Crowning the Kollectin Queen

Ichikawa’s curated jewelry line for Kollectin, Neon Vice, is a reminder that we shine brightest when we embrace our true selves. Photo: Andrew Guiyangco.

By Melanie Camp

After finishing her first season on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Gia Ichikawa said she found herself confused. While the show changed her life, “I was literally a hairstylist working a salon, cutting hair,” and performing drag after-hours, Ichikawa began to battle with her own gender. Was she a cis male gay man who liked playing the female drag character Gia Gunn or was Gia Gunn an expression of a real person, aching to exist?

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“Transitions all happen at different times, but they cannot happen until you, the individual, accepts that you are indeed transgender and that you now indeed have a task to do,” explained Ichikawa, who publicly came out as a transgender woman in March 2017.  

The jury is out as to whether or not the playwright, George Bernard Shaw really did say, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself,” and just as well, because, Ichikawa’s journey to self-discovery is not only an example of brave determination but also shows that perhaps life is as much about finding yourself, as it is creating yourself.

Drag Race, while groundbreaking, is a show that favors cis male drag performers over drag kings, bio queens, and transgender performers. Ichikawa became the show’s

third ever transgender contestant when she returned to compete in RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars Season 4.

New York Mag named her one of The Most Powerful Drag Queens in America, in June this year, and as a proud Japanese American transgender woman, Ichikawa’s mission is to help inspire all people, no matter what they are facing, to embrace change. “Just because you start one career, or because you start one thing in life, doesn’t mean you have to be that for the rest of your life,” she told The Pride LA.

Last month, Ichikawa launched a curated jewelry line, called Neon Vice, on the Kollectin App, an online marketplace that allows jewelry lovers to try, through augmented reality, and buy, and also sell jewelry through personalized online stores within the app, called Tiny Boutiques.

Giving her bracelets and necklaces names like Transparent and Love Yourself, Ichikawa expresses what it is to be bold and honor authenticity. Neon Vice is a reminder that we shine brightest when we embrace our true selves.

Ichikawa broke down in tears explaining the struggle so many transgender men and woman face. Risk of murder is high. “A lot of trans women are forced to sex work and prostitution, and that’s the way they are being murdered, because companies and businesses won’t just hire these people,” she said, adding that online market places, like Kollectin, provide empowering business opportunities for those in the trans community. 

“I think it’s a great idea to help employ people that may just not have the confidence to get out there and you know, apply for a job, or maybe they have applied for jobs, and they’re just being discriminated against,” she said.

Embracing inclusivity at Kollectin is more than a business decision for founder Nadia Lee, it is personal. Early in her business career, Lee explained she struggled against discrimination, and the disrespect she experienced is a motivating force behind the way she chooses to run her business today.

“Truthfully, respect to me is very, very important because I think building a business, especially being a woman, twenty-some years ago, I don’t want to date myself, it was really hard to get respect. People would also always say, ‘you have a double minority. You’re not only Asian, but you’re also a woman,” Lee said.

Becoming a multiple-minority is something Ichikawa said she felt one-hundred-percent when she transitioned. 

“At one point, I had male privilege, right? When I gave that up, and I changed my birth certificate and changed my sex legally, and my pronouns went from he to she, all of a sudden all those privileges went away,” she said.

Ichikawa believes while all change is scary, the secret is to get comfortable with the discomfort and said you can build a tolerance to it by, “putting yourself in different social settings that may be new and may make you feel uncomfortable. If you want to make a change in your life, it’s just about building up enough confidence to accept that change, embrace that change, and follow through with that.”

Lee also faced a big decision that led to a significant change in her life. Having studied international relations at college, Lee was on track to work as a diplomat until she had an epiphany at a jewelry trade show in Taiwan. “I made myself a fake business card and said, ‘I’m Nadia from XX company from the U.S., and I’m a buyer.’ And, I snuck into the show,” she said of how she started her first jewelry company, Adia Kibur, almost 20 years ago.

Both Lee and Ichikawa’s stories conjure images of brave heroines boldly striving toward their goals. However, both women know goal-stalking can be daunting, and Lee said this is why it is so important we share our stories.

“Maybe we’re not to that point where we are confident to go out and do things. But, when we hear other people’s stories and when we listen and share our journeys as well, then you don’t feel so alone, and you don’t feel that the task is so daunting,” she said.

For Ichikawa, faith is the key to persevering through the discomfort. “Once the change works out, we’re happy, you know? But it’s just getting through that and having the faith. So, I have the faith and keep going…Like my mother tells me, embrace the discomfort of life. You know, you have to embrace the things that make you uncomfortable.”

Follow Ichikawa as Gia Gunn on Instagram @Gia_Gunn

Curate your own Kollectin Tiny Store; download the free Kollectin app and sign up using the invite code GiaGunn at kollectin.com.

Go to anchor.fm/beautiful-hollywood to listen to an exclusive Beautiful Hollywood podcast with Gia Ichikawa and Nadia Lee, recorded at NeueHouse Hollywood, the private workspace and cultural hub for creatives and entrepreneurs.

Follow Beautiful Hollywood on Instagram @BeautifulHollywood