How French-Chinese influencer J Lou turned her rice obsession into a community, a business, and hope for those struggling with their identity
- YouTube and Instagram influencer J Lou created the #RiceFam community and then a line of merchandise featuring rice-related characters based on her love of rice
- What started as a cute project came to mean much more - ‘It’s about people like me who may not have found a suitable spot in society or fit in a specific box’
While fitness influencers continue to shill the virtues of “rice” fashioned from cauliflower or konnyaku, J Lou is having none of it.
For the 26-year-old YouTube star and Instagram comedienne, rice is a non-negotiable part of life – so much so that her love for the carb has spun into an entire community, an official line of merchandise, and now a pop-up in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong.
“I feel like rice just has a sense of warmth,” she says. “Even the word sik faan, or ‘it’s time to eat’ [in Cantonese], has the word rice in it. There’s a sense that when there is rice, when the rice cooker is on, the family is together and we’re gathered together.”
The idea that rice can create a community led to #RiceFam, the tongue-in-cheek name of Lou’s fan base, coined after her social media followers started noticing how much she would obsess over rice in her videos (she currently has more than 374,000 subscribers on YouTube and 446,000 on Instagram).
That led Lou to create a “Rice Monster” persona in 2019, a soft, white blob tightly clutching a bowl of rice, with the word “Mine” splashed over the top.
The project was put on the back burner during the pandemic as Lou focused on growing her platform. But in January, she unveiled a range of made-in-Hong Kong #RiceFam apparel with slogans such as #morericepls and #riceaddict.
“When I didn’t know where I belonged, you guys made me realise I didn’t have to,” she wrote of the community on the Rice Fam website.
“I’m so excited to have created a line where I can be 100 per cent myself, to share my love for rice, but mostly importantly, to share the love and support in this community we have built.”
The Rice Monster character has since been joined by a host of other rice-related sidekicks, including Bobo and Kiki, a pair of tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes); Hokie, a rice scoop; and Dai Lo, a large, golden-hued Dragon Boat Festival dumpling.
At the #RiceFam pop-up in Crostini, a cafe at Causeway Bay’s Times Square shopping mall (until August 31), fans can grab stickers, memo pads, apparel and more emblazoned with their favourite characters.
What started as a cute project has since become imbued with much more meaning, Lou says.
“Rice Fam is rooted in the sense that it’s not just about a love for rice. It’s about people like me who may not have found a suitable spot in society or fit in a specific box.”
Growing up Eurasian in Hong Kong – she’s half-French, half-Chinese – Lou often struggled to come to terms with her identity and where she fit in, like many “third culture” kids her age.
“When people would ask me where I’m from, I would tailor my answer to whoever was asking,” she says, admitting that it was in part a defence mechanism to prepare for backhanded comments about her heritage or background.
To explore themes like cultural identity, she started creating a series of Instagram videos titled “J Lou Rants”, which were her outlet to talk about the “funny and not-so-funny moments of growing up”, and the complex interactions she would have with her Asian mother.
Lou also credits the community Subtle Asian Traits, one of the fastest-growing groups ever on Facebook, for making her realise that she wasn’t alone in her experiences.
“That’s when I started to feel true confidence in my identity,” she says. “I was able to help people feel less alone and more understanding and compassionate about who we are.
“I was able to connect with people around the world who relate to me, whether we’re ‘third culture’ or multicultured, in a sense. Rice Fam is like that little nook or comfort for people who feel that same way.”
Having the community to rely on has given Lou a renewed sense of confidence about who she is and what she can offer.
She sees Rice Fam, with its cute cohort of approachable characters that are reminiscent of childhood icons such as Hello Kitty and My Melody, as a way for Asian kids to feel proud of their culture.
“I want to be a part of somebody’s childhood – I want the brand to always be a reminder of truly having confidence in yourself and loving yourself,” Lou says.
“I hope that [Rice Fam] can be something that people can relate to and just enjoy.”
That extends to actually enjoying eating rice – a much demonised carb – too.
“Every meal for me has to consist of rice, and I know that a lot of people relate,” she says. “It’s comforting. It’s essential and makes us feel at home.
“I get asked sometimes, ‘How do you stay in shape eating rice?’” she laughs. “But I feel like if rice is in your blood, it really doesn’t matter.”
After all, Rice Monster, the lovable blob holding its bowl of rice tightly, doesn’t care what others think. That’s exactly the vibe Lou was going for.