Hustle and Heart: The JENerationDIY Story

How 20-year-old YouTuber JenerationDIY inspires a generation to “do it yourself” by being herself.
https://www.facebook.com/coldteacollective/videos/858075591220370/
Producer: Natasha Jung
Videographer: Mark Stenson
Production Support & Photography: Jasper Lau

Young people (namely Millennials and Gen Z) get a bad rap for being lazy, self-absorbed, impatient, insert whatever new thing we get blamed for. But while people complain, we’re busy breaking new ground. Now more than ever, inspired young people are challenging norms and doing things that have never been done before.

Chinese-Canadian YouTuber JenerationDIY (real name: Jennifer Zhang) is a prime example. Zhang is a 20-year-old YouTuber who over the last five years has amassed a following of over 1.7 million subscribers on YouTube, 120,000+ followers on Instagram, and she can’t even legally drink in the U.S. yet.

Cold Tea Collective’s Natasha Jung sat down with Zhang to find out how she is busting those lazy young people myths and inspiring a generation to do it for themselves.

WHO IS JENERATIONDIY?

Cold Tea Collective: Who is JENerationDIY? What inspired you to get started in the world of YouTube?

Jennifer Zhang (JZ): Whoa…now that I think about it, it has multiple meanings: generating DIY’s (do it yourself) and this is the generation of doing it yourself, creating opportunities for yourself. YouTube is a platform for that.

I’ve always been making stuff. Ever since I can remember I’ve been making little gifts and cards for my family members. It’s always been a hobby of mine.

My very first video, it took me a week to edit because not only was I learning, but I also didn’t have the right [computer] programs. I would do a version on one program then the trial would run out and try to learn another program to do the next part.

It’s been a lot to upload every week for five years, so it’s natural to get to a point where it doesn’t feel like it did before. I think a lot of YouTubers right now are feeling that and are voicing that. It’s been good for me to hear that other people are also going through it.

THE CHANGING YOUTUBE LANDSCAPE

Cold Tea Collective: How would you describe the evolution of your persona and your audience?

JZ: The culture of YouTube has evolved and creators have realized that people want to see the more real and relatable side of people.

When I first started, I wasn’t really myself because that isn’t the norm in my genre of DIY and lifestyle. It’s all glitz and glam. I grew up thinking this was normal, so I tried to replicate that. In my earlier videos, I even spoke in a higher-pitched voice to meet expectations.

Cold Tea Collective: Was there something that happened that encouraged you to be more of the real you in your videos?

JZ: I started vlogging and people responded really well to that. From that, I realized that people don’t care as much about well-produced videos with great lighting and saturated colours. I enjoy connecting more on a real life level; I want it to feel like real life and not a ‘show’.

Right now I’m going through a period where I’m trying to figure out the direction I want to go with my channel and what my purpose is. It’s like a mid-life crisis at 20. That’s one of the weird things about becoming successful so early — I burned out earlier.

TAKING BIG STEPS WITH THE SUPPORT OF HER FAMILY

Cold Tea Collective: How have your parents supported you along this journey?

JZ: When I first started, we had arguments when I wasn’t doing that well. The turning point was when I started making money from YouTube and getting views and sponsorships. I understand that though because they want me to have a successful career.

I was going to school at NYU for the last two years and I made the decision to leave school and do YouTube full-time.

It was actually my Dad who suggested I drop out of school to focus on YouTube because he saw how burnt out I was.

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING CONTENT CREATORS

Cold Tea Collective: What advice do you have for people who want to start a YouTube channel?

JZ: You can’t let the positive or negative comments influence you and it’s important to know who you are outside of social media.

Some people think that the ‘wrong’ reasons are to make money from it, but it’s different now because you can do it as a job. If you’re passionate, make it your job; that genuine passion helps people connect with you.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Photography by Jasper Lau.

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