Vina Lam on How To Be Awesomely Creative by Not Being a Miserable Cow

Being a mom 100% of the time or being a creative director 100% of the time would be WAY MORE challenging for me. I personally love that I am able to be, do and identify with both.

Vina Lam

Born and raised in Dallas, TX, Vina graduated from Cornell University then headed straight for NYC. She hasn’t left since and considers this awesome, bustling metropolis home. She is currently a Creative Director at Flashtalking by day, mom of 3 wonderful, crazy kids by night, and small business owner of Babawowo in her spare time. Credit is due (in no particular order) to her amazing husband, family, therapist, and God for keeping her somewhat sane.

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How did you develop your creativity as a child? Were there any major influences?

Having seen my little ones and all their friends, I am convinced that ALL little kids are creative…in large part because they haven’t formed rules, boundaries, and self-judgement not to be.

And I think to continue to be truly creative, you have to be willing and able to take risks and to explore ideas that defy norms and judgement.

With that lens though, I don’t think I was an exceptionally creative kid. I somehow learned the “rules,” internalized them and tried my best to stay in the lines early on. And it hasn’t been till my early adulthood that I’ve allowed myself to explore and nurture my creativity.

That said, as a kid I always did love to draw and loved art classes of all kinds. Additionally, I had great role models. My dad, who was a family doctor by day, was a brilliant painter. And my mom was an amazing chef. In those areas, creativity was undoubtedly modeled to me.

Tell us a little about your work as a creative director. What’s your favorite part of the job, what part is the most difficult, and which is the most challenging?

Here’s the backstory. My last job was a traditional, what-you-think-of-when-you-think-of-a-creative-director-at-an-ad agency gig. I went to meetings (and traveled weekly for said meetings), managed a team of “creatives”, tried to keep clients and account people in check, focused on one primary account/brand, attempted to do award-winning work, never actually personally “made” anything, and worked 60+ hours a week.

At my current job, I have the exact same title BUT I do almost none of those things.

I hardly ever go to meetings. I manage myself/my time/my projects. I try to work collaboratively with everyone (from campaign managers to clients). I practically work on a different brand a day. And I no longer focus on awards but rather on providing a service to internal team members and clients. Now, I spend almost all of my time actually making and designing things, which is what I love. And I work 30- hours a week (but feel that I am equally if not more productive).

I feel blessed to have found a company that provides so much autonomy, trust, respect and flexibility. I work in the office Mondays-Thursdays 9am-1pm and have Fridays off.

What are the challenges of being a creative director and a mom?

Setting boundaries always requires work. Even with the awesome, aforementioned work hours, there’s always the need to say “no”, to the company or to the kids.

Frankly though, being a mom 100% of the time or being a creative director 100% of the time would be WAY MORE challenging for me. I personally love that I am able to be, do and identify with both.

What gave you the inspiration to start babawowo?

Years ago, I was invited to a baby shower for a woman who was going to be a first-time mom to a human baby. She was most definitely a seasoned mom to a four-legged baby, her little French Bulldog. I searched high and low for a gift that would honor her first (fur) baby as well as her new baby and found nothing. That was the FIRST time the thought crossed my mind, to create matching dog/baby outfits.

It wasn’t until I had my first human baby, that the idea resurfaced. I too was already a mom to my beagle Dodger. And I thought, wouldn’t it be cute if Dodger and Bailey (my firstborn) could match?

With the encouragement of my mom (the consummate, doggedly resourceful mom-preneur), I embarked on figuring out the logistics of getting the clothes made and bringing the designs to life.

How do you come up with the designs for the clothing?

When I designed my first line, I had more ideas than I could execute. They all came from what I loved and what I would want to put on my kid and pup.

I still get ideas all the time, but am in a standstill with production.
I’d ideally like to move to a place where I can create truly customized pieces that are timely, relevant, and personal. But I need to sort out the logistics of sourcing fabric and silkscreens in a cost-effective manner.

If any readers have any leads, I am all ears!

What are the biggest challenges with having your own company?

The biggest challenge, as mentioned above, is the BUSINESS piece of it. Everything from sales tax, cost of goods, quantities, storage, paperwork, and so on confuse me! The design part, I can handle.


Do you have any tips to share with other moms on how you balance career and family?

