Today we’d like to introduce you to Laurel Wong.
Laurel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
It’s always so hard to pinpoint the moment a story begins. I guess I’m originally from New York City, born into a Jamaican family, and raised by a mother who never allowed me to be anything less than my most full and true self. We moved down south when I was young and since then, Atlanta has become my second home.
Being an artist and a writer was always a childhood dream of mine. As I got older and met people who were refugees, survivors of sexual violence, solo entrepreneurs, nomads and more, I developed a deep appreciation for storytelling. To this day, the stories that have always stayed close to my heart have been those of the resilience of women. Whether it be the heartbreaking traumas that women in my own family have endured, the unfathomable tales of a refugee woman’s journey, or the silent struggles of fellow college students, these stories have had one thing in common: they are wildly untold.
Malala Yousafzai’s words, “I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not,” embody the idea that the extraordinary people in the world are most often the ones who are walking down the street next to us. This was the notion that carried me through a college photography project where I walked around New York City speaking with women and documenting their stories and the advice they shared. I guess if you think about it this way, it all started with some advice from an Indian woman I met on a broiling hot NYC summer day, “While you are young, you should do daring things.” A few months and an epiphany later, the Free Woman Project was born.
What started as a photography project evolved into an archive of videos of women, and later into a social enterprise that aims to build community through storytelling and empower women to practice self-care.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Of course not! There’s no story worth telling that doesn’t have mishaps or hiccups along the way. I will admit that for me, the greatest struggles I’ve battled with when it comes to my business or my art have been self-created.
I honestly don’t think I could count how many times I’ve doubted the necessity of the Free Woman Project. Like a lot of creators, I think that I sometimes underestimate the value of my talent and the impact of things I create. After nearly two months of working 12 hour days while developing the Free Woman Journal, I almost didn’t release it. The extra push I needed actually came from Daring Greatly, a book by Brene Brown. There’s a quote about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good by Voltaire that revolutionized the way that I create and the way that I practice self-care as an artist.
My release plan was unfinished, my book description wasn’t even written, and I was the most vulnerable I’d ever been, but the Free Woman Guided Journal for Cultivating Self Care was released. The overwhelmingly genuine response I received from people who have always supported me, people who I’ve never even spoken to in real life, and even people I’d never met, brought me closer to the community that I was hoping to uplift. This is the community that pushes me forward with the Free Woman Project mission, to empower women to cultivate self-care, promote access to mental health resources, and build a community through storytelling.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Officially, the Free Woman Project was born out of creative expression, community, and storytelling. In simpler terms: I needed advice, and the Free Woman Project was born. Like any other young woman learning how to navigate my 20s, I entered the “real” world and found myself with a heap of self-work to do. Family traumas, toxic relationships, and mental health issues are so common that I think we forget that we can actually do something besides sharing trauma stories. While building community is important, because trust me it makes the world of a difference knowing that you are not alone in your struggle, I felt like I needed to do more.
The Free Woman Project aims to take this intimidating, and sometimes scary, concept of mental health, and incorporate it into bite-sized self-care practices that women can incorporate into their everyday lives. First and foremost, our ever-growing Mental Health Resource Library lists tons of affordable resources for women to have access to mental healthcare.
Our most popular product, The Free Woman Guided Journal for Cultivating Self Care, was crafted with self-care in mind, using the pages of my own journal, my conversations with other women and my experiences in therapy. It has self-care exercises, mini worksheets, journaling prompts and a few short passages that help make your path of self love a little easier. Our designs carry this same tradition by incorporating designs like, “Inhale, Exhale,” that remind us to take deep breaths and be present in the moment.
What were you like growing up?
Growing up, I always had a sketchbook, a journal or a book under my arm and a burning desire to see the world. When I think about the moments that really shaped who I am, I always remember sitting around listening to my aunts tell stories and documenting as much of my life as I could. What this ultimately developed was a deep love for storytelling that reflected in every art project, journal entry, or life decision I created.
There’s a bucket list taped into the journal that I wrote when I was eight year old, and among goals like, “Meet Alicia Keys,” I wrote that I wanted to be an artist… an author… fast forward to now and honestly not much has really changed. My tastes have evolved a bit, of course, but at my core, I am just a girl with a list of books to read (that is way longer than the amount of time I have) and a million ideas swarming around my brain. I always knew that I would become an artist and author one day, and I still believe that I’m on that path. What I didn’t know was that I would one day be driven by the chance to empower women along the way. (I like to believe that I would make eight years old me proud.)
- Website: www.freewomanproject.org
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @projectfreewoman, Personal: @laurelawong
Profile Photo (Red Wall): @blurredwave, Market Photos: Free Woman Team at HER MARKET Spring, Customer with Free Woman Journal, “Fight Like A Girl: @blurredwave