Based in Vancouver, BC, I’ll Know It When I See It is a two-woman business, creating fun and Asian-inspired paper goods and gifts.
After meeting in design school, Cassie and Christine decided to create a business that would make space for their heritage while supporting Canadian businesses. Despite the challenges of being Chinese Canadian entrepreneurs when culturally Asian work is still a niche, they manage to speak to their audience in a very authentic and unique way.
What is your connection with your Chinese-Canadian heritage?
The beauty of being in a multicultural society is all the multi-faceted ways in which we connect to our culture. For Christine, it can be found in daily moments such as going out for dinner with family or buying freshly baked Chinese pastries. She often takes the opportunity to pass on stories and memories to her kids of her family's history here in Vancouver. For Cassie, it’s speaking Cantonese when she can and eating the comfort Chinese food that she grew up with. We are both fortunate to have the unique experience of growing up as Canadian born Chinese children of immigrants – it truly made for a rich life experience.
What is your connection with Chinatown?
Christine's great grandparents made Chinatown their home after immigrating to Canada back in 1913. Since then, Chinatown has been the centre of life for her family - with grandparents working various labour jobs to make a living and afford the best opportunities for their children (Christine's parents). Even though family have since moved out of Chinatown, it still remains the place for her family to shop, eat, and expose the younger generation to the history of Cantonese Chinese culture in Canada.
Cassie’s connection with Chinatown spans two cities. She grew up in Calgary and spent a lot of time in Chinatown, whether it was eating, shopping, attending summer school as a kid or getting late night eats after the club. Even today, her grandmother resides in Chinatown. She now calls Vancouver home and makes a point of visiting Chinatown to buy dry goods from the local shops. It’s also a must stop anytime her family visits.
What is your background before IKIWISI?
Prior to meeting at Langara, Christine completed a BBA from SFU and Cassie a BSc from the University of Calgary. But it was the two years spent working together on school projects in the Display + Design program that was the perfect incubator for going into business together. After graduating, Christine worked in tech and Cassie in design for a while before both transitioning to IKIWISI full time.
What is the inspiration for this design? Why did you choose it?
We’ve always taken inspiration from daily life but it was during the pandemic that we took the time to re-examine ourselves and our work. That introspection led to us making space for our cultural perspective, allowing for greater authenticity in our designs.
We wanted to modernize Asian goods and show how fun it can still be, but not necessarily have the cutesy look we grew up with. We also wanted to incorporate the cultural markers that come with being raised in Canada, because that’s who we are and it’s important to be resonant to so many others just like us.
Can you briefly describe your experience as Chinese-Canadian entrepreneurs?
Every entrepreneurial journey is unique and as Chinese Canadians, we’ve faced both advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is having a captive audience for our goods because we are specifically targeting our community. We can speak to our audience authentically because we share the same experiences. Especially now, with the general Asian Canadian community feeling more emboldened to make space and to celebrate our voices; it’s encouraging and empowering to bring forth ideas in that energy.
Unfortunately, despite the strides we’re making, we are still at a disadvantage in several ways. Our particular industry is very white and as such, we are probably never going to have the same reach in doing culturally specific work because it’s simply not mainstream. Though we’ve never had anyone turn us away because we’re Asian, sometimes we wonder if we would have more doors open if unconscious bias wasn’t a thing.
Another big hurdle is overcoming the mentality that we need to conform to white spaces. In the past, we’ve stop ourselves from pursuing ideas that weren’t mainstream or niche because it wasn’t a good business move. We didn’t even give ourselves a chance to be truly authentic because we are so conditioned to fit in instead of standing out. By discounting our voice and contributions, it simply became a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was a lot of unlearning to do and that’s another layer of work on top of everything else it takes to be an entrepreneur. But, we’re changing, the world is changing and though we thought making space for our culture was a risk, it has actually brought the best reward.
Now what’s next?
The Chinatown Storytelling Centre and I'll Know It When I See It have come together for their first merch collaboration ever: the Cantonese Sayings Tote Bag!
Discover this new, fun and colorful design now available on:
Lucky Grizz is coming to Vancouver! Foo Hung Curios will be doing a limited release of Vancouver Grizzlies Lucky Cat theme capsule collection. Join us for the special Asian Heritage Month celebration in Chinatown on May 28th from 10 am to 1 pm!
Former Juno Awards judge DJ Nina Mendoza will also be performing at Foo Hung Curios, spinning classic hip-hop, disco, and RnB tunes from the 1970s to 2000s. Jessica Lui of Slothee Coffee has also created a custom Lucky Cat latte art design and will be selling pour-over coffee to keep you energized to explore Chinatown.
Customers will also be eligible to enter two lucky draws. The first is $100 worth of Chinatown restaurant gift cards. A big thank you to Chinatown BBQ and Pizza Coming Soon for being prize sponsors for our special Chinatown Lucky Draw! The second will be a matte lucky cat figurine to usher in a bright and happy summer!
Proceeds of Lucky Grizz will go towards the Chinatown Storytelling Centre, the first permanent exhibit space dedicated to sharing stories of the Chinese Canadian journey and the living heritage of Vancouver’s beloved Chinatown.
