This week, someone asked me, “What are your thoughts on being a white woman running a company that sells Chinese herbs?”
I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this question for a while, and I’m honestly always hoping that more people will question my role with Chica.
My position as a white woman running a company promoting Traditional Chinese herbs is uncomfortable, and it’s something I’ve avoided addressing publicly, but I’ve realized it needs to be said for me to feel honest in showing up with Chica in the world.
I started Chica with Cassidy Lam, my longtime best friend. Cassidy’s father, Marco Lam, is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, so Cassidy grew up taking Chinese herbs and learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine.
I was spending a lot of time at Cassidy’s house, when Marco started mixing herbs with raw chocolate to help ease periods. Naturally, this inspiration kept coming back up in conversations with Cassidy, and when we found out about an entrepreneurial competition at her college, we decided to write a business plan together.
When we started Chica, Cassidy was the voice and the storyteller. I preferred to stay behind the scenes. Earlier this year, Cassidy and I decided together that she would begin to take a step away from this role. Cassidy still makes all of the Chica truffles, which is an incredibly important role, and gives her input on some decisions; but it means that I, Elise, a white woman, have taken a more visible role in Chica’s messaging, including social media, newsletters, pitching, and networking. As a white woman, this is a great responsibility for Chica, and one I do not take lightly.
There are two reasons why this is uncomfortable. The first is that I always saw this business as something I did with my best friend, and now I am not as much, and that is a painful feeling that sits in my chest on some difficult days. The second is that I do recognize the prevalence, especially in wellness, of brands run by white people that capitalize on the creations of other cultures. I may not want to see myself as that white person, but I recognize the fine line I am walking.
As awkward as it feels, I couldn’t see that as a reason to walk away from Chica because I love it too much. I love the power of the herbs, and the stories we hear from customers on how much better Chica helps them feel. I love the branding that Cassidy created, and I love the amazing truffles she makes. I don’t want to walk away from running Chica because I want to see Chica thrive.
Cassidy still has a significant ownership in Chica, and I want to extend the same opportunity to Marco. Our goal has always been for Chica to be employee owned, whenever we get around to having employees.
If anything Chica says, or I say, feels uncomfortable or hurtful for you; please let me know. I would like to believe that I do not commit harm because I do not intend to, but I know that will not always be true.