The Immigrant Story
Brother and sister duo Jack and Angela Lin never planned to work in the family shoe-making business. True, they learned to ride bikes in their family’s factory in Southern Taiwan, and grew up grabbing shoes directly off the factory floor (“I didn’t buy my first Nike’s until high school,” says Jack), but they always assumed they would end up in the arts. Jack studied graphic design at the School of Visual Arts, and Angela focused on PR and Marketing at New York University, and though they worked at an agency and at Maryam Nassir Zadeh , respectively, they ultimately realized that shoe-making was their ultimate form of creative expression. “I’ve always been fascinated by architecture and graphic design, and focus on very impactful visual elements,” says Jack. “So that was the basis of THEY , using the shoe as a canvas to implement design.”
That they live in New York and manufacture their line, THEY, in Taiwan feels totally natural to Jack and Angela, because it’s exactly how they grew up. With a father who traveled often for work and a mother who prioritized education and English language skills, these siblings are veritable citizens of the world.
What’s it like working with your family?
J: Our line, THEY, is the first time our family’s factory is working with American clients. For our family to venture out into the Western audience is really something new to them. Working with family is a true challenge because on one hand, it’s family, but on the other hand, we’re also their clients. So we have to draw a line between the professional and personal.
The Lin Family in 1958.
Growing up, did you work at or visit the factory? What are your memories?
J: Yeah, it’s a very family-focused operation. My grandmother was on the sewing machine, and our dad was driving trucks around to pick up shoe parts from different parts of Taichung. Going to the sole factory, the shoelace factory, and bringing it back and packaging at home—their dinner table would double as the packaging table.
A: Our dad really involved us in terms of learning what a day in the life of a factory looks like, walking us through each step of the manufacturing process starting from where we source materials. Whenever we visited him, he would take us out on field trips and teach us how a shoe was made.
Did you like it?
A: I guess at that point, that was our norm – we went and saw how shoes were made. We got the front row seat, the behind-the-scenes of a lot of projects that you see selling in North America.
J: I didn’t buy my first Nikes until the end of high school.
A: Yeah, we thought shoes came in plastic bags, we just grabbed them from the warehouse.
Original shoe models from the Lin Family factory in Taiwan.
Did you think then that you would grow up to create shoes?
A: Absolutely not, but now it seems very natural, because when Jack was a kid he was really good at drawing, and he would just draw out shoes from his favorite characters and then send it over to my dad, and my dad would make that shoe. How did you end up moving from Taiwan to the U.S.?
J: Our mom actually studied abroad in Cambridge for a year and I think that broadened her perspective of the world and made her realize how important English as a language is. Japanese and Chinese are default languages for us, but our mom brought us to America from a very young age specifically so we could learn English.
A: We grew up in Taiwan, and came to the States every summer, so it’s kind of like a second home. And both Jack and I came to New York for university. I’ve had a bit of a different story because I studied at a lot of the global campuses at NYU, so I’ve been in a different city every year for the past five years. But Jack has been here since freshman year.
Tell me about your summers in the States. How old were you when that started happening?
A: We first came to California when I was four—we’re one year apart, so Jack was five. We came for preschool and kindergarten. My mom just dropped us off at the school and we didn’t speak a word of English.
J: Yeah, I think we cried for three days and then realized crying couldn’t really solve anything, so we started picking up accents, our basic vocab, everything. I would say that was the first time little Angela and little me experienced people of different ethnicities. Because in Asia, it’s mostly Asians.
Check out the full interview of Jack and Angela's story from Here Magazine: