We’re excited to introduce our new parenting column “Marvelous Mom” which will swap every other month with “Dynamic Dad.” We want to focus on the parent-kid relationships we see in our community that inspire us and other parents to love and parent well. If you’ve been inspired by a marvelous mom or dynamic dad, tell us about him/her at email@example.com. In the first edition of Marvelous Mom, we meet a designer who says learning new things with kids will never be old-fashioned.
Even my thick winter coat wasn’t enough to keep me warm when I reached Dongzhimenwai Street on a Sunday afternoon in January. I was looking for an establishment called “The SLab” to interview its owner, but couldn’t stand the chilly breeze in the area. Just as I went near the street to look for its Chinese name, the owner and her daughter arrived in a rather cool fashion – by an electric bike.
“Are you Andy?” said Jen Pohland with a big smile. Her daughter, 8-year-old Delilah, was timid at first but told her mom she wanted to go inside The SLab. Then I got curious. What’s that SLab?
The building in Dongzhimenwai Street looked old but sturdy. But when the Pohlands welcomed me in The SLab, I was amazed to find out it’s a studio with several sewing machines and a big black table akin to what engineers and architects use to design their craft. “That’s The SLab,” Jen told me.
Thirty-one-year-old Pohland has been in Beijing for 9 years and currently teaches English part-time. “I consider myself an international person,” said Pohland, “…I lived abroad my whole life, and went to international schools in Taiwan, Malaysia, and Canada.” Fresh from getting her degree on Fashion Design and Merchandising at the Art Institute of Vancouver in 2007, Pohland zipped across to Beijing and started to work for large corporations.
Threads of Change
On Halloween of the following year, Pohland and her husband Charles welcomed Delilah. “When she was born, I didn’t spend as much time with her as I would have liked to,” Pohland me as her girl entered the room beaming with a big grin. “There’s an accumulated guilt [of not spending too much time with Delilah],” she continued. “My husband and I wanted to make sure we would succeed in our careers.”
After nearly 8 years of working full-time, Pohland took a break in 2016 to focus on her daughter. “Was that when you started The SLab?” I curiously asked. “It’s something that has been just going on for a very long time,” she said, “And even before I graduated [from college]I was already preparing. I kept records, documents, and materials … because I knew one day I would teach with [them]. But at that point, I hadn’t realized that I would actually set up my own school or lab or studio.”
The couple then stitched all pieces of ideas they had. “There needs to be something that connects [all the craft],” Pohland explained, saying they’d talked about not only fashion designing and sewing but also electronics. “What do these things have in common? It’s the working space — the table space, a slab.”
But I asked her why is it spelled with “S” and “L” in caps. ”I would ask that you don’t identify what the “S” is. I want people to actually talk about it.” And then Delilah said, “It’s a Sewing Lab!” What a clever idea, I thought, as every industry has a working space where people also converse. “Yeah, it’s very social, isn’t it?! The word ‘lab’ is in there, and that goes back to the idea that you’re experimenting,” Pohland heartily said.
Delilah, who studies at an international school in Shunyi, smiled all throughout my conversation with her mom. I wondered what she thought of The SLab. “I’m actually happy about it because all these years I loved fashion, I loved designing, drawing and when my mom taught me how to, I was really happy.” But that’s when The SLab started running. Things were quite different when the start-up was being planned.
“At first I feel like really jealous of the SLab,” Delilah said, “[My mom] was never home because she was only at The SLab, and I was like, ‘The SLab, the SLab, the SLab! You’re always talking about the SLab!’ And when they [opened]it, I was like, ‘Hmmm!’” she said through pouty lips.
“Are you still jealous?” I asked her. “Not anymore. I was like, ‘Wow, fashion isn’t only about sketching. It is also about making, pattern-making,” she said, revealing that she learned a lot from her mother. Pohland told me The SLab helped her hand her craft and life skills to Delilah, while the girl was so proud of their start-up that she asked her mom to teach other kids.
“So what we actually want to do with The SLab is to offer more classes, let’s say more opportunities … where parents and kids can learn and [create]new projects together. The more time you spend with [your child], the better,” Pohland said.
Then Delilah started to hug her mother.
“Time is like a fabric that you just can’t… once you cut it, it’s done. But there are a lot of things you can do to mend [mistakes]. It’s like your favorite pair of jeans, it’s broken, torn everywhere, but there are ways to make it, maybe, even look better,” Pohland added.
During the interview, Delilah sketched some designs on her notebook. I asked her if she wanted to follow in her mom’s footsteps. “When I’ll be her age, I see myself as a fashion designer. And as a fashion designer, I would also like to illustrate books because … drawing is also one of my passions.”
This article originally appeared on pages 42-43 of beijingkids 2017 February Issue. Download the digital version here.