SPONSORED by lil indies: Inhabit is a series by local photographer David Lawrence (Website), that shares stories about the people who call Orlando home. It’s an exploration of where people live and spend their days, whether that be at home, in an office, the streets of downtown, or anywhere in between. Lawrence explores who people are and how they ended there.
Every other week we will be sharing Lawrence’s interviews, featuring a different Orlandoan and telling the story of the places they inhabit. Lawrence is available for private photography projects and can be reached through his website, above.
*This interview was transcribed and edited from an audio interview.
Who are you?
I’m from Vietnam. My name is Nhu “Tina” Phan. I’ve lived in Orlando for 25 years. When I got married I moved to Tampa and lived there for five years. I had three children there. When I found out I had two autistic kids I moved to Orlando because my family (my brother, sister, and my mom) live here.
I opened a store, Lynn Fashion (Facebook | Website), 18 years ago. I took this business from my sister-in-law. When I started, it was mostly Vietnamese people. Now I focus on American people with the bridal dresses, bridesmaid’s dresses, men’s suits, etc.
Why is this space important to you?
This space is very important for me because my husband doesn’t work and I take care of my family. So I work with my heart. I serve people with my skill and I make them happy and they come back. So I’m happy. I work here and I love this place. I love America because they help me take care of my children, too. So, I feel happy and I feel I’ve been blessed.
On Yelp you have 5 out of 5 stars. How do you maintain such a good reputation with people?
Very good question! Make people look good–that is my goal. I help them look perfect in their clothing, so they are happy and when they are happy they give me a good review. I remember, I had one bride, she came here and she had a dress that was too big for her. She ordered a size 24 and I made it fit like a size 4. I made her perfect and she hugged me in tears. She was happy and she said “You make my dream come true! I’m beautiful on my wedding day!” So that time she gave me a good review and a big hug and since then, I’ve been busy!
You’re a fashionista extraordinaire now, but as a kid, is that what you wanted to do?
I never thought I’d have a big shop like this. I think God helped me because I don’t speak very well. I don’t have money. I had nothing when I started. My sister in law invited me to come here and work for her. She said that because I am a seamstress and I fix clothes, “you take care of this business.” So since that time I work hard, very hard. Every day, we work 12-14 hours and after I go home, I cook and clean up and I work until one, two, three in the morning.
Now it’s been 18 years. So I think I’ve been blessed. Everything in my life, everything, is a blessing. Everyday I go to work, my child, she leans out the window and looks at me. She holds my hand. She doesn’t want me to go to work. Because of her autism, she doesn’t speak but she understands. She loves mommy. My children need me, but I have to go to work because my husband’s work is less money than mine.
[Tina’s story is a heart breaking one at times. Hidden in her narrative of hope and happiness, I can also hear the sadness in her voice as she shares her struggles with having two autistic children, one whose autism is more severe than the other.]
When I was born I just wished I had a normal family. I never thought I’d have a special kid. I’m happy with what I have. I just dreamed that I’d have enough money to supply a normal life. I share with you like a friend. I just wish I had normal children so I could have a vacation with them because now I can’t. Every time I go out, she [my daughter] takes food from people. She makes a mess and people see me like I’m crazy and they don’t understand her. One time I went out and she touched some other children and they pushed her and she fell. So that’s why I don’t want to go out. I can only work and go home with my children.
I just want a normal family. And I want enough money to travel a little bit. I wish my store was busy so I could have more money and relax a little bit and go out with my husband and my children.
Do you have helpful words for parents who are finding out that their kid will have some form of disability?
You have to be very patient with them. You have to love them very much. When you show them love, they understand and they love you back. My husband says, “We keep them and we love them until we die.”
You can visit Tina for any of your alteration needs at Lynn Fashion, located at 1244 E Colonial Drive [GMap] in Mills 50. Hours are 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
About the photographer:
David Lawrence is an Orlando-based photographer with a passion for people and storytelling. Lawrence lives in Colonialtown with his wife, Dawn, and when he’s not taking photos he occasionally attends church, drinks a lot of coffee, and overall just tries to be a kind human.