Unseem: Our Founder Story
My name is Viya - a first-generation Chinese immigrant and founder of Unseem. Both my personal and my professional sides are centered around the mission to empower women like me to create their own freedom and live on their own terms; for me, that journey first began in high school and continues strong to this day.
Born and raised in Mainland China, I had spent a big part of my teenage years being trained and prepared to meet the expectations set for me by my parents, most of which consisted of completing my studies and embarking on a safe, traditional career path. In keeping with the plan, I steered away from my interests and went on to study accounting.
A Taste of Independence
In 2013, an internship in Chicago marked a turning point in my adult life; I had my first taste of independence and wasn't ready to let it go. It took a 5-page letter to convince my parents to reach a compromise - I would stay in the United States as I worked towards a Master's degree in Social Entrepreneurship. For them, this meant a secure job that would give me financial stability and a comfortable life back in China. For me, it meant the time and freedom to look for the things that would feed my soul.
2016 hit me with a reality check. My parents made their position clear when I failed to return to China after graduation - if I wanted to stay, I would have to do so without their help. I had $138 in my bank account and one month to land a job. Within a moment, I was pulled out from a life of privilege and safety to one where whatever happened next was only up to me.
Luckily, it didn't take long before I found my first job, a gig selling life insurance with a $4000 cash advance and a 3-month long training period that bought me some time. I had made it past my first obstacle, but it wasn't quite good enough for the long run. Back then, I spent all of my time looking for a different position - a job that could sponsor my visa and allow me to survive.
Maybe ironically, I searched for an accounting job, by that point the only profitable skill I could think of to save me - I guess my parents weren’t wrong about everything. I began my work as an accountant, once again stricken by luck and receiving my H1B visa not long after. Finally, I was allowed to stay in the country and carry on with the life I had started to build.
It turns out, surviving was only the beginning, and, for me, certainly not enough. I could manage to pay my rent, but the feelings of fulfillment I longed for were nowhere to be found, and they certainly weren't going to come to me then. I was trapped, and something had to change; 3 jobs later, it was time to leave San Francisco.
It was 2019, and I got my cue - the startup I was working at announced the closing of their San Francisco office.
Even with the proper documentation, being an immigrant is an all-encompassing, exhausting position. I was tired of survival mode, sick of worrying about the possibility of being kicked out of the country I lived in while doing something I didn't even enjoy. My fight had been for a country, it had been for my own freedom, and I wasn't going to give up on it.
I left the US on May 21st of that year, confident that I was wasting my youth on something that wasn’t worth it for me. I set out to Bali, Europe, Lebanon, and Uganda - with nothing to lose, I traveled the world and landed in Canada.
The Next Big Thing
My solo excursion had opened my eyes to more than just the countries I had visited. I had gained insight into my own passions, my fears, my goals, and my next steps; just like that, Unseem was born.
Well - not quite that fast. My time in Montreal was marked by several failed business ventures as I tried to find my stride in a new place. Originally named BELLAVIYA, my business grew with me as I learned and experimented with my idea and my determination.
Finding the right product took time and patience, and called for a rebrand that spoke to the meaning behind the brand. Unseem: not proper, free, original, and uninhibited - in all of our own ways.
In the past 6 years, I’ve been helping many tech startups, social entrepreneurs, and NGOs to grow their operations. At the same time, like many millennials, I was at a crossroads of my life. I didn’t know who I am and what I wanted anymore, but I felt too young to be stuck
My solo excursion in 30 countries had opened my eyes to a lifestyle and mentality that’s atypical to my upbringing. I explore, experiment, and question. My personal mission has slowly come to me: empowering women like me to create their own freedom and live on their own terms.