When it came to curating this list, in the midst of a cultural upset, a global pandemic, and a civil war amongst the people—we were at a crossroads.
How do we create a Class Of guide when the world seems to be falling apart every single day, how do we honor people and their achievements when the conversation has so clearly turned.
Though in the SF Bay Area, we’ve seen a litany of small to large scale unrests awaken in the light of the brutal police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others. These protests have sprung other conversations about race, sexual identity, childcare, healthcare—the list goes on.
And much like the Bay Area does, there are few who lead the charge. Our Class Of 2020 honors and highlights examples who began to further change—whether it’s through their work, day-to-day, or digitally.
Every week (specifically Monday and Friday), we will be highlighting two of our seven Class Of 2020 and inducting them into our master guide of locals who trail blaze in the Bay Area.
Mental health—it’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds. It’s a conversation that is isolating, self-inducing, and takes a mountain to talk about.
In 2020, it’s a centered conversation that involves everyone. For NUFLY co-founders, Dan Fung and Belinda Man, creating a publication at the intersection in 2020 felt like the right time. NUFLY was born out of a desire to work on a purposeful projects centered around mental health and creativity. Learning over time that art can be incredibly therapeutic—Fung and Man built a small team that now produces a variety of digital and physical product that can encapsulate their viewer in any medium they enjoy.
And though activism is widely based on the act of showing up in the physical sense, the two activate in a mental and digital space. Their activism creates space for those who need refuge from the hard hits of the day, the incredibly taxing prowess of their minds, and makes oasis.
NÜFLY was a small project that was born in a cafe in San Francisco but it covers a very deep topic. What was the antithesis of discussing mental health and creativity?
[BM] Dan and I aren’t hypebeasts. The latest trends don’t matter to us. This was never about just making money. Something we agreed on early on is we would never sell this to an outside source. This was built on a need for us to have an outlet to share inspiration and stories we felt needed to be told. We really care about how things are made. The longevity and intention behind everything.We felt no one had been framing mental health and creativity in the same way we could see it in our minds. From the perspective of a couple of kids who grew up in San Francisco and witnessed the change in the creative community here, mixing in art with therapy felt like the right thing to do. The only way we could heal and evolve with the times. To plant the seeds for deeper conversations with others.Our long term goal is to show the layers in work when it comes to art and present stories from human beings in the creative community who are still learning and processing mental health struggles. To dive deeper into the interconnectedness of art and therapy.
[DF] The antithesis is a platform that covers only popular culture, the latest trends, and the need for material things in order for you to feel happy and fulfilled. The magazine stands in bookstores are already filled with brands covering these topics. There is a large audience looking for these, in their defense, but we’re looking to offer something different. Personally, I draw a lot of inspiration from magazines and pay attention to ones that do not discuss mainstream subjects. These books are collected and stored in my room’s shelf to serve as reference (and examples of what NÜFLY is competing against haha).
How did you both meet? Who brings what to the table when it comes to NÜFLY and how has it benefited the working relationship?
[DF] Belinda and I met two years ago through the Soundcloud music scene in San Francisco. My roommate, Jarrad, is a house music producer and I was designing his branding/cover arts. One day, Jarrad invited me to come with him to meet a videographer that he found through Instagram for lunch in the Mission district. This videographer was Belinda and our first meeting felt really natural and casual where we shared our work with one another.Later down the road, Jarrad and I were invited to DJ for a show by First Ear Music, a Bay Area music collective. Belinda was a last minute hire as the videographer for this show. Inside the venue, there was a photobooth with a ring light that wasn’t quite properly angled and facing the backdrop. I couldn’t help myself but to adjust it and only Belinda wanted to assist me out with this. We got it just right after forty-five minutes of trial and error. This experience made me feel like I can rely on someone like Belinda. We eventually started scheduling work sessions in a local cafe where we worked on our individual projects. During this time, we would talk about our personal dreams as freelancers and look for ways to help one another achieve those – this is where the idea of NÜFLY began.
