Part 1 :: The End of our American Dream
We loved living the fast-paced American life, where for 5 years we spent every second weekend vending at the biggest comic conventions from San Diego Comic-Con, to Anime Expo in Los Angeles, to New York Comic-Con. It was our dream for many years when we lived in Canada, to sell at those events, and we were lucky enough to do it. We met many amazing customers across the US, some even came back year after year to buy our merch, talk to us, or even just to wave hello. We miss you all. (Image below from New York ComicCon 2018:)
However, being Canadians (we had a 5 year US visa, with the option to renew), we had to be vigilant of political affairs, especially from 2016 to 2018. Policies leading to increased tariffs affected our costs, and decreased our margins; and due to a tariff war between the US and the EU, the duties imposed on US goods in the EU increased, resulting in most of our European stores unable to afford to restock our brand. As a two-person company, we felt the negative impact of being squeezed by government policies that did not benefit us as a small company. Within 2 years, we found ourselves working much harder for a lot less reward.
In 2018, not only did our convention sales decline from previous years, but we noticed people in general were becoming less friendly and some becoming more aggressive. We went to an average of 15-20 cities each year to vend at different comic/anime/horror conventions without any problems. But in 2018 alone, Aldora, being of Chinese descent, had 3 different racist incidents happen to her:
1- At a quiet convention in Nashville, two attendees stopped by our booth and while Aldora was explaining our brand to them, they wouldn’t look at her in the face or acknowledge her even though there was no one else around. After she finished her pitch, they dismissed her and walked away.
2- At NYCC, while safely in our booth, a teenage boy made sure to get Aldora’s attention so he could flash her the “white power” hand sign.
3- While at the Chicago airport, Aldora went out of her way to hold the elevator door for an older couple and help them in safely, they made their best effort not to acknowledge or thank her.
Going around the country, and putting ourselves in vulnerable situations seemed less and less like a good idea. We became very worried that this was becoming “the new normal,” as we realize that it had felt increasingly unsafe to travel for conventions.
Both of us being immigrants and having seen first hand the negative ripple effects of the US government’s policy changes, we did not feel welcomed anymore. We originally planned to stay in the US for a minimum of 10-15 years, but with our visa renewal looming in April 2019, we began to consider a possible exit strategy. If we wanted to continue Akumu Ink, we could not go back to Canada due to its smaller market, so our next location would have to be somewhere in Europe. We considered the UK, but with BREXIT happening, our next best choice was the Netherlands. Immediately, we contacted an immigration lawyer in Amsterdam who told us to move across the pond and start the application from within the Netherlands. The finality of this meant that we had to close our warehouse in the US and start over in a new country. (Below image is our warehouse in Chino, California:)
Part 2 :: The move from California to the Netherlands
In January 2019, we packed our warehouse into a 40’ container, with the rest of our belongings. Everything was sent on a ship headed for Europe.
The self-employment application for the Netherlands has a success rate of 7%, so we were taking a big risk of possibly being turned back to Canada. Because of this insecurity, we did not create new merchandise; but despite it, we kept forcing ourselves to create new designs, print, and ship them in a brand new country, just by the two of us.
When Covid hit in the beginning of 2020, we entered another level of stress and depression that we had never experienced before. Everyday was like a dark tunnel not knowing if we would be allowed to stay in Europe, or if we would be required to pack up our dreams, return to Canada, and shut down Akumu Ink, all during a global pandemic. We took 1.5 months off in April 2020 due to our depression. We reached a point where we had to prioritize our mental health above anything else.
In January 2021 (2 years after we began the application process), our lawyer called to let us know that we were now approved to stay in the Netherlands indefinitely. With this burden lifted, we are now able to think positively and more creatively. We have been holding back for the last 5 years on making fun new merchandise, and now we finally got the green light to start. Photo below is of us at the IND (The Immigration and Naturalization Service) getting approved to stay in the Netherlands:
We are very excited that we have entered PHASE III of our brand (Phase I: Canada, Phase II: USA), to establish Akumu Ink in Europe. We appreciate all of our customers who we have met during this journey and those who follow us on social media. We hope you will continue to be a part of our little adventure.
Thank you for reading,
-Aldora Kwee & Joey Poulin
Creators, owners and operators of Akumu Ink brand.