more audience for my own line.”
Then one thing led to another. Recognizing the exposure that both she and her brand could get, Camille slowly started to become the blogger that everyone labeled her to be.
“It was super duper accidental,” Camille admitted. “When I started blogging, I didn’t think of it as a career because, at the time, everyone was just blogging on a website. It wasn’t this whole industry that we have now.”
Of course, since being a social media influencer wasn’t quite the profitable profession yet in the late 2010s, Camille’s own parents were hesitant in the path that she was making for herself. Not only was it not an expected career choice for the traditional Chinoy, it was also not a typical career choice for anyone.
Camille explained: “This [career choice] was met with a lot of doubts from my parents. My dad wasn’t always supportive of my fashion line. My mom was, but when it came to blogging, it was my dad. It was faster for my dad to understand blogging, but my mom was super against it. When you’re a blogger, you’re supposed to attend events. You’re supposed to network. You’re supposed to go through these. [My mom] couldn’t understand it. ‘Why are you supposed to attend these events? These events are like 9 PM or 10 PM. The neighbors are going to see you come here so late in the night. What are they going to think? No one is going to marry you if you are like that. I said yes to fashion design. I did not say yes to blogging.’”
But Camille also understood that her parents’ concern came from a place of fear. “You just have to explain and then show them that this is actually viable.”
At the end of the day, it’s about the business potential and the legitimacy of the work. “The funny thing is that when the features started coming in, other Chinoy aunties and uncles would tell [my parents], ‘Hey, my daughter is a huge fan of your daughter.’ ‘I saw your daughter on this magazine, on this newspaper!’ You’d see that they’re all really beaming.
“And [my mom’s] like, ‘Yeah, that’s my kid. I’m so proud.’”
Co-Koro: The Love
Years later, Camille would lay Coexist to rest in order to not only focus on her blogging and other business ventures but also life with her new family, who now includes Finnish husband Joni Koro and daughter Sienna.
This magical chapter of her life started with the same type of fairytale plot that you’d find in movies — it was love at first sight by the airplane seats!
“I ended up being [Joni’s] seatmate. All my other friends were also in broken seats, so we weren’t together. He claimed he already saw me at the airport and na-love at first sight daw siya,” recalled Camille fondly. “All that time he was chatty, [but] he claims that I was the most unresponsive person ever. I seemed so uninterested.”
Flirting with strangers on a plane wasn’t something that Camille was used to, so it took time and a lot of effort on Joni’s part for a relationship to bloom. After all, Joni was neither Chinese nor Filipino. He was a foreigner — someone completely unfamiliar to Camille’s family.
This made it more than difficult to immediately get parental approval.
“I think that, for [my parents’] generation, they really prefer for kids to marry someone in the Chinoy community. I think it really stems from their fear [of losing] the values and the Filipino-Chinese traditions to be passed down,” said Camille.
“I always say that when you don’t know something, that’s when the fear comes in. That’s why they were so scared for me. Like my mom was automatically imagining this stereotypical foreigner,” she continued.
So Camille made sure that there would be several opportunities for her parents to get to know her then potential boyfriend. “That’s why, when I brought [Joni] to the house, of course, I had to brief him. I told him that, for my parents, you have to keep visiting the house. You have to come here as much as you can — not just once a week, but as much as you can!”
“If you’re sitting beside my parents, you have to offer them food. If my parents are carrying something, you have to help them and carry stuff for them. ‘Yung mga ganun,” said Camille, remembering the multiple pieces of advice that she had shared with her beau. “He also understood this. He was willing to go through all of that. And at the end of the day, love conquers all — conquers my parents.”
Everything especially came together when, one Christmas, Camille suggested to her parents for Joni to join their Tagaytay trip since he would be spending the holidays alone. “[My parents] were like ‘Oh yes, we’ll find him a room within the village and see if he can spend time with us.’ So I knew then, they would ask — take my mom’s birthday — Are you inviting Joni to come, too?”
To put it simply, Camille summarized: “I think, at the end of the day, when your parents see that this guy is a good guy, that he’s not going to do you any harm, that he’s a hardworking guy, then they’ll be fine. You just have to show them that this guy is not bad. I understand how my parents brought me up.”
In the future, however, Camille hopes to be more understanding towards her children regarding not only matters of the heart but also of the mind, all the while maintaining the values that she has learned from her own upbringing. “I feel that for other Chinoys like me who want something more unconventional, and for parents who are having a hard time wrapping themselves around this new unconventional idea that their kid wants to do, I think, at the end of the day, you have to remember that you did your best as a parent to plant these seeds. You have to let them grow because you’ve already guided them enough and they feel that when you let them, you truly let them shine in their own way. Give them the chance to show you what you’ve given them.
“Give them the chance to show you how great of a parent you are to them.”
Be sure to catch Camille Co on Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart on CNN Philippines! The series airs every Sunday at 8PM. Stay tuned on CHiNOY TV’s and CNN Philippines’ Facebook pages for further updates.