As we were expanding on ideas of what this could be, the limitations of our capabilities also became more clear. This is when Belinda invited two of her friends, Don and Cas, who later became key members of the NÜFLY team. We each offer something unique to our team: Belinda brings in her expertise in videography along with her large network of creatives, Don brings in his knowledge of visual design and branding, Cas brings in his talent for motion graphics and videography, and I bring in my understanding in fashion/product photography and graphic design.
[BM] First and foremost, I would like to thank jarradcleofé for bringing Dan to what was supposed to be a one-on-one lunch to get to know each other and see what we could collaborate on. Instead I got a 2-for-1 special. You know what though? No complaints. This partnership definitely wouldn’t exist without him. Dan is the good cop. I’m the bad cop. What I mean by that is he has the better bedside manner. If you want to negotiate with someone in the front room, hit Dan up. If you want to negotiate with someone in the backroom, hit me up. I am the bluntly honest type that will cut right to the chase. Dan is the type that will be calm when you tell him there’s a shooter on the loose at a Great America. I would spring to action.We are all multifaceted artists who have more than just one specialty which means we all bring more than one thing to the table. This has benefitted the working relationship because we don’t need to rely on a large number of people to get something done. For example, I have experience in Photoshop. Let’s say I needed some graphics for promotion but the others are slammed… I can whip something up if need be and be ok.I brought Don into the team because I felt like we needed a guy who had a decade’s worth of experience with design and branding. Visually speaking, his personal work felt very complimentary to mine and Dan’s. It just felt like the right fit. It took some convincing. He had to convince us to stop having meetings at Philz and planted the seed to get the office we currently have. Without him, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are. With Cas, I needed a video guy with a deep love for Japanese culture and an eye for motion design. He brings a lot of style to the team. An edge. He’s definitely the silent killer type. I know that if shit really went down, I could rely on Cas to battle it out with me.
You describe outlets as “necessary for one’s own sanity.” What do you mean by this and how has that idea shaped in the last years of American media becoming a heated bedrock? Would you describe the brand as a media company?
[BM] Growing up as an only child in a broken family, I developed a lot of defense mechanisms to stay sane. Sarcasm being one of them. I repressed a lot of my true thoughts and feelings because I felt alone. Creative outlets became necessary for me to release the weight I carried inside. I remember learning the word “catharsis” when I was around 10 and loving the meaning of it. The purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions. It pushed me to reach out to others and develop my skills in art.
Art became therapy. A way for me to process trauma.We decided to embark on this journey because American media has become more and more capitalistic as of late. You can’t even go on a social media app these days without being bombarded by ads. Products constantly shoved in your face while you’re trying to catch up on friend’s stories or looking for a morsel of inspiration. We wanted to build something where the intent wasn’t centered around the quickest dollar but on your overall well being.I would describe NÜFLY as an outlet for like-minded creatives who want to dive deeper into their purpose, share the intricacies of their art, and package stories with care.
[DF] I believe nothing good happens if you keep everything locked inside your own head. Whether it be a problem you’re dealing with or cooking up the latest idea of a creation, it’s always better to talk things out to people you trust. This allows someone to attempt to understand and help you. More importantly, verbalizing your thoughts will help you better understand your own thoughts. It’s an uncomfortable feeling initially but your outlets come with healthy long term benefits over time.
I believe this is especially important nowadays with how American media has made us unfocused on our daily lives and pay attention to only what we lack.I frequently describe our brand as a mixed-media company since we’re also planning on releasing artbooks during a digital age.
This may be a loaded question but in your perspectives, do you feel like the United States is equipped to talk, handle, and respect mental health? How do you all center the conversation with others in your personal and professional life?
[DF] Over the past four years, I’ve noticed an increase in conversations that center around mental health, especially on social media. These are internal issues that I believe are not taboo and should be the bedrock of any form of healthy relationship – friends or partners. I believe, more often than not, everyone builds an image of how they’d like to be perceived in the world by creating an ideal image of themselves.
But as time goes on, you realize that you are the only one you need to impress. You are the only one who’s with you at the end of the day. Get to know that person. All honesty, no barriers or excuses. Once you’ve discovered who you are as an individual, your personal and professional life starts aligning and your intentions become clear.
