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Pasadena’s Hidden Gems

Every day we have a choice. We can support an up and coming podcaster, try a new family-run restaurant, join a boutique gym started by a local fitness champ or we could keep giving away our money to the handful of giants who already control so much of our commerce. Our daily decisions impact the kind world we live in; if we want a world where small businesses are growing and artists and creatives are thriving then we should support them with our time, money and attention. We’re proud to highlight inspiring creatives and entrepreneurs each week in Hidden Gems series.  Check out some of Pasadena’s gems below.

Victoria Lee

I’m a designer, art director, and most recently, entrepreneur. I have always loved the creative process. I have a background in painting and drawing from when I was very young, but have since taken that passion into adulthood as a career in graphic design. I was always afraid of becoming a “jack of all trades, and a master at none”, but I truly had many interests in the creative space when I was starting out! I sought out an interdisciplinary education to hone in on what I really loved to do. After graduating, a large part of my design experience has been in corporate, where I have taken existing brands and elevated them in new and creative ways. Additionally, I freelance for clients on projects that I believe I can make a difference in with my skillsets. My strengths lie in branding, big picture creative solutions, and a sprinkle of illustration magic! Read more>>

Max Spransy

As the youngest of five, all homeschooled, my mother wasn’t interested in micromanaging my high school education so I was free to structure my weeks anyway I wanted as long as I was able to present my finished work before the weekends. My father, a touring musician turned producer noticed my interest in electronic music and decided to customize my education by incorporating classes like analog and digital synthesis, recording and production and I was fortunate to have an arsenal of expensive equipment to play with long before I had any right to. I produced my first album at 14 and was featured on my first compilation album at 15. By 20, I was signed to The Record Machine, an indie label based out of Kansas City and I had four full-length albums to my name. Read more>>

Brynn Mitchell

Like so many people, I feel like my life, and with it my artistic journey is paused right now. I’ve been using this time to brainstorm and write, and rest so I have the chutzpah to get moving again soon! I studied theater in my undergrad and then fell in love with film when I was given the opportunity to direct my first short. The past few years I’ve spent taking any role I can get on set and have worked with and learned from so many talented people. I’ve also started studying Intimacy Direction and Coordination so I can work with artists on scenes of intimacy. It’s not cool or unique to be passionate about film in LA, so what makes the grind exciting is working with my friends and lifting each others’ art up. Read more>>

Katherine DePaolo

I started my career in Entertainment Advertising but it wasn’t very fulfilling well for me. One day I had an old colleague reach out with an opportunity to be a design director at an LA fashion startup and I jumped at the opportunity. I thrive in the fast-paced, small working environments and startups provided that. I continued to work for e-commerce brands both because I developed expertise in that niche but also because I’m a bit of a shopaholic. The best designers are the ones that know and understand the target customer and when you are that target customer… well, it can be easier. I continued to work in fashion but made a pivot to health + wellness when I got another unique opportunity to join a new startup called Thrive Market. I have celiac disease––so again, I was the customer eager for a new company to provide more affordable healthy foods including gluten-free options. Read more>>

Emma Holland Denvir

I started in the interiors industry as a woodworker about ten years ago — designing and creating my own sculptures and furniture. That landed me a position as a junior designer at Bishop Pass, a boutique hospitality firm. We worked on a bunch of local restaurants, such as Maude by Curtis Stone, as well as larger ones in SF & Las Vegas for Michael Mina. I learned so much there and would not be where I am today without that position. I bounced around the industry landing at House of Honey as well as PaliGroup as a consultant while working on my own brand under my name, Emma Holland Denvir. Read more>>

Jeremy Wheatfall

Born in Texas, my childhood was spent, dividing time living in Houston, Mcnair, and Baytown. As a kid, I was socially awkward, curious, and I was always performing for my family and friends at school. I was the kid who was not afraid of being in front of the class or answer the questions, I was an outgoing child. My mother encouraged my creativity and pushed me to always look for a way to be better than I was yesterday. I think that actually helped my interest in the military. After graduating high school, I joined the military for eight years. It was definitely an experience that taught me how to be self-reliant, proactive, and disciplined. I took what I learned and applied it to my plan of getting into Entertainment Business, which leads me to where I am today. Read more>>

Paula Han

My true passion since childhood has been home decor. However, I ended up becoming a lawyer and practicing law for eight years. Even then, the idea of opening a store was always in the back of my mind, but I did not think it was feasible. Then I met a boutique owner through a mutual friend, and in short, she made it sound like opening a store like Handle was actually quite doable from a financial and operational standpoint. So once I felt that I had saved enough money, I left my last job and moved back to Los Angeles (where I had lived off-and-on since law school). Eventually, I started looking for a retail space to lease and found my current space pretty early on. Read more>>

Lucy Mao

As a former Director of Sales in the home decor and gift industry, I use to travel the world designing product, marketing to retailers, running showrooms and managing over 100 national sales representatives. I flew almost 100K miles a year and perfected the art of speeding through security and taking advantage of frequent flyer miles. I recall being stranded at JFK during the NYC blackout in 2003, fighting through panicked crowds and having to figure out a way to make it out as I slept on my suitcase on the floor of the American Airlines terminal surrounded by strangers. I remember the thrill of cold calling one of the largest US retailers, landing an appointment, showing them why our product could be helpful to them and landing the deal. Through those years, I honed my skills in negotiation, strategy, and most importantly in listening to what people need. Read more>>

