The In Her Words Series is meant to celebrate the excellence and fortitude of BIWOC and WOC entrepreneurs through a series of interviews.
Samantha is the designer, entrepreneur, and business owner behind HEMLEVA. In addition to being an amazingly thoughtful person, Sam uses her platform (reaching 138,000+ people across the world) to amplify other BIPOC and POC-owned small businesses. I love her plant-themed pins, her suncatchers, and keychains – they make perfect gifts for your favorite plant lover!
1. Please introduce yourself and your business.
I am Samantha Leung and I am the designer, entrepreneur, and business owner behind HEMLEVA. I design botanical-inspired accessories for both you and your home. I started my business under the name Handmade Sam*Made in 2013, and have continued to grow and to find my voice as an artist and a business owner. My products range from plant-inspired enamel pins, keychains, to suncatchers, handmade brass mobiles and more. This year I also organized and designed products with other small, independent women-owned businesses, with a particular focus on other businesses run by women of color. That includes etched mugs, lost-cast wax earrings, rubber stamps, and more.
2. You are a plant lover and talented designer with over 300 stockists around the world! What inspired you to launch Hemleva, and how does your lifelong love of art and creativity play into your everyday experiences?
I started my business following a pretty horrible car accident during a cross-country move. My husband and I were relocating from Chicago to Seattle, and on the way, we ended up totaling our car one snowy night in the middle of South Dakota. I was pretty banged up from our car going over a highway overpass, and when we finally arrived in Seattle I was immediately put into physical therapy several days a week for a few months.
I am never one to sit still, and while I was recuperating, I was incredibly restless. I wanted something to do with the time in between PT and Doctor’s appointments and knew we also needed the money. So I opened up a shop with only $100. I bought the supplies I needed and kept reinvesting whenever I made a sale, and the rest is history.
3. Tell us about your favorite product to date and the story behind it.
My favorite product that I’ve designed and sell would have to be my line of suncatchers. They’re adhesive suncatchers that you simply affix to a clean window that gets direct sunlight and will cast rainbows into the room or car. It’s been an especially hard year for so very many of us – and knowing that I’ve designed something that brings people easy, simple joy – there’s something so incredibly special about that.
5. You have led such an interesting life, from teaching English in Northern China to earning a degree in Law, Politics and Society, almost pursuing law school, and now leading a successful international business as an entrepreneur! What is one lesson you’d share with your 16-year-old self?
If I could tell my 16-year-old self one thing, it would be that it’s okay to be a woman of color. That I should wear it like a badge of honor. I now know how common this is for so many people of color – to have to find the balance between our innate desire to fit in, while also learning about the history of our ancestors and being proud of who we are.
I would also like to tell my younger self that the hair care, makeup, and skincare products you see on drugstore shelves and at ULTA and Sephora were probably not designed with you in mind, and to look for Asian beauty products. `
6. What advice would you have for WOC who might be interested in starting their own businesses?
There are so many things that I would say.
1. Just start – there will never be a “perfect” day.
2. Find at least one person that believes in you. Because when the days get long, the work gets hard, knowing that even just one other person believes in your ability to succeed – that alone can be enough to keep propelling you forward.
3. Don’t be afraid to show your face. This is something that many POC have to decide when they start their business, whether or not to show their face, to share their full names, and to present in their brand. This is one thing I’m constantly trying to remind myself of because representation absolutely matters.
Learn more about Sam’s work at HEMLEVA.com