Rachel Nguyen, of That’s chic, has recently set up Warde, an online space for likeminded people to form a community. As an early exemplar of Internet aesthetic, she has amassed a large and loyal following of likeminded creatives. Warde, her self-made creative channel on slack, brings together an array of people from a wide variety of walks of life. Similar to the energy in the bathroom of a bar/club, Warde emphasises the authentic kindness and openness that is so lacking on the Internet today. Rachel talks to us about how she has learnt to prioritise vulnerability and connection in her life and on the Internet.
How are you? How are you really doing during this crazy time?
Hanging in there! I can't complain much, work is kind of steady and I have very good support systems around me. I ball up in anxieties over political climate, new social nuances, and making sure I have enough outdoor stimulation.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? What did you study and how did you make it where you are today in the creative industries?
Yes, I am a first generation Vietnamese-American who grew up with Asian parents confused by the cultural divide, and thus never let me do anything social-related in high school. My teenage angst took to the Internet where I could escape and exist with ease, which I found many online homes. That's Chic, the blog, being one of them. An outlet that garnered career opportunities going into design, consulting, and now video!
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The pandemic has forced an unprecedented amount of people to work from home, which is something you are very used to. What are your tips for making this work and staying positive and productive?
Be forgiving with yourself that working from home isn't a glamorous way to stay productive. It's highly distracting and now that people are working from home, maybe they can get a sense of why freelancers get so up in their head all the time. I have a different attitude when I get dressed for the day versus when I don't – not saying I'm good at it but finding the diligence in routine is one of the best motivators. Planning as you go throughout your week is important! For example, meal prepping, setting intentions for the week, writing out goals. Reward yourself on a Thursday if you've been diligent. Thinking in little, mini wins helps the big wins. Also, try time blocking! It's so easy for a day to burn through when we're mentally meandering.
Your Twitter bio reads "There’s a special place in hell for fashion bloggers," and all through your online presence, there is self-awareness, an intelligence that is sometimes lacking in that space. How did you come to have such a unique perspective on fashion?
That is so nice and sweet of you to notice in me. Gosh, hard question! I have no idea, maybe it's in my horoscope chart? Maybe it's that I remain curious and always challenge the norm – out of pure boredom. I get bored easily, I see through facades quickly. Everything is questionable.
You founded Warde, an online space you formed on Slack, which now has thousands of members around the world. What inspired you to set up Warde? And could you tell us a bit about it, and how has it evolved since its inception to now?
Well, I started Warde because I was feeling overwhelmed by my inbox and direct messages. I often received heart-wrenching messages asking for relationship/career/parental/self-growth advice, and I got overwhelmed being a therapist on the go. I would often sit in guilt. Sometimes would accidentally open a direct message or email but not have the time or capacity to answer and would forget to reply when I did have time. Ah, I get anxious thinking about it!
I am honored to be a beacon for some people because I then recognize the familiar desperation to escape or be heard from my own upbringing. Like I said, I found safe homes online. But forums like those don't really exist anymore. At the time, I was thinking a lot about community, as Glossier hired me as a consultant to help reimagine their rep program. While many ideas didn't form into action at Glossier, I wondered if they could work for Warde. And it did. I encouraged the deep retrospections I saw in my YouTube comments to talk on Warde. Or redirect attention from my inbox to Warde. Then the pandemic hit, and need for genuine, unbiased connectivity was clearer than ever.
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Warde has many channels for different topics and interests ranging from relationships, where people discuss relationships in all their light and darkness, to film/TV, where there is a weekly film night over Netflix Party, and mindfulness, where users discuss solutions to various mental health problems. You have also been very transparent on YouTube about your mental health and the various challenges you have gone through, not least this year due to the pandemic. How do you think social media is affecting mental health?
