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In Seattle, a Vietnamese Jewelry Maker Finds Comfort in the Quirky and Queer

The big, bold, and fun accessories with an air of mystique that Đinh Nguyễn Song Khanh and their spouse, Meiyin, create under their brand XYZ reflect their definition of queer fashion in the US, where they now live with a bunch of cute and mischievous cats.

Khanh (left) and Meiyin (right).

Đinh Nguyễn Song Khanh (they/them) is an old friend of mine from high school. They're currently an exchange student at the University of Washington, finishing their graduate degree in Digital Media while also working as a videographer. Their spouse, Meiyin (they/them), is a Chinese-American with a degree in marketing who is currently working in a coffee shop to help support their artistic dream of designing jewelry.

In addition to parenting a cuddly crew of cats, the pair are co-owners of XYZ, a boutique jewelry brand with pieces crafted by the owners. Khanh and Meiyin sell their creations via their website or at monthly pop-up markets across Seattle.

A love story that started it all

The idea behind XYZ was kindled when Meiyin made a few handcrafted earrings for themselves as a personal project; the custom blings immediately brought in quite a few compliments from their friends. “Oh, these earrings are so fun! You should sell them!” Meiyin recalls the praise. This was around the beginning of 2020 when Meyin and Khanh were only friends. Meiyin invited Khanh to design earrings with them and, by the end of that year, XYZ was officially founded.

“[After that], we fell in love, and started dating,” Khanh says. “So XYZ was there at the beginning of our relationship. It was there when we were just friends, and when we developed into a relationship, XYZ was also there. So I would say queerness is at the core of XYZ's mission.”

Despite its simplicity, the name XYZ is actually a clever wordplay on Meiyin’s actual name, which contains the Chinese character for "swallow," a species of chirpy birds that have an important role in many Asian cultures, Vietnamese included. “I really like those birds,” Meiyin says. “In Chinese, you call them 小燕子 [xiaoyanzi, or tiểu yến tử in Vietnamese] so I took XYZ from Xiaoyanzi.” Young Vietnamese might also know the name Tiểu Yến Tử from the classic Chinese drama Hoàn Châu Cách Cách.

Big, bold, and beautiful

XYZ’s style emphasizes big and bold accessories that juxtapose elegance and eccentricity, giving many of their products an overarching aesthetic of “just having fun.” Currently, Khanh and Meiyin make mask chains, necklaces and earrings, the latter of which are amongst the most popular.

Most of XYZ’s earrings are dangles, usually made by attaching precious stones to chains. They frequently incorporate crystal beads and chips in metal frames, wire-wrapped crystal quartz and other semi-precious stones. Occasionally, the pair will also use fun little shapes or miniature items to embellish their creations with extra cuteness.

“Meyin has a pair of soy sauce earrings, and sometimes we would have tiny little chili peppers, we just attach them to a chain and they’ll be dangly,” Khanh shares about some of their more comedic products. Meanwhile, during Tết, Khanh also helped channel some festive air into their craft with iconic Tết colors like red and yellow to introduce a part of Vietnam to Seattle.

Their creation process is simple: lay out every piece of material they have on hand and wait until a spark of inspiration hits. On rare occasions, they will sketch out their design’s silhouette to see if it would look good, “but most of the time, we just wing it,” Khanh explains.

Video via XYZ Style Co.

When it comes to material, the duo opts to source ethically from other small businesses around the city or through sites like Etsy, partly because they don’t want to rely on big corporations, and also would rather support the local community. The semi-precious stones used are also bought at Gem Faire — a marketplace for gemstones and minerals that allows Khanh and Meiyin to support small businesses directly.

Khanh and Meiyin first started selling their wares on the net. After a while, they decided to expand their horizons by attending local pop-up markets and sought the support of VietQ — a grassroots organization that aims to help LGBTQ+ Vietnamese living in Seattle. “It's a little community that has a couple of big pop-up markets for queer and trans creators. So those markets were some of our first-ever markets,” Khanh reminisces.

It’s through these markets that Khanh gets the chance to meet Vietnamese customers. Outside of VietQ’s market, Vietnamese are rare. However, the ones they do encounter seem to share a similar taste: “For the Vietnamese customers that we have seen, they usually go for dainty, simpler designs,” Khanh notes.

Even with a sense of camaraderie among queer Seattle residents, the pair continues to encounter cultural differences. For Khanh, the Vietnamese, queer, and queer Vietnamese communities are three circles that don’t overlap often.

“When you're queer, you have a certain hardship, and when you're Vietnamese, you have a certain hardship, so when you're both, it's like a combo,” Khanh shares. “Queerness is so foreign to the Vietnamese community here [and] because our language is very gendered, it’s hard to communicate.”

XYZ helps navigate and even connect the fragmented communities via friendships formed. “We have this one friend that we’ve met through VietQ’s market,” Khanh says. “This person’s name is also Khanh and they constantly buy from us, and now we’re good friends. So it’s cool to see that XYZ can establish friendships that way.”

But not everything has gone smoothly for the pair. Besides the occasional creative blocks that hinder their design process, they also had a few tumbles. “One time we prepared five packages, which included custom orders and products that we already made, ready to be shipped out and we left them at the outgoing mailbox at our apartment. All five of them were stolen. So now we always go to a UPS or post office for our mail,” Khanh recounts an unfortunate incident.

Finding comfort in crystals

There’s no common consensus on what the “queer aesthetic” is, as it differs between people and cultures. For me, it’s cuffed jeans and an almost excessive amount of accessories. For Khanh and Meiyin, it is “goth fashion, ‘witchy’ fashion, and big, fun things, even things like bones.” This description certainly fits many of XYZ’s products.

Crystals seem to be another typical element of queer culture and, by proxy, queer fashion. Khanh and I agree that queer people, almost regardless of nationality, seem fond of crystals. A sizable subset of the queer communities around the world are really into hobbies and aesthetics that are considered “mystical,” yet not too overtly religious, like tarot cards, witchcraft, and healing crystals.

When I ask Khanh if they can try their hand at explaining this odd connection between queerness and mysticism. Khanh shares a personal interpretation that resonates with me.

“Part of queer culture is spirituality,” Khanh says. It’s something that they noticed not just in Seattle, but in other cultures as well. “A lot of queer people are into being Wiccan, which is being witches and spiritual. Because fashion is such a big thing in how people express themselves, they start to incorporate spirituality into their fashion…which is why when we package our [crystal and gemstone] products, sometimes we include the stones’ healing properties because it’s something that I, Meiyin and our customers are interested in.”

The way forward

Khanh is still in the middle of finishing their grad school degree, so Meiyin is temporarily doing a lot of the work for the business, which means that XYZ’s presence in markets is inconsistent. “Because I’m a full-time student, and Meiyin has to work [at her other job], we haven’t been able to [do sales at markets] every week, but we've been able to do it every month,” Khanh says.

Once they are finished with grad school, Khanh hopes that they’ll be able to spend more time working with Meiyin on XYZ. Both of them want to be able to expand into other kinds of products, such as bracelets and body paint, as well as being able to donate to charities again, particularly ones that are Asian and queer-focused — something that they did in the past, but have put on hold due to some setbacks regarding schedules and finances.

“We sell what we make, instead of making what sells” is a philosophy that allows Khanh and Meiyin to enjoy themselves in this line of work. They had allowed customers to design their own products but dropped that approach “because we feel like we should have the creative freedom to create whatever we want to create. So yeah, we would just make anything that inspires us and people would see that it's creative, they'll be naturally drawn to it and buy it,” they say.

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