It’s no surprise that Kim-Trang Blair was successful in business. One of four children raised in a traditional Vietnamese household, she recalls her mom and dad as “tiger parents” before that was even a thing. At an age where many are still waffling on career choices, Blair had already worked ten years, wed, had a child, earned her MBA, and run her first marathon. And yet something felt “off.”
“I was driving to work crying one day. When you have that kind of emotional reaction, that’s a pretty good sign there is something wrong in your life.” At the time, Ms. Blair had already risen in the ranks to become a senior HR executive at a company that helped college kids pursue their dreams through experiential internships across the globe. Over dinner with a friend and former colleague (and quite possibly a few glasses of wine), Blair and her friend asked themselves: What is the craziest thing we have always wanted to do, but never had the gumption or guts to do it?” For her friend it was a food blog. For Blair, it was photography – a hobby she had been passionate about since high school but never considered pursuing. The friends laid the gauntlet: one year to make it happen. Blair hung a shingle – BLK Chai Photography, named after the family dog – and the journey began.
New York-based and still working full-time, Blair picked up various lifestyle assignments that papered her portfolio but did little to offset that New York suck machine known as rent. Then, as luck would have it, she stumbled upon her first wedding client at a local upper Manhattan gourmet cheese shop. The shop owner was talking to the engaged couple, who were in the marketplace for a wedding photographer, when in walked Kim. Introductions were made.
“I said ‘here’s my website,’ explained Blair. “I had no wedding stuff up on it, but they hired me anyway. I’m still not sure why.” Her good luck continued when she learned that the wedding was set to be held in Central Park in the fall. In the meantime, she became pregnant with her second child, which meant she had to hire a second shooter to overcome her bouts with morning sickness. “They paid me sixteen-hundred dollars,” Blair said. “They were a gorgeous couple and it was a perfect day. In the middle of the shoot my assistant came up to me and said, ‘you’re loving this, aren’t you?’ I asked her how she knew. ‘You’ve been grinning ear to ear all day!'”
The gig came off without a hitch. The couple was thrilled, Blair’s entire profit was gobbled up by paying her assistant’s rate, but a business was born. Her wedding and lifestyle portfolio grew, a second child arrived, thus a second NYC marathon was run. Still, she was torn between her full-time job, shooting weddings on the side, and now, raising two under two. What ultimately led her to can the corporate fast track and take the risk?
“Giving birth,” she said without a moment’s hesitation. “That’s when the plan was hatched. My kids being born re-prioritized everything. Being a working mom was my vision of forever. I loved my previous job but it was compromising my time for photography and cutting into my time for my kids. I was just not a happy person and it weighed more and more heavily on me.”
Ultimately, with the 100 percent support and encouragement of her husband, Blair took the leap. “Jami, and a handful of other key players, got me to where I am today,” she said. “A professional photographer who I had shot for was a great mentor and provided me a ton of intel on how to successfully grow my business. All my best people were always pushing me to explore just a little more.”
Today, Ms. Blair does business as Kim-Trang Photography. She has 14 weddings lined up for the upcoming busy season and four more on tap for 2020. She devotes three days a week to her business, full-time, and carves out two days a week for her youngest son Owen, who is now almost three. She is also shooting magazine work for New York Bridal Fashion Week. Arguably, she is busier than ever, but the happiness quotient has changed.
“Last fall I shot a wedding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. THE St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I mean who shoots there? And they were just the most amazing couple.” Her voice trails off. There is almost a Lady Gaga “Star is Born” quality to her face. Her phone vibrates and she starts to pack her gear into her kit bag. She has a Bridal Week assignment in an hour and another couple to interview by phone. It’s a busy job. Just not any job.
Morning musts: Coffee and kisses from my boys. That’s how I wake up.
Adult beverage of choice: Red wine. I love a good Cab.
No. 1 thing husband does to support her: Everything! His support most of all. I would not be here without him.
Energy snack: Rosemary almonds from Trader Joe’s. Ohmigosh they are so amazing! Life-changing. That good.
Go-to device besides your iPhone: My Nikon D750.
Spotify or iTunes: Spotify. I’ve got Maggie Rogers on repeat.
3 things that keep you sane outside of work: Teaching figure skating. Running a marathon. I also ran one as a marathon guide for the seeing-impaired. Does that count?
If you could escape town for a week tomorrow: Bali.
Person you’d most like to hang with at a bar: Michelle Obama.
Favorite thing about running your own business: The look of pure joy when you capture that moment. For a wedding couple, or in a lifestyle shoot, where the kids are just having fun blowing bubbles.
Best piece of advice for someone who wants to change gears: You’re never too old to get started.
Cherished item: We did a volunteer trip to India after our wedding. I was given these prayer beads. They hang by my key hook. I always touch them before I leave the house.
If you had five more minutes in the day: Sleep. (She giggles). I would sleep.
Kim and Emerson’s Pasta Bolognese
One hard fast rule of the Blair household is that they always sit down for dinner together. Five-year old Emerson has approximately a five-minute sous chef-ing attention span, reports his mother. This is their current favorite, adopted from her cousin in Bordeaux, France, which is not a bad place to adopt your recipes from.
1.) Heat 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan.
2.) Sauté one chopped onion and a few cloves of garlic until translucent.
3.) Add 1 lb. of ground beef and cook until done. Add some torn basil leaf towards the end.
4.) In a separate saucepan, simmer a 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper.
5.) In a large pot, boil one lb. of spaghetti or pasta of choice until al dente.
6.) Combine all the ingredients in the ground beef frying pan and mix thoroughly. Plate and serve with red wine and chocolate milk.