I first have to say that the moderators on Warde are the muscle and strength that make Warde's culture what it is! They created the tone and dialogue that is welcoming and unbiased and make wonderful events from movie nights, financial accountability, fitness challenges, Discord parties, sex podcasts, and so much more. I get emotional thinking about it, there's more than twenty mods working this space to create the culture we all want to see and experience.
Secondly, to answer your question, social media is terrible for our mental space. I'm doing this 12-week program with Warde called The Artist's Way. We all got the book or a copy of it and this week's assignment is media deprivation. We are to spend 1 week not reading anything and in doing so, we clear up our inner voice because we're not digesting anyone else's. It's been fascinating, and I definitely wouldn't have gone this far without a group of people keeping each other accountable.
As someone who is expected to be online a lot (due to your job), what are your tips in balancing a healthy mindset and also being on social media?
Not the best at this to be honest, I am very good at convincing myself something is 'for work' or 'for research' or 'needing a break'. I think I want to implement new time-blocking habits and fully indulge in those moments: indulge in social media if I’m gonna indulge or indulge being offline. We're habitually caught in between those moments, and I think that's what's killing us. So, I don’t know yet! This is just a theory.
There is a real lack of truly positive spaces on the internet. Sometimes, Warde feels like the online equivalent of a girl’s bathroom, where no one knows anyone else very well, but there is an abundance of support, love and kindness. How do you think you managed to instil the space with this energy?
So funny you say this because we started hanging out on Discord to live chat because our live chat threads were eating up too much bandwidth. And the first night on Discord, the night of the election, we went into straight chaos. Like, every tip you read online for the election was to take a bath and be calm, but for a small group of us on Warde, we wanted needed to let out chaotic energy. We played music together, chatted over voice, got to know each other outside the walls of Slack. And for the first time, we all felt like we were in a vibing in a club, screaming over each other and laughing. Lots of laughing. We now call that part of Warde, Club Bathroom.
But to answer your question, I think we attract similar types of people, and I am a huge proponent of vibing in the club bathroom and cheering you on.
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The juxtaposition between beautiful visuals and vulnerability on your YouTube channel is very refreshing, how easy it for you to be so raw and vulnerable on your large platform?
Thank you so much! Honestly, it's how I started operating in real life. There wasn't a mindful decision to behave a certain way. Except, maybe, be even rawer because I've already experienced the Internet where your life is a production, and that shit gets boring fast. Also, we gatekeep our feelings too much – it can make others feel invalid, and I no longer wanted to be part of a culture that exacerbates it. Stories are meant to be shared. It's how we progress and evolve.
You started blogging in 2008 and started your YouTube channel in 2014. Throughout this time, the Internet has changed massively. Just this year, there have been a lot of mass movements on social media such as Black Lives Matter, which are unprecedented in scope. Yet, a lot of us are aware of the positive and negative aspect of the Internet. You recently tweeted: "A toxic era of nonstop-performance," which I think is a good way to describe one of the forms social media can take. What is your current perspective on the Internet at large? Do you have any hopes or fears about the future of the Internet and social media?
This is such a loaded and not an easy one to answer. The Internet is rightfully heightened. Lots of social, race, class, environmental issues are finally getting release, acknowledgement, and solutions. We can't be mad at the state of our society. It's playing out in extreme focus because we're all forced to exist and express (almost exclusively) on the Internet right now.
My real gripe with the Internet? I might get roasted for this, but here goes! It feels like most people don't have a real opinion anymore. It's like, there's an expectation to quickly understand the contents of this pressure release, that we're regurgitating cliff notes to ensure others we're culturally literate. But it's not a real opinion, it's not a real solution, it's proving that you're aware. Which, how does that serve anyone? Perhaps we don't reward those for being quick and loud, but those for being quiet and impactful. I'm open to the avenues of progress. And a safe space feels hopeful. One where dialogues happen outside of clickbait and through genuine support in growth.
What do you hope the future hold for you personally? Do you have any current projects that you are working on?
I hope that I can really explore what Warde URL to real life looks like.
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