The most pivotal moment in 26-year-old Nina Huynh’s career came about five years ago. At the time, the Vancouver-based digital creative, female lifestyle entrepreneur and beauty aficionado was in her last year of university — and at an existential crossroads.
Reflecting on that period in 2017, Huynh says, “I went through a really bad breakup. And then, in going through a bad breakup, I was like, ‘Who are you really?’” She contemplated, “Let’s really focus on what makes you happy and get back in tune with who you are. And so, for me, getting back into creating videos truly brought me joy.”
“I was still working at a restaurant because [the videos weren’t] making me any money,” says Huynh. But while content creation may have begun as a “just for fun” hobby for Huynh, she soon realized it is possible for her videos to bring her some income. At the time, she remembers thinking: “There’s no stability in how much money I’m making right now, which is very concerning, but, like, it is possible.”
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Huynh then had to ask herself, “What kind of career could [I] dream up, and then actually have the courage to do full-time and just commit to it?”
The content creator soon realized the endeavour warranted all her effort and attention if she was truly going to make a go of it. “To get to that point is just like a lot, of a lot of risk-taking,” Huynh says. “Like, it’s OK to make scary choices. And I think being uncomfortable is where we grow the most.”
She recalls, “And so I was still working at a restaurant job and I decided that ‘You know what? [I] need to give everything to this – this dream of [mine]. And if it doesn’t work out, [I] can literally always get another restaurant job. So you might as well try. And once I made that decision and I quit, pretty much immediately after, everything took off.”
The resulting career — joining other women entrepreneurs — is what the new mom describes as an opportunity of a lifetime.
“I just started getting a lot more emails for campaigns – lots of opportunities. I think something I never expected about being a digital creator is just how many opportunities come from it.”
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The origin story of “Neens”
But, like many journeys, the story of how Huynh got to this point in her career began much earlier than even that pivotal moment five years ago.
“I always knew that I had an entrepreneurial spirit. I got that I think from my parents and just growing up in San Francisco. Neither of my parents are actual entrepreneurs. But for my mom, she always had these incredible ideas, and she just never had the confidence to actually execute any of them. And so I think I’m just growing up with that energy – it’s something that’s a passion of mine.”
In terms of the skills required, Huynh says that a lot of hers were self-taught. “I don’t know if you remember those little digital cameras, but I convinced my parents to get me one, and me and my friends would just take so many photos, just make stupid videos, and I think a lot of kids our generation were kind of like that. And so, I was so used to documenting things that that part felt really natural to me.
“When you first start making videos, it’s very nerve-wracking to just be sitting in your room, talking to a camera, but it’s just something that gets better with practice.
“And then, when it came to actually editing and the actual technical skills, that all just comes with practice. And I think knowing that you’re not going to be creating the videos that you can imagine in your head – like what you can creatively imagine and what you can technically do – the two are going to be very, very different. But to push through that and just have fun with it for all those aspects [is worthwhile].”
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Leaning into the business-woman lifestyle
Overseeing the business side of her creations also came with a learning curve. “Now there’s TikTok, and people do talk about the business side of it and how to manage that. But when I was coming up, there was none of that. Like nobody was ever talking about it. So a lot of it is just self-taught.
“A lot of it is learning along the way. That’s just something I’ve always really enjoyed – like challenging myself.”
Her words of advice so far? “It’s just a lot of saying yes and a lot of putting yourself out there. And saying no to opportunities that don’t resonate so that you have the opportunity to say yes to things that fit.”
Navigating the challenges
And then come the pressures with being on-camera, repping the beauty space all the time. The naturally-raven haired Huynh is accustomed to expressing herself through her hair by dying it in an array of bright and fun colours. But that doesn’t come without its costs.
“I mean, my hair has been through so much ‘cause I’ve coloured it so many times. I get very bored of my hair, and so this is the longest it’s just been straight black. I think very soon I’m going to change it again. But it is very demanding. Honestly, [I’m always] taking photos and documenting my life – so there definitely is a pressure to always feel good about what my hair looks like. And I think that is also really hard when I want it to be eight different colours in a year. I do put my hair through a lot.”
For Huynh, her hair can also impact how she feels on the inside.
“I find that when my hair is looking all types of [messy], I feel a little bit more frazzled, whereas when I solidify two or three different hairstyles that I can very easily do – no matter what, I’m like, ‘OK – I feel good. I don’t have to think about my hair today. I don’t have to look in the mirror and constantly mess with it.’”
In terms of trade secrets, Huynh has a few, but her go-to products are the John Frieda Frizz Ease Miraculous Recovery Shampoo and Conditioner. And the hair smoothing cream joining her arsenal? The John Frieda Frizz Ease Secret Weapon Touch-Up Crème.
“[The hair smoothing cream] is my main one that I use very often. Just ’cause I do have so many flyaways, so it really helps to smooth it all down. It’s kind of a mix between an oil and a pomade – that same effect where it makes my hair look nice and shiny and less frizzy. But then it also helps it stay that way throughout the day.”
