Young People in Business: Felicia Chang and Zaake De Coninck bring (hi)stories to life
Everyone has a story, what’s yours?
Or more importantly, 'What stories will you inherit?', which is the tagline for Plantain, a company specialising in creating stories to record the histories of people, businesses and communities both locally and abroad.
For Felicia Chang, the story of Plantain began with her own family history, one that is familiar to all Trinidadians, which involves migration, arrival and the creation of a new life and community.
Chang, who has a background in global health research, worked for several years in different parts of the world and saw the great importance of history, cultures and tradition in gaining a better understanding of communities and people. This led her to explore her own family history.
She said she was blown away after learning about her grandmother’s migration from China to Trinidad, her life and her experiences.
“They came here as migrants, for whatever reasons, and they carved their own worlds. We did a film (Popo’s Journey http://www.plantain.me/ourportfolio-1) which ended up in the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival in Toronto. It was really amazing, because we didn’t expect what would come out of it.”
She said people started to approach them to tell their own stories.
“I realised there are so many people who don’t know how valuable their stories are, or some who aren't sure how to capture it,” she said, and it was then, in 2012, that the concept for Plantain was born.
Plantain, Chang says, creates stories for families, companies, or individuals by compiling historical information, oral histories and other memorabillia to produce engaging printed, film or digital products, which serves to create a sense of identity and a foundation for future generations.
“Every product is unique and depends on the scope of the project, but it always begins with a series of conversations, where we get to know our clients and kind of understand the crux of their story, their legacy and basically their lives.”
Chang says from there, her team works to gather information about their subjects, delving into historical records using a network of teams based both locally and abroad.
“We do all the archival research also; this can be public records which includes indentureship records, slavery records, birth records, old newspapers clippings etc., and we also include memorabilia, anything that has sentimental value, for example ticket stubs, and we pair that with a beautiful design.”
The finished project can be done as a printed book, video, or through an online site, or an alternative medium, based on the client’s preferences.
“The real goal of Plantain is to be a company that people, families, companies and communities can turn to when they want to record their stories and life histories, and to do that in a beautiful, timeless way.”
Although the company is only about four years old it has already made great strides, receiving a Grant Recipient Award from ideas 2 innovation (i2i) through the Ministry of Planning and Development, for the prototype for an electronic app to engage people in collecting personal histories and memories which they are building with their partner, My China Roots.
Chang works with her co-founder, Belgian-Ugandan Zaake De Coninck, along with other designers, researchers and skilled professionals to craft these stories for individuals, families, companies and more.
The name Plantain was aptly chosen based on a folktale in which humans were given a choice to be like the moon, which has no children but is reborn every month, or to be a banana/plantain tree, which dies, but leaves behind young plants to carry the story forward.
“We felt that 'Plantain' suited us because of it's more a 'local' flavour, and because of the plantain's 'migration' throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean... just like us.”
Starting a company with a concept which was new to Trinbagonians had its difficulties, but Chang said once they completed their first project, they were able to move forward more smoothly.
“It was difficult at first to express the vision we had in our head (to clients), but it’s become much easier as we have products now we can show.”
“It’s always about having that first proof and actually doing it. Then you can show people and it makes such a big difference.”
Chang says one major milestone was the completion of a corporate project for Emile Elias Group of Companies, a printed edition spanning the company’s 50-year history, and contributing to the creation of a corporate film and digital content.
“It was a very big project, I felt like we were able to utilise our team to bring this story to life and match the company’s ethos and purpose.”
“The best part of our job is that we get to meet the most amazing people, and hear these amazing stories,” she said.
Plantain: Moving forward
Chang says as the company grows, she continues to try to strike a balance between maintaining the personal feel of the team’s approach and expanding into larger projects.
The company hopes to be able to continue to work on projects both locally and abroad using the team’s international network of data researchers.
She believes that now, more than ever, Trinidadians need to find out more about their history in order to move forward mindfully.
“We really believe that it builds self-awareness, I did it for myself, it was a huge driver for me, it makes a huge impact. I understand now that I’m continuing their legacy.”
“Every day, in every decision we make, we’re actually influencing (future) history books.”
“Understanding the past helps me understand the present, and what kind of future I want to be in.”
“Plantain basically asks you what stories will you inherit and what do you want to add to that legacy?”
All the best to them as they continue to create these important stories.
For more information on Plantain visit http://www.plantain.me
Or visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/plantain.me
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