THE LUCKY GRIZZ CAPSULE COLLECTION IS AVAILABLE IN
Black crewneck sweater* ($105)
Black long-sleeve shirt ($65)
Teal T-shirt ($50)
Black T-shirt ($50)
In partnership with CCYAA and Mitchell and Ness, this limited-edition capsule collection celebrates the historic synergy between the Asian Canadian community and basketball.
Designed by Toronto graphic artist Ryan Wayne this year’s illustration incorporates the iconic maneki-neko (招き猫, 'beckoning cat') aka lucky cat (jīnmāo). Believed to bring good luck to the owner, this figurine is found throughout Asia and in Chinatown storefronts globally.
It exemplifies the cultural sharing that happens between Asian communities, not unlike the power of sports in bringing people together and bridging understanding.Continue reading
Holy Duck Chili are a husband-and-wife team who moved to Vancouver in 2020, right before the pandemic. As many of us have experienced, the series of events that followed left many of us feeling disconnected. During the Lunar New Year 2021, the pair began experimenting with Louise's grandma's chili oil recipe for their family and friends.
What was your journey leading up to the moment you thought "I should start my own business?"
Our journey to creating Holy Duck began during the pandemic when we re-evaluated our lives
and decided to pursue a passion project together as husband and wife in Canada to share our
love for Asian cuisines with locals. Through food and art, we hope to share with Canadians the
disappearing cultures and to relate with other fellow newcomers our journey becoming Asian
Was it a light bulb going off moment and you and Chris decided to go for it? Or did it take a while before you had the confidence that this would work? What was it like moving from Hong Kong and navigating the process of opening a new business?
We both had a fast-paced corporate life separately in our twenties which didn't allow us time to breathe, let alone spend time in the kitchen together cooking hearty, nutritious home-cooked meals for ourselves. However, going home to have dinner with parents was always a treat-there's something so nurturing about mom's home-cooked meal with the right, traditional,
passed-down-generations culinary technique combined with natural, fresh ingredients bought
on-the-day-of from the wet market. The first year after moving to Canada in February 2020,
homesickness was tough and the pandemic didn’t make it any easier.
It was the intense homesickness that drove us to look for ways to recreate the taste of home
and all the authentic Asian flavors in our home kitchen. However, we found that mega-chain
grocery stores were selling colorful cans and packets of sauces, the majority imported from
thousands of miles away from the factories in Asia. Taking a closer look, we discovered that
these factory-made sauces were preserved to make them suitable for commercial needs, and
our gut feeling told us that these sauces, having sat on the shelves for over a year, couldn't be good for our body or the planet.
We didn’t want to settle for what’s available. We wanted to create something better and we were determined. We went to great lengths to dig out local hidden gems, such as the many
neighborhood general stores and the array of locally handcrafted condiments. We were inspired
by the abundance of small-batch crafted sauces using international recipes in the market to
cater for the immigrant and expat-intensive Vancouver. Still, we saw much room for a wider
variety and more premium quality sauces that are made with sustainability in mind and with
locally sourced ingredients to empower Vancouver locals to recreate the authentic taste of Asia
at home. There is always so much room for new business ideas to thrive in Canada. To us, that
was the moment we saw space in the market for Holy Duck Chili to thrive creatively.
What does it mean to you to be able to share your grandma's chili oil recipe in Canada?
Sharing our grandmother's chili oil recipe in Canada is a particularly rewarding experience for us because we are able to apply the wisdom passed down from our elders in this passion project.
The concepts of sustainability and diversity have been around for a long time, originating from
the tough times our ancestors went through where resources were limited, and creativity was
mandatory in cooking.
When deciding on the recipe of our first product- Holy Duck Chili Oil, duck fat immediately came
to our minds. Duck fat, also known as the olive oil of animal fat, is often discarded and
undereducated about the nutritional value. In fact, we recalled in our childhood, grandmother
used duck fat to whip up aromatic, delicious wok-fried dishes in replacement of peanut oil, which was trending back in the days but very expensive for common households like hers, which was a family of 8.
Fast forward to now, Holy Duck Chili Oil is our creative take on chili oil, using duck fat, which
contains healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to help decrease cholesterol and
reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, as a healthy and diverse alternative cooking oil.
Through education, we believe Holy Duck Chili can improve food diversity by introducing duck
fat to consumers' daily life in Canada.
In fact, our whole family played a significant role in the starting of Holy Duck Chili. For two
decades before retiring, Chris's dad ran a Chinese restaurant and bakery that served
predominantly Chinese but also pan-Asian cuisines. My grandmother, who passed away during
the pandemic, was a chef at Japanese and Chinese kitchens in the 50s during wartime in
China. Through advice from our parents, we discovered the beauty of cooking with local,
seasonal ingredients and the interconnection between Asian cuisines- what makes each
Now what’s next?
We debuted the first chili oil product in the summer of 2021, and we plan to
continue bringing the nostalgic taste of pan-Asian delicacies to households in Canada through
our sauce creations and storytelling of our roots in Hong Kong.