Meet Kim Woozy, founder of MAHFIA Web TV & Videos
Adding an international dimension to our Asian Australian interview series, AAFFN is pleased to highlight the work of Kim Woozy, an Asian American video producer and web TV founder, whose content challenges gender stereotypes and a certain invisibility in mainstream programming by focusing on women in action sports like snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. Below is an interview she did with AAFFN’s Indigo Willing.
“If we stop comparing ourselves to this artificial idea of a perfect person and instead gather bits of inspiration from many sources, we allow ourselves to embrace our uniqueness, which makes the world a more interesting place. Isn’t it more satisfying to be the best version of yourself than a watered down version of someone else? ” – Kim Woozy, founder of MAHFIA“.
A product of the millennial generation, Kim Woozy was born and raised in the heart of Northern California’s Bay Area. Her childhood was influenced by the juxtaposition of San Francisco’s rich cultural diversity, Silicon Valley’s technological innovation and the Sierra Nevada’s epic outdoor adventures. Woozy discovered her passion for videography at seventeen when she got her hands on her first digital camcorder. Since then, Woozy has gained nearly a decade of experience in video production and youth lifestyle marketing in action sports. In 2010, Woozy founded MAHFIA, a video production company and web tv channel that exposes the untold stories of females in action sports culture. MAHFIA’s mission is to promote females for their accomplishments and offer inspiration and entertainment for girls who are interested in the creative lifestyle of skateboarding, snowboarding and surf culture. In October of 2013, Woozy gave a TEDxTalk on women’s action sports marketing titled: “If She Can Do It, So Can I”.
- What types of things have you heard girls and women say in terms of things that motivated them to get into snow boarding, skating and surfing?
The most common responses I hear from women that skate, surf, snowboard, etc. – they had a brother, boyfriend or friend(s) that did those sports. Someone was there show them the ropes. Other girls said it was because of the X Games* on TV. It inspired them to try it out because it looked fun.
- Even though action sports are becoming more popular amongst females, and with many around the world performing at exceptionally high levels, they tend to be almost invisible in mainstream media and commercial imagery (eg. Shoe and clothing companies). With Mahfia, you get to change the tide and decide who gets coverage and why. What types of things and imagery do you strive to include and cover?
With MAHFIA, our mission is to promote fun and the creative lifestyle that action sports offers. We want to show girls that these sports are really fun and aren’t just for guys.
Limited opportunities are a challenge for the top females in action sports so we aim to provide a platform for them. These girls have based their entire lives on skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, etc. and are some of the most unique, hard working, fun-loving and inspirational people I’ve ever met! Through our lens, we hope to capture their personas and inspire others to participate in the culture.
Our tagline is “killin it softly”, which means that you achieve success by working hard and being humble – you are the best at what you do but you aren’t shouting it from the top of a mountain. We like promote this motto and the idea of creating your identity through your accomplishments and skills rather than hype or surface level characteristics.
- In a Ted X talk you gave in November 2013, you speak of ‘possibility models’ rather than ‘role models’, the latter who tend not to reflect a wide range of the population. Possibility models, you emphasized, are able to inspire without people having unrealistic expectations or standards they have to measure up against. What are some of the pressures girls and women get to farewell once they stop trying to be like mainstream ‘role models’ and start embracing a bigger range of possibility models?
The problem with mainstream culture today is that public figures or “role models” are generally one-dimensional, lack diversity (both physically and intellectually) and are often just puppets designed by large corporations in order to make money. This is a dangerous foundation for young girls and females in general. If we embrace “possibility models” and look to real people for inspiration, our goals and dreams become much more attainable, diverse and authentic. If we stop comparing ourselves to this artificial idea of a perfect person and instead gather bits of inspiration from many sources, we allow ourselves to embrace our uniqueness, which makes the world a more interesting place. Isn’t it more satisfying to be the best version of yourself than a watered down version of someone else?
- As an Asian American, you stated that one of your own ‘possibility models’ was Kristi Yamaguchi, a figure skater, even though you played basketball and other sports. Can you talk a little about why Kristi Yamaguchi was influential to you?
Back in the 90’s, there really weren’t any Asian-Americans or Asians period in mainstream media. At that point in my life I didn’t know of any Asian females (in real life or in media) who really excelled at sports. Seeing Kristi Yamaguchi in the spotlight was monumental and became a turning point for me. It was the first time I had ever seen an Asian female achieve a high level of athletic success. She was a huge inspiration. I didn’t necessarily want to be an ice skater but she made it desirable for me to be an athletic Asian female. She encouraged me to keep playing sports and helped me embrace my identity as an ‘athlete’.
- Who else might have been a possibility model to you more recently?
More recently, my possibility models have been real people in my life – mostly my older friends that I look up to. Being an Asian-American female trying to work my way up in the action sports industry, which is predominantly run by white males, I used to feel slightly out of place. A few years ago I heard about a woman named YuLin Olliver who started out as a competitive snowboarder and eventually became the Marketing Director at Fuel TV as well as Street League Skateboarding. When I finally met her, she instantly became a mentor and now is a good friend of mine. I try to surround myself with people who are talented, hard working, positive and they have all become “possibility models” for me in some way.