[BM] I’ve definitely noticed the stigma around mental health changing over the past few years and becoming a hot topic. People explaining their behavior by way of their anxiety. The United States is definitely already in the middle of the conversation around mental health. Are we handling it very well? Could we be respecting it more? Yes. Because at its core, mental health is something you need to work at on the daily.
It’s not a trend. A hot topic we only talk about for a short while before we get bored and move on. Being open, honest, and vulnerable about our stories and process is a lifelong exercise. We lead by example. We start the conversations we feel are missing from the landscape in front of us. We work at creating a safe space for others to feel free to be themselves.
Was there a defining moment when your work had influenced someone’s opinion, idea, or conscientious? How did you respond to it? It can be as small as a friend to friend interaction or even a stranger.
[BM] The defining moment was earlier this year when we started and completed our first care package together as a team. I reached out to a few collaborators for the project and it really helped them realize their lost motivations. Quarantine left us all with a lot of uncertainty and having to be creative positively influenced their mental health. One of the DJs we tapped for the mixes is an ER nurse based in New York. The day that I messaged him to see if he would be down to contribute, he was parked outside his hospital having a bad day. The quarantine and seeing firsthand the surge in cases had definitely taken a toll on him. My message felt like a sign from the universe to keep his head up. It motivated him to create. I live for moments like that when I can help someone out when they’re feeling stuck. Reaching out is key.
[DF] A recent memory comes up to mind: back in March, our team was experiencing a lot of anxiety due to COVID-19 and how it affected our paid gigs by cancelling them left and right. We knew a lot of people like us were experiencing the same feelings of uncertainty. So in response, we created our first care package to address anxiety that included a posterzine, scented candle, and mixes curated by our DJ friends. An interactive experience that touched on four senses to provide some relief through anxiety. The care package was received well and sold out in four days. One of my friends, Julie, reached out to me and informed me that this was her first time purchasing anything related to art therapy.
She said the care package provided her comfort during her law studies. She also added that our success can mean a lot to people who aren’t generally impacted by art because the culture is often exclusive. Her words provided me affirmation that we’re doing something right and more importantly, to prioritize being inclusive in all forms of dialogs that relate to our mental health. It’s a difficult subject to address alone and I hope we can make it a topic people are more comfortable talking about – especially outside the creative scene.
What have been the hurdles of running a media brand that discusses mental health and creativity? What are ways you both are actively doing to better center yourselves when it comes to the business of mental health?
[DF] The first one is accepting that we aren’t mental health experts. A lot of what we discuss are through our own experiences but I believe that’s what makes it more personal when we share stories of how we overcame our own individual challenges. Speaking of which, the second hurdle when talking about mental health and creativity is that we go through our own personal problems. During times like this, we provide one another comfort (and sometimes clarity) by listening to one another and having difficult conversations to see eye to eye. Some personal methods I practice are deep breathing and personal mantras that help bring me to the present. Protecting my inner peace and separating myself from my work allows me to navigate the complex emotions of having your work questioned and critiqued.
[BM] Honestly, the biggest hurdle is releasing projects out into the world because we both care so much about how things are presented. Seemingly simple things like typos can stop me in my tracks. Typos and grammatical errors. Learning how to go with the flow and not let the OCD win every battle has been the hardest thing to keep going back to. I have to be extra mindful when it comes to my mental health because it ties in with my creativity. How present I am during a meeting. If I’m jumping ahead in the conversation. Taking the time to improve how I care for the people around me. Keeping morale up.I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks to grow. It helps to tune into someone else’s mind sometimes.
Some favorites are: This Is Not A T-Shirt by Bobby Hundreds, Dear Girls by Ali Wong, Born A Crime by Trevor Noah, The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish, I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart, and Stay Hungry by Sebastian Maniscalco. Something these books all have in common aside from Bobby’s is they were all written by stand up comedians. I’ve found a lot of comfort in stand up comedy in the past year.How did these comedians build their brands to such a point that someone offered them a book deal? What kind of mind state did they have to enter in order to figure out how to capitalize on their perspective of the world without compromising their true voice? To survive and eventually thrive. I could find a better version of myself in their stories and understand how I could elevate just from seeping in their drive to keep getting back up after falling over and over again. Being reminded I am not alone in my desire to shed light on this tight rope we all have to walk as creatives.
