LESLIE CORPUZ: How did you come up with the name MYBELONGING?
TOMMY LEI: "MYBELONGING - the name - really dawned on me as I attempted to create a blog outlet that had more of a personal meaning to me. It came up almost abruptly but immediately and just stuck. Till this day, the name remains very relevant to my personal journey in finding identity through style on my own terms."
Having a Psychology background, why do you think that social media has such an impact on how businesses connect with their consumers? "Social media on the most basic level demands a mutual interaction, which is its strongest appeals. More than ever, we’re able to communicate with brands, celebs, visionaries, techies, tastemakers with a sense of immediacy and transparency. That was has never been quite achievable before the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other established social media platforms. It’s given rise to more grassroots movements - both in a political and cultural context - than ever before."
Businesses are now required – no, mandated really – to open up and break down walls if they want sustained visibility and an on-going relationship with their customers. With social media, they are able to better learn and harness what emotionally-motivates purchases and brand loyalty."
What is the importance of having a personal connection with brands? "With an endless array of brands, products and designers competing for our attention, the emotional connection and investment are what dictates brand retention and longevity. Without a personal connection to brands - especially in an age of transparency online and social media - I most likely wouldn’t be as motivated or interested in their product/services/work to begin with."
How do you dictate the brands you work with and is there any type of criteria you look into besides a brand's aesthetic? "It's quite simple, actually. I would only work and gravitate towards a brand if I either already find them intriguing or if they have a storyline that aligns well with mine."
How do you go about expanding your own imagination and seeking out new sources of inspiration? "While I absolutely love to pick up my bags at a moment's notice and travel as often as I can, I find that the best source of inspiration comes from within. Inspiration that is informed by your experiences and distilled by your mind and soul. Meditating, consistently, has really brought out that stream of inspiration for me. The methodical quietness calms your mind, and you're able to see things from a renewed perspective."
As you know, there has been an influx of new bloggers. How do you continue to captivate your audiences? "It may sound cliche, but I find that it is important to develop an even deeper and more meaningful relationship with yourself. I see my site as a digital extension of this lifelong journey I am on. As you unravel more layers of who you are, the content should grow only richer and more authentic. In doing so, you are directly influencing the credibility and authenticity of what you stand for. The more passionate you are about particular topics, the easier it is to attract and engage your audience."
Has there been a particular aspect in your blogging career thus far that has manifested itself into another endeavor? Or rather, how would you say your initial experience creating MYBELONGING has evolved into what it is today? "Absolutely - and there’s been many, from brand consulting to designer collaborations and even editorial photography. Many people aren’t aware of this, but I used to be a digital media marketing manager as I was starting up MYBELONGING. Being a full-time creative professional required me to wear multiple hats and essentially be a jack-of-all-trades. This worked to my advantage as I became more proficient with graphic design, photography, brand development and social media. Brand partners (clients) are always impressed when I can talk the talk but also walk the walk - they feel comfortable knowing I have unique insights to offer.
One area in particular that’s been a huge growth for me is being behind the camera and doing my own photography - whether it’s a self-timed personal outfit shot or shooting clothes on models coming down the runway during fashion week."
If you could wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be? "All black in a combination of 3. Paradis, Saint Laurent, Balmain, Rick Owens, Chapter, Balenciaga and Alexander Wang and Yohji Yamamoto. "
I didn't know that you were such an avid horror film fanatic! What are your top three favorite horror films of all time? "Oh my goodness - this one is a toughie but here goes: Pan’s Labyrinth, The Ring, and 28 Days Later."
What's on your current reading list? "Not many books these days, unless you’re referring to specific magazines and online publications! Magazines: SUSPEND, Surface, FourTwoNine, AnOther, and i-D. Online: FuckingYoung!, NOTCOT, Wallpaper and Uncrate."
What do you do to unwind? "I love to eat out and dine in good company, but I love to cook and entertain even more. I find cooking to be very therapeutic because you’re in direct control of the outcome. I’d start out with a recipe in mind and gradually improvise along the way. Better ingredients and complex technicalities can only take the dish so far - it’s more about the passion and attention you devote to the dish. The results might just blow you and your guests away.
Where do you suggest I go to lunch next? "It’ll be a disservice to just list one option, so here are three: Aro (South Pasadena); Tokyo Fried Chicken (Monterey Park), Osawa (Pasadena)."
Interview by Leslie Corpuz
Photography by Diane Abapo
Follow Tommy on Instagram at @mybelonging