For me, it’s a 3-step approach.*

1. Be 100% selfish and ask yourself what you want.

Don’t get caught up in the “shoulds and shouldn’ts” (whatever they are). Motherhood and our personal and societal concept of being a “good mother” comes with a boatload of should and should nots.

I should make organic purees for my baby. I should nurse till he’s at least 1 year-of-age. I shouldn’t work if I can afford not to. Instead, live in the wants for YOU. Whatever those are, embrace them and start from there. If you focus on YOU, your foundation for everything and everyone else will be solid. Know YOU intimately, from there comes creativity. From there comes love. From there comes ALL THINGS GOOD.

2. Then don’t be afraid to ask for it.

We often stop ourselves from living into our true potential because we’re afraid to ask.

The answer still may be no, but there’s always the chance that it’s YES if you ask. When my current employer asked what my ideal work week would look like, my husband encouraged me to ask for what I wanted. I assumed I would have to meet half way and negotiate. BUT thanks to an amazing boss (and a super-supportive husband), my boss said YES to everything I asked for.

I never would have gotten the schedule I wanted had I not asked.

3. Be thankful every day (equally for what’s amazing and for what is seemingly, completely shitty). In other words, TRY not to be a miserable cow.


I am convinced that nothing is by chance and that everything happens for a reason. Having gratitude for life’s blessings is important. But saying “thank you” for the shitty things will get you to a place of hope and even possibly to an understanding of why they are happening to you faster. As Maya Angelou says, “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in the dreariest and most dreaded moments – can see a possibility of hope.”

As a mom, as a professional, as a human being, there will be shitty days. Hour-long tantrums after sleepless nights. Deadlines that lead to lost accounts. Illness that strikes friends, family and oneself.

Awesome things simply cannot exist if you are a miserable cow. Stop complaining, try to process it, try to say thank you, and try to take the opportunity to grow.

*Please Note: I struggle with taking my own advice on a daily basis.

Did you have to make career adjustments when you had a child? How has being a mom changed your perspective on your work?

Being a mom lit a fire under my ass to be a better person. It also completely transformed what I thought was important on a professional level. And in a nutshell, helped me be more ego-free.

Specifically in my career, I was trained to focus on winning awards and doing “great creative work.” That often flew in the face of being a team player and delivering work that the client was actually paying for.

Beyond shedding my ego at work, having a kid (or 3) also redefined my idea of time and efficiency. I now feel laser-focused on whatever the “task” at hand might be (at work or at home). Anything extra seems to be a waste of time.


What creative activities you enjoy doing with your child(ren)?

In no particular order…

We draw a lot. Everything from freeform drawing to mini-assignments like making flipbooks or little games like “Drawing Telephone” where I draw something, don’t show it to my kid, but verbally try to explain it and have her draw something similar (and vice versa).

We love to freestyle silly rhymes and make up songs when we’re walking from place to place.

Now that my oldest can read and write, she loves writing “books.” Sometimes we get on the computer and select photos to populate books that she then writes to.

Thanks to a super cute Japanese bento cookbook, we often have some fun with our food too. But this activity is rarer as it requires more planning and can often be messy.

Every night before bed, the kids pick characters (often princesses) that star in a custom, totally made-up, typically off-the-wall bedtime story that my husband usually authors and narrates BUT that the kids sometimes narrate as well. It goes something like this, we each get to pick a character (often a princess) and then the narrator has to weave together a story with said characters.

At the end of the day though, the kids are ALWAYS, hands down, more creative than I am when left to their own devices.

I’ll enter the living room and see that they’ve assembled 3 chairs in a row and are taking a magical train ride to Mexico. Or they have made a fort in their bunk bed and are traveling to space to capture friendly aliens. The are magically and brilliantly crazy!

Fill in the blank:

If I could choose a superpower, it would be grace under pressure (aka to be anxiety free). That would make for a horrible Marvel flick. But maybe it could be a Studio Ghibli or Pixar animation.
If I could meet any person alive or dead, it would be Jim Henson and I would ask him/her how he found his zen. Did you know he used to be an ad-guy? There’s a great scene in Muppets Take Manhattan where Kermit gets amnesia and starts working for an ad agency. It’s so funny!
The last book I read was Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.
My current pet peeve is people who talk audibly under their breath. (I live in NYC, there’s a lot of that).