Kayla Luu and Mira Marlink

We have always loved to write, so Composed started as a passion project of ours. As we finished high school and started the college application process, we could not help but notice some fundamental problems in the system: why was writing college essays so difficult? And why did help from professionals cost so much money? Luckily, we made it through the application process alive. We just finished our first year at Brown University and The University of Chicago. When the pandemic forced us to switch to remote learning, we had a lot of time on our hands. We were so inspired by all of the startups and efforts towards Black Lives Matter that we were seeing, so we decided to start a quarantine project of our own. Why not use our passion and shared experiences to help others with their writing? That’s how Composed was born. Read more>>

Sara Gonzalez

When I was four years old, my mom put me in a ballet class at our local dance studio. I immediately fell in love with dance and quickly realized that it would be my lifelong passion. Dance taught me how to be disciplined, how to express myself, the beauty of creativity, and so many other valuable life lessons that I would carry with me. At the age of sixteen, I became an official instructor at that same studio (then known as Impact Dance Academy) and began dancing professionally. I worked on several different television shows including Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, Lab Rats, Liv and Maddie, and Nickelodeon’s Victorious. I also traveled to China and worked as a back-up dancer for various Chinese artists. Read more>>

Daniel Sebastian

I started writing music in high school and getting my work played by the band and such. I also joined a “boy band” and got my fill of writing pop/rock arrangements and songs. It wasn’t really until college that I considered writing music for film. I decided to switch my degree from biology to music and began studying music theory and orchestration in and outside of the classroom. This is also when I discovered that I had an underlying passion for film and classical music, likely because my older brother would play it around the house as I was growing up. Read more>>

Grace Joo

It all started when I was in high school. I use to dye my friend’s hair in my bathroom using drugstore box color all the time. I never considered doing hair for a living. Friends always made a joke saying I should just open my own salon since I’m always styling and doing their hair. So then I googled beauty schools around me, and that’s how my journey started. Read more>>

Tiffany Wei

What started as a mere hobby quickly became a great passion of mine from a very young age. I began my first art class at the age of five and simply never stopped drawing ever since. Instead of disapproving this passion of mine, my parents actually encouraged me to continue. It was specifically my mother who enrolled me into my first art class, took me to all the nearby museums, and purchased many art-related books for me to read. Growing up, I remember putting my drawing assignments first amongst all the other homework from school. Despite doing art for so long, I never seriously considered it as a potential career path until sophomore year in high school. It was during this time that I worked really hard to put my portfolio together by attending outside programs such as Ryman Arts and CSSSA. I am currently attending Art Center College of Design as an Illustration Design student. Read more>>

Maggie Chui

I was born and raised in San Francisco, CA after my parents immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong in the 1970’s. I identify myself as a Chinese American and go by the pronouns of she/her/hers. I come from a traditional Asian family and my parents’ only hope for their children was for us to go to college, graduate, and find a stable job in the workforce. Graduating college with a degree in finance, I found myself working different cubicle jobs. I worked in city and local government for a short time coming out of college and I remember my parents being so excited because they knew I would be promised a steady job with good benefits. Read more>>

Shayla Hudson Riggle

I started out as a Classical Theater actor. I toured doing Shakespeare and Greek Tragedy for a few years. After doing a few TV Shows, I took a break and started teaching. I started my own after school performing arts program, and I loved it. Unfortunately, it was tough to balance of that and my love for performing. So, I ultimately had to choose. The moment I made the decision to go back to the stage, I was booked in an amazing Greek Tragedy called Electra. I am really grateful for that show because it started me on path that would lead to life long friends, lessons, theater family, my career, and most importantly my husband. Read more>>

Ricky Crockett

I’m a former athlete so I’ve always been into fitness. My training career started because I was approached by several individuals while I was working out at a gym. People would approach me asking if I was a trainer and I would respond saying ‘no’. Months later, I was continuously asked the same question. One day, I decided to take a potential client up on her offer. I trained a young lady in a park for free because I didn’t feel comfortable charging someone for something I had never done before. This same woman would invite her friends and we ultimately developed group training. At this moment, I made the decision to get certified as a personal trainer. Read more>>

Ted Case

Since moving to LA ten years ago, I’ve worked professionally as a musician and composer. That has meant wearing lots of different hats. In recent years, I have particularly loved writing string arrangements for music artists. That usually means listening closely to a recording or demo of a song, then composing the parts that violinists, violists, and cellists will play for a performance or recording of the song. I’ve arranged strings for boylife, Ruel, Alina Baraz, Slow Hollows, YAS, Amy Ahn, Lou Roy, SPELLLING, Okudaxij, Rozzi, Tim Carr, Olivia Kaplan, Rosie Tucker, Steven van Betten, Erin Bentlage, Adam Brock, Nick Dorian, and more. A lot of these people are my friends in the music community here, and all of them are artists I admire. Along with all these songwriters, it’s such fun connecting with the amazing pool of freelance string players in this city… Read more>>

Kristine and Charles Lopez

We actually found our love for photography & videography together after our first year of marriage. It was definitely a sweet & unexpected discovery. I (Kristine) had purchased a used camera for Charles as a surprise for our one year wedding anniversary. We were headed to Yosemite for a little celebration and wanted to record our trip. At the time, I was working my corporate 9-5 job, where I was marketing for special events and musical theatre in Hollywood. Charles was working in the health field while pursuing his career in nursing. At the time, he also had a love for collecting vintage clothing (a super relevant fact for later!). Both of us had no idea how to work a camera. Read more>>

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