“In pop culture, an adopted kid is always portrayed as someone who is yearning for something else or questioning their identity, but I don’t remember having any of those negative or uncertain feelings growing up,” says Dani Roche. “My parents always told me I was adopted, why I was adopted and what it means to be adopted – my questions ended there.”
When we first chatted about this feature (long before the days of lockdown), the 28-year-old design director and entrepreneur had just taken a 23andme DNA test that showed her heritage to be 89% Chinese. “When the results came back, it wasn’t like Wow! All these questions I have will finally be answered! It was more like, we live in a time when [a DNA test] amounts to me spitting into something and sending it into the mail,” she says.
Race, for Roche, has always been fluid. “My mother looks Chinese, but she is from Jamaica. My dad is Canadian but has been with my mother for so long that he’s picked up some of her mannerisms.” Other people, however, constantly dogged her on the subject. “The more people that asked me, the more I thought about it,” she says. “To me, it was such a flat conversation. But they were dying to know.”
Today, Roche’s impressive presence in business, media and online helps ensure increased representation of women who look like her. Case in point: that those questions stop.
“The amount of time of energy that we put into it explains a lot about why I am the way that I am now."
With her digital agency, Kastor & Pollux, Roche has revolutionized the game through her vibey aesthetic, dreaming up all kinds of creative projects for the likes of L’Oréal, Bumble and Lululemon. As an Instagram star, she’s at the centre of a masterfully stylish feed just bursting with megawatt collaborations. She’s had her hand in so many other ventures, from designing an outerwear line to founding her own school, which helped land her on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in 2019.
All this to say: Roche is the digital era’s answer to the power women of the eighties: a self-assured, self-made success story built from the ground up – something she attributes in part to her formative years online.
Growing up in Scarborough, Ontario, Roche describes her childhood as one rooted in total and complete obsession. “It was always about participation to the max,” she says of her childhood quest to best early ‘00s virtual game culture. At age 10, she created a music group – Groovy Cloud 9 – an assemblage of Groovy Girls dolls she’d build song lyrics and routines for alongside her best friend Caitlin. “The amount of time of energy that we put into it explains a lot about why I am the way that I am now,” she says. At age 14, she became a Neopets Millionaire in order to fund her many other hobbies. “I took everything to the extreme,” she says.
"I’ve really been trying to see my practice as being flexible because of my experiences, rather than being defined by this history.”
At age 16, she launched her first e-commerce business alongside friend and long-time collaborator, Bianca Venerayan, which would later morph into the first iteration of Kastor & Pollux, a fashion blog selling handmade clothing and jewellery. Roche took the venture solo in 2016, transforming it into the agency it is today. “Once I met Bianca our identities became one, so when I took over Kastor & Pollux I really struggled with my identity and where the company would go,” she says. “But when I look back at running online businesses for the last 10 years, I realize how fortunate I am to have started when I did.”
These days, Roche is taking lockdown as a bit of a welcome break. “I’ve really been trying to see my practice as being flexible because of my experiences, rather than being defined by this history,” she says. One thing’s for sure, though: “I’m definitely not waking up every day wishing I could be a brand’s token Chinese girl!”
As Roche pursues ventures, she’s very clear on her M.O. of raising up other young creatives and increasing diversity in a meaningful way. “Inclusion needs to look different than just a photoshoot with a lot of different types of people, it needs to be ingrained in brand values and be part of the conversation,” she says.