We see that you all are also streaming content to Twitch? What made you all think about providing live content vs static content? How does your mission marry to the idea of live content?
[DF] Yes, we currently have three Twitch live stream shows (SESSIONS, NIGHT DRIVE, and RE-SET). The idea of live streaming originated when my friend, Han, visited the NÜFLY office earlier this year. Our office is filled with furniture we paid out of our own pockets and the walls are covered with vision boards. We sat as I told him about our intentions with building the NÜFLY community and to eventually release high-quality interactive artbooks.He was genuinely surprised by how committed we are on this project and had no idea all this was going on. Han asked me why we haven’t been sharing as much about NÜFLY on our social media and I responded saying we’re not as ready as we’d like to be.
He then pointed out that our story is so important for our community and people need visibility into how a brand operates before they even consider investing time and spending money. This sparked the idea of live streaming our self-titled work sessions.After pitching it to our team, the intention with “SESSIONS” is showing what it takes to operate a media brand in 2020 and also create a platform for our community to engage with us directly. I originally led the first few “SESSIONS” streams by doing live photo/layout editing and sharing my thought process. Later we realized that we can also use the “SESSIONS” stream as an opportunity to highlight our creative friends, discuss how their mental health currently is, and share their own process.
This perfectly compliments our mission because while diving into our guests’ origin story and their past projects, a lot of our guests get to revisit their intentions of why they started their journey in the first place. And hopefully – it rekindles any lost motivations they may have experienced during their career.
[BM] Dan is the one that went full speed ahead when his friend, Han, visited the office one day. The man taught himself OBS and took the lead. I was merely a bystander in the back for those initial live streams. Dan narrated 12 “SESSIONS” streams mostly by himself while he would be working on a project on either Photoshop or Capture One before we started bringing in special guests.
The idea behind having special guests come on was to do a more comprehensive highlight on creatives around us we felt deserved a deeper dive into their story, process, and past work. A way to build community. Let others know what we were up to while getting updated on what they were up to as well.We pivoted more heavily into live streams because of the pandemic and quarantine. It became a fun outlet to develop and grow when we all couldn’t physically meet up. There’s a lot of room to experiment with live streaming that you can’t do with static content. I think live content is very complimentary to the end goal of putting out art books because art to us is multifaceted. You can have multiple projections of one idea/story.
Motion graphics compliments our videos that compliment our photos that compliment our graphic design that compliments our editorials and interviews that compliment the overall voice of this magazine. Why not try a new medium and see how it can inspire us to create in ways we’ve never done before? Be interactive.I’ve learned OBS since the quarantine started and started our RE-SET and NIGHT DRIVE streams with the help from a couple of friends (Miinkay Yu and Cas). Miinkay is a life coach I met through Burning Man. She’s always the first one I call when I’m having a mental breakdown. RE-SET is meant to be a therapy session between friends to open up dialogue around mental health.
NIGHT DRIVE is more of a visual moodboard to help reset your creative mind. The experience is similar to jumping into a good friend’s car as they play their favorite music and share their videos. Cas has been having a lot of fun designing his stream backgrounds and running his own show after mine.
To you, what makes you feel the most powerful? Is it completing a big project or is it the day-to-day grind of making work for NÜFLY?
[DF] Definitely completing a project. As a group of lone wolves coming together for NÜFLY, we’re fruitful with a lot of great ideas, but deciding what to prioritize and getting everyone onboard with the vision as a team has proven to be quite a challenge. In addition, Belinda and I are constantly working on overcoming our internalized perfectionism. By completing a project, it means our team is on the same page and we carry this high as momentum for our next project.
[BM] It’s both. I feel the most powerful when I can connect the dots in the universe. By dots I mean people or things that I sense are meant for each other. I find a lot of my purpose in the everyday struggle of completing small and big projects. It’s hard to just be working on one project because I can see the interconnectedness of everything we set our hearts on.
