Dear Outdoor Asian family and friends,
In celebration of National Park Week, we present to you a very special friend and artist, who's endearing story and ADORABLE designs will enchant you like the first time you ate ice cream as a child. They are even doing a giveaway this week, so pour yourself some tea and enjoy the origin story of EXP Gained, by Kristy Li.
In celebration of National Park Week, we’re excited to share a project we’ve been working on for the past two years! Before jumping in, we’re EXP Gained | ShopCo (expgained.com | @expgained), a small design shop inspired by grand adventures found in the great outdoors or discovered in whole new worlds right at home from movies, games, and books! The artist behind the work is kzli888 (Kristy), a Chinese American born in Missouri, raised in California, and now based out of Washington. She’s always had an affinity for the outdoors (grew up as a Girl Scout in Missouri), but didn’t really grow to love it until she started traveling with friends and was addicted to finding new places to explore.
Growing up, her parents would map out elaborate road trips in order to see as many places as possible. Many of these trips were a series of National Parks where little Kristy would enjoy purchasing a pin to commemorate the trip. When Kristy grew up and started planning trips on her own, she was disappointed with the selection of designs available at park stores and online which sparked the thought to design her own set. By day, Kristy is in Marketing for a packaging distributor (i.e. plastic bottles). As you can imagine, working for a packaging company which contributes to the waste dumped into the planet is morally conflicting for someone who enjoys the outdoors so much. It is actually a combination of her dayjob and wanting to give back to the places that have inspired her so much that it became a catalyst to put the National Park Project into motion.
The National Park Project was an attempt to offset the waste Kristy personally felt responsible for as a marketer of a packaging company. The goal of the project was to bring awareness to the beauty of this planet by starting small with the U.S. National Parks. It was an opportunity to promote mindfulness when exploring outdoors, share the unique wonders of each park, and ultimately give back to the lands that inspire the art. She recognized that these parks offer unique experiences to everyone regardless of age, race, or gender and creates a common ground for sharing stories. She hopes the little pieces of art remind everyone of their own personal experiences and in turn reminds us all that these lands (and the planet) need to be protected for future generations. We strive to be extremely mindful of the resources used to run this business. Almost everything is recycled or is recyclable (our proudest feat is removing the use of tape!). Ever since the first designs were made in mid 2019, a portion of profits have been donated to organizations protecting these lands. For two years, she self-funded a design for each national park and have finally crossed the finish line with the newest park, New River Gorge.
Each design is based on personal memories or detailed research of parks we have yet to experience. Even with our own personal experiences, we still put the research in to make sure the final inspiration for the design captured the most unique yet recognizable features where visitors at every level can recognize. Pins are paired with a unique backing card that features a topo map of a popular destination within the park. With each new design researched, it only fueled our own personal spirit for adventure and now drives our personal goal to take a picture of every design at it’s source of inspiration!
There is one other person behind the brand and it’s Kristy’s mom! She helps with fulfillment on the Etsy side of the business. Seeing her mom’s curiosity about how art could quickly grow into a small business, Kristy invited her to be a part of the venture. Her mom meticulously packages the orders then ensures they are shipped out as soon as possible, sometimes even the day of the order! Her mom constantly looks for ways to improve the shipping and has a harsh eye for quality. The dedication to supporting her daughter’s artistic ambitions is the ultimate demonstration of the asian parental love that never fades.
The project has helped the brand and artist grow more than just artistically. Socially we became more aware of the lack of diversity in the outdoors, we recognize it was only more important to identify with our asian roots. The project became more about just redesigning national parks, it was an opportunity to connect with a community where it was uncommon for asians to take up space. We love seeing customer’s eyes light up when they recognize a park they’ve been to and can’t help but share their unique experience to a complete stranger!
By exploring and growing our brand with the outdoor community, we have also discovered and connected with other asian artists inspired by the great outdoors! In celebration of completing this project, we’ve teamed up with 3 other artists who have also created work inspired by mother nature and her wonders.
PBcorner: pbcorner.etsy.com | @pb_corner: PBcorner is a laser craft small business that specializes in all bits and bobs. Phuong, the owner, loves being able to incorporate her love of the outdoors into products that others can enjoy and relate to. The national forest monthly baby markers have been a huge hit with fellow outdoor lovers and new parents. Phuong and her husband Johnny (who runs The Moti Supply Co), love to travel and visit as many National Parks as they can.
Navnomadic: navnomadic.etsy.com | @navnomadic: Nav Nomadic is a passion project from an adventurous mom who has always dreamed of getting her art out there. She fuses her love of nature into her work of hand lettering and illustration and turns them into physical goodies for other adventurous souls.
Stitchback Stories: stitchbackstories.etsy.com | @stitchbackstories: Stitchback Stories is a one woman show dedicated to making high quality handmade items inspired by her own personal adventures. She hopes her work encourages you to share the love for the places you’ve been or motivate you to opt outside.
Together we’re celebrating National Park Week by running a giveaway on Instagram in honor of the lands that inspires our art! We’ll be giving away a full set of our national park pins, and each of the makers will be also contributing a piece of their work in the giveaway! You can learn more at expgained.com/npw-giveaway or visit any of the maker’s instagrams for a post about the giveaway and how to enter! (Images pictured below are not final giveaway prizes, please view giveaway site or IG post for finalized prizes)
We hope all our art inspires everyone to continue nurturing their spirit of adventure by always exploring while staying mindful of preserving these beautiful lands for future generations. We hope our work resonates with your own experiences and sparks the desire to seek more. Thank you for learning more about us and our journey! We wish you many more adventures and experiences gained!