Another recent possibility model of mine is entrepreneur/chef/tv host Eddie Huang. I follow his web series “Fresh Off the Boat” on VICE.tv and also read his book. Like me, his parents are from Taiwan and he grew up in America in the 90’s. In his book and on his show, he addresses Asian-American identity and explores immigrant culture in various countries around the world through food. Eddie is a young Asian-American entrepreneur in the spotlight who happens to be intelligent and hilarious. He breaks all the stereotypes of Asians in media and has definitely inspired me to keep doing what I am doing.
- One of the central messages from your Ted X talk seems to include that we can all work hard at and get fulfilment from something if we find what’s right for us, have passion and get support. What were some of the ways you found supporters and momentum to develop Mahfia?
MAHFIA came about mainly through the support and collaboration with the professional female athletes and women in the action sports industry who I became friends with after working on the Girls brand at Osiris Shoes. We often had long discussions about what’s missing in our industry for females. The foundation of MAHFIA was built on conversations that started with, “Dude, it would be sick if…” I also teamed up with my college classmate, Jonathan Villegas, who is an extremely talented video producer and editor. We share a deep love for action sports and have the same artistic style and vision when it comes to video production. Without his support, there would definitely be no MAHFIA. One of the main reasons why MAHFIA materialized beyond just an idea is because I surrounded myself with like-minded people who gave me the courage and motivation I needed. Again, it comes back to having an environment of people who are constantly inspiring me to push forward. As for business, it wasn’t easy in the beginning but we are starting to see more brands become interested in the female market. Slowly but surely people are starting to understand the value in what we are doing.
- Mahfia goes against the stereotype of females being passive spectators of action sports culture. Can you tell us about some of the positive feedback have you had from people who were unaware of how popular and how advanced girls and women are from viewing your channel and social media content?
My favorite thing is getting emails and messages from people around the world that are genuinely stoked on our videos and what we are doing. I’ve gotten messages from parents, males and females from every corner of the earth saying that they are so excited that they found a website that features girls in action sports. My favorite ones are from girls who tell me they are the only girl in their town who skates, etc and they feel like a freak but then they see our videos and get hyped that there are other girls doing these sports. It’s my absolute favorite type of message because that’s the exact reason why I started MAHFIA.
- How might your background as an Asian American influenced or sensitised you to valuing the power of media and giving females a voice?
As an Asian-American growing up in the 90’s I always felt like an outsider. It’s odd because it wasn’t that there was a lack of people that looked like me – I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, there was a pretty solid Asian demographic around me. It was that the idea of being an “American” at the time didn’t really encompass minorities. Asians were not represented in any media – movies, TV shows, magazines, etc. In high school I remember wishing that I was more “white” – I started dying my hair blonde and wearing skate/surf brands. Being an Asian female and an athlete was definitely abnormal. I didn’t fit in with the Asian kids because I was a “jock” but I wasn’t truly a jock because I was still an Asian kid. Academics always came first but luckily my parents supported me in whatever hobbies I liked and they never made me feel wrong for being different. I did have to go through a phase of wearing dresses and going to piano recitals when I was younger but luckily they let me quit when I told them it made me miserable. That being my background, I am committed to telling my story and other non-traditional stories so that other kids out there can relate and understand that being unique is actually really awesome. Media is such a powerful tool, especially in today’s world. It’s so important that we tell our own stories and shape our culture collectively instead of letting other people do it for us.
- Have you done and do you have any future plans to travel abroad to do any special overseas pieces for Mahfia?
Yes, definitely! Traveling abroad is always one of my main priorities. We’ve been to Germany, Canada, Singapore, Spain, Japan and Taiwan so far. Most recently we are working on a new series that will be released later this year that includes a few episodes that feature girls action sports culture in Tokyo and Taipei. I am really excited about that and hope to continue to travel to Asia to shoot more. We’ve also been talking about going to Brazil for some time now — the skate scene there is amazing and I would love to go. Action sports culture is growing rapidly all over the world, it’s really an exciting time.
- Have you any plans to come to Australia and collaborate with locals?
For sure! We actually almost came out this year to film Lizzie Armanto for Penny Skateboards who is one of our brand partners based in Australia. Unfortunately the trip had to be rescheduled but Australia is definitely on our future agenda. I’ve never been and I’ve been wanting to visit for a very long time now. I can’t wait!
- Anything else you would like to add?
For all the girls out there that have ever thought about stepping on a skateboard, strapping on a snowboard, paddling out on a surfboard OR picking up a camera, my advice would be to GO FOR IT! Find a way to make it happen and don’t be discouraged if you aren’t good at it at first. Everyone sucks when they start out. But if you stick with it, I guarantee it will change your life forever.
*To find out more about the challenges female athletes face also see Underexposed: A Women’s skateboarding documentary.
All images are kindly provided by MAHFIA and feature females doing their thing – killin it softly.