Can you tell us one moment from your past that threw you off the tracks (a comment by someone, a barrier you couldn’t overcome, etc) and how did you pick yourself up and continue to carry on? Or if you didn’t, what were your key takeaways from that particular interaction?
[DF] A recent example of this was when we finished printing out our first run of T-shirt merch, we later discovered there was a typo. This led our team into a panicked state and our emotions were running all over the place for the next couple of hours. We felt a lot of anger and frustration, but reminding one another that mistakes are all part of the process eventually led us to calm down a lot. Accepting the situation, we then collaborated in identifying a solution that led us to an exciting different direction for the T-shirts and a potential new collaboration with a friend of ours.
Afterwards, a long Zoom meeting with Belinda and I was needed to address our response to the situation. This conversation led into the late AMs of the night, but it was necessary as leaders for us to discuss how we respond to problems to become strong leaders for one another. Mistakes should be expected, but how we respond to it and overcome them will be the building blocks that carry us forward in the bigger picture.
[BM] Reacting vs responding to a problem can be very challenging when you are not present. This can be in the middle of the afternoon or late at night. I am my worst self when my mind is somewhere else. A prime example would be when we were deciding the name for the candle in our care package.
I was rushing to get out of a brainstorming meeting I didn’t know we were having after I had just narrated a 3-hour stream and had something else to do. I felt forced into the meeting and didn’t have the mental capacity to problem solve anything at that time. The others could feel my disinterest when I didn’t properly explain my situation.What I learned from this is I can hit pause and regroup with them later if I can’t be fully present. It’s ok if I need to come back to something later to properly address it.
What does the future hold for NÜFLY both realistically and dream-esque?
[BM] The future holds creative retreats, book releases, traveling to other countries to build communities with other like-minded creatives struggling with mental health, art gallery openings, studio sessions with our favorite artists (FKJ/Solange/Audrey Nuna), movie premieres, hot air balloons, lots of weed, and ice cream.
[DF] Realistically, we’ll build a platform for creatives and anyone interested in art therapy to become resources for one another and comfortably have discussions regarding mental health. In addition to the platform: we will release interactive artbooks intended to embody our projects in print form, share our perspectives through editorials, and spark curiosity in the viewer. We have big plans for NÜFLY to be something with an international audience.It’s our dream to host NÜFLY events, whether it be galleries or music shows, on an international scale! And maybe even have overseas offices in the future. I would also personally love to collaborate NÜFLY with some of my favorite slow-fashion brands like visvim, PANGAIA, and Prospective Flow.
Lastly, who do you champion?
[DF] For me, there are two people that left a huge impact on me: Beatrice Ursula and Eryn Kimura. Four years ago, I experienced a very difficult stage in my life and felt very lost in my direction as a human being. I was so fortunate to meet them both in San Francisco on separate occasions. They’re both amazingly talented artists whose voices helped me navigate and overcome my troubled mind. Their activism through their projects resided inside me deeply and also inspired me to find my own personal strength.
In addition, the biggest shoutout to the Arch boys (Jarrad, Han, Frankie, Quan, and Jann) for being my forever tribe. There are so many more and I thank everyone who has helped shape me to become the person I am today.
[BM] I champion Mac Miller, Douglas Adams, and Haruki Murakami. Mac Miller made me feel less alone in my thoughts and feelings like he really knew what I was going through and was coping with it in the same ways I was. Douglas Adams opened up parallel universes, showed how magic could exist in the everyday, and introduced zen navigation to me. Haruki Murakami dived deep into my psyche with his stories and made me question the fabric of reality. I champion these three because of the numerous doors of perception they showed me. Without them, I wouldn’t be as curious and experimental with life.
They showed me how fun it was to live outside the box.Also huge shoutouts to my personal champions: my supportive parents George and Josephine, Issy, Ellen Ho, Miinkay Yu, Jenae Lien, Arumi, Kronika, Miles Medina, and my NÜFLY team (Dan, Don, and Cas).