On days that she’s looking for more structure to her hair, she also turns to John Frieda Flexible Hold Hairspray: “That’s usually if I have my hair down, and then I’ll use the Secret Weapon Touch-Up Crème and then the hairspray so that it stays put and so it doesn’t feel crunchy or anything.”
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Working to better reflect Canada’s diversity
If you’re already familiar with Huynh’s beauty and style content, you may recognize her presence as a breath of fresh air on a medium and an industry that isn’t always as diverse as the people it represents. Thankfully, Huynh, who is of Vietnamese descent, is part of a shift changing that and she’s excited for what lies ahead.
“I think that there’s definitely a shift,” she says, while acknowledging there is still a way to go. “Being able to have [BIPOC] people making the actual decisions – in leadership in a company where they’re surrounded by their peers and community — is really important.”
And Huynh notes the work exists not only in terms of racial diversity, but with “trans and non-binary People of Colour too.” In the process, Huynh herself acknowledges the spaces of privilege she holds. “I’ve talked about this systemic barriers, but there is a lot of privilege that has gotten me to this place, being a cisgender, able-bodied female.”
Nevertheless, Huynh does hit pause to take stock and appreciate the success that’s come her way. “I feel like there’s just a lot of gratitude while realizing that we still have such a long way to go. It’s really cool to be able to help start to pave this way for other incredible people.”
Still, Huynh keeps it humble. “I don’t really think of myself as an inspiring person, ’cause I feel that’s very weird. But I do think from what people DM me, it’s just really cool for people to be able to relate to my experience or see that there’s someone who looks like them doing these really cool, incredible things.”
Huynh also acknowledges it’s important to have experiences that reflect particular communities be the heart of the stories those communities tell. But equally importantly, she notes, is being able to see yourself reflected in every kind of story too.
“When I saw Lana Condor in To All the Boys I Loved Before – I think that movie made such a huge impact because I didn’t even realize what I wanted. But I wanted to see a film with an Asian protagonist that wasn’t about her being Asian, but about her having the experiences of a regular teenage girl. It’s important to have stories where we just feel like regular people, where we’re able to, you know, experience having a crush and falling in love and all of those things.”
The pressures of being a primary income earner
In addition to bringing better representation through her work as a digital creative, Huynh has also had to navigate other challenges being a mom and entrepreneur, responsible for her family’s primary income.
“Juggling my work-life balance – I think [that challenge is] true for so many people. In the past, I never really felt like I had to [figure that out] because I was very used to burning out and just being go, go, go, go, go. And the only person that would pay for it is me. Whereas now, I have a family. And I really can’t operate like that anymore. And it’s really, really unsustainable because there aren’t days where I can just lay in bed and be like, ‘I don’t want to do anything.’ And so I think that was kind of a rude awakening for me.”
Figuring out how to navigate that space as a mompreneur has also meant establishing boundaries. “For me, it’s definitely being like, ‘OK, let me set my limit. Let me be at home at this time that I say I’m going to be at home at,’ because there was definitely a period of time where I was coming home at like 9:00 PM and just not seeing [my son] Blu. It was definitely hard for me because I was like, ‘I wanna work.’ But also when I’m at work, I feel like I’m not home enough. And when I’m at home, I don’t feel like I’m working enough. And that still is something that I’m dealing with now.”
Coupled with that is also something that Huynh has been open about on her socials: “I think the mashup of being a perfectionist and a people pleaser is really, really hard.”
Unpacking it further, Huynh says, “It makes you feel like you can’t do anything, because if it’s not perfect, then there’s no point in trying. But I think that also comes into my work-life balance [issue], where it’s like I set these expectations of myself to perform a certain way when I’m at work and to perform a certain way when I’m at home.
“And I think becoming a mom has definitely taught me that you need to manage those expectations and they’re really, really high and that they are just not possible. So you can either feel bad every day about not meeting your unrealistic expectations, or you can try and adjust them.”
She adds, “It’s kind of finding that balance between how do you stay motivated, and how do you achieve the things you want to achieve, but in a very sustainable way that feels good for you?”
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Huynh’s go-to coping strategies
There are a couple of strategies Huynh has adopted to help her cope better with these more recent challenges. The first of these is literally talking out loud to herself.
“Definitely, like, going on drives or to the grocery store by myself. I don’t talk to myself in the grocery store – just in the car, but that is part of it.”
Her other strategy? Carving out time for self-care in little rituals that make Huynh feel her best – like her haircare, skincare or nail routines. “Just [taking] like a couple of minutes every day to myself.”
She says, “I guess, like any moment that I can take to care for myself, which, as a new parent, I kind of got into this space of feeling like, ‘Oh, that’s really vain. I shouldn’t like all these things.’ But then I realized that all of that self-talk was very negatively impacting me. And so taking the time to look after myself the way I want has definitely helped.”
But Huynh is giving herself permission to create a new blueprint for what it means to be a young mom and a BIPOC entrepreneur providing for her family.