At first glance, Janelle Sisting could easily be pegged as just another Southern California girl, living an active, carefree and sunshine-filled life in San Diego. It would be pretty hard to imagine her trekking through the South American jungle, running through a foreign airport with three full sized suitcase tripling her body weight, or negotiating fabric prices in a Thai market, but this is who Janelle is. She is Lotus and Luna's founder and fearless leader.
What started as a tiny seed of an idea, germinated by the smiles and kindness of the people of Thailand, is now Janelle's blooming dream come true - Lotus and Luna. Since we started, we have evolved from supporting twelve deserving artisans in a small village outside Chiang Mai Thailand, to over one hundred and fifty artisans in four villages.
We hope you enjoy getting to know her and our story a little better through this new series of Travel diary entries on our blog!
Dear Travel Diary,
As I sit here, booking a flight to Thailand, I try to count how many plane tickets to Thailand I've booked in my life and I can't count them. I am suddenly overcome by flashback memories, of hundreds of adventures- broken down trains, Colombian soap operas, stories no one would ever think were possible- countless challenges, dead ends, accomplishments, and failures over the past decade. Then it abruptly stops, and all I can see is the very beginning, like an old photograph in my mind.
The initial event that inspired me to create Lotus and Luna happened in 2010. After graduating from UCSD, I took several months to travel the world - primarily through Asia. Every stop along the way had its own discoveries, challenges, amazing food, and lifelong memories to take away, but Thailand stole my heart. I met people from around the world, danced in the rain under the full moon (actually I was dancing around in a parka because I had fallen off my motorbike and I had to keep my cast out of the rain), sipped coconuts on the sand and fell off motorbikes fearlessly while cruising the beautiful thai islands. After a little bit too much time in the sun, I decided to head up to the lesser known northern mountain city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Chiang Mai was different than the beautiful beaches I had just come from. It was a community full of ancient culture, incredible temples, and thai families generations old. Tucked inland at the base of mystical mountain range and full of stunning temples, the true lifestyle and day to day of the thai people was much more recognizable here than the tourist ridden islands.
I cruised night markets in Chiang Mai that went on for miles, where I saw beautiful handcrafted items, each booth more appealing than the last. But when I looked a little closer, beneath the surface of Thai smiles, I observed children asleep on the asphalt under tables as their mothers sold items they made by hand, and an elderly woman struggling to stand but smiling as she sold food from a stove strapped to her bike. There was poverty and struggle along every step of the way, but not the slightest inkling of dispair or resentment.
I didn't realize it until much later, but that first trip to Chiang Mai was the beginning of Lotus and Luna. For months after returning home, I dreamt of working in Thailand. I wanted to help the communities, and children there to empower them to make a better life. The problem was, I didn’t really think it was possible. I had no previous business experience, and the whole idea seemed really difficult- how would I communicate if I didn’t speak Thai? What about shipping and customs? There was always something that stood in the way, and kept me on my same path.
In 2012 I saved up money and was able to travel again, returning to parts of Asia and traveling throughout South America. After that, I went back to my old job and back to the life I had created before traveling.
The problem was that I was different. I had changed, and my old lifestyle no longer satisfied me. I was frustrated, uninspired, and I didn’t have a plan. I wanted to keep traveling and help others, but I couldn’t find a job that would allow me to do this.
A few weeks after my return, I got an email announcing that Photobucket (Remember them??) was sponsoring a contest called “Life is an Adventure”. Having spent the previous year traveling and having experiences like checking into a hospital in India, acting in a soap opera in Colombia and getting mugged around the world, I knew that my life fit that description.
I told a friend who had travelled with me about the contest and asked for her help. “How can you ever hope to win,” she replied, “Do you know how many other people will enter?
Thousands. Good Luck.”
I started my entry, and enjoyed every moment reliving and recounting the stories of my adventures. I put my heart and soul into my story. I told my friends and family that I was going to win the contest, and really believed in my heart that I would. I got an email a few weeks after submitting my entry that explained I received 2nd place! First prize was $25,000, second prize was $500.
Well, $500/second place was perfect for me- I didn’t get handed the money I really wanted, but I got the boost of confidence that would carry me for the rest of my life. All of a sudden, the dream I had to build a business in Thailand wasn’t scary, it wasn’t a “dream”, it was a real possibility. I realized that if I put 100% of my heart and soul into anything, the sky was the limit. I believed I could do it, and that’s exactly what I did.
"The difference between dreaming, and doing, is action."
I booked a ticket back to Thailand and was able to meet some amazing women in a village up north through a local Thai orphanage I was supporting at the time. I started working with a handful of these women living in one small village, and wow has it grown from here.
Today we work with over one hundred and fifty artisans in four villages. Each village has their own specialty and makes just one time of product, and as the company grows we are able to employ more of their family members and neighbors, giving them the flexibility to work from home while caring for their families, and earning a fair living wage. It has been fulfilling beyond words to work with these amazing people and see the positive impact the company has made in their communities. I feel very blessed to be part of it.
Jewelry Village, Thailand, 2017
I like to think of it like this. In 2010, I had a dream. I didn’t do anything about it, but I had a dream. In 2012, I had the same dream. I thought about it a lot and wished it would happen, but didn’t do anything to make that dream happen. Fast forwarding to the end of 2012- there wasn’t that much else going on in my life, and my prospects were bleak. So I took a chance and finally followed my dream, and here is Lotus and Luna!
Join in and follow along my new series of Travel diary entries here on our blog! I hope you find some inspiration and entertainment from them.
“ A year from now you will wish you had started today.’ Karen Lamb
Until next time,
Founder - Lotus and Luna