When Tiffany Chou's brother was diagnosed with autism at age five, she moved to Hawaii to become his primary caretaker. Together, they built his first independent living space and started a small business!
Adopted from South Korea at a young age, Tiffany Chou always had a strong passion for jewelry and clothes. She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and had big dreams of pursuing her love for fashion.
Eventually, she moved to New York City after interning in Hollywood for the one and only photographer, David LaChapelle. She knew that New York was the place to go to further her career, and it was there that her career as a jewelry designer began to pop off!
Love for Design
She had grown up in Hawaii with two brothers, and when she moved to New York, she had no clue that one day she would return! However, during her first few years in Manhattan, she started to figure out her personal style and learn from major brands.
As a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chou was introduced to incredible design teams. She began learning from the skilled design teams partnered with Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters and even hand-embroidered sample pieces for Ralph Lauren.
Launching Her Own Brand
And then, in 2010, the young fashion designer decided to start her first jewelry line, for which she received enormous praise. Her work has been featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Cosmopolitan, Vogue.com, Lucky, and more.
Celebrities such as Maria Sharapova, Kristin Cavallari, and Selena Gomez have all been spotted wearing her stuff! She was clearly motivated and ready to continue building herself as a business owner and brand. She would later use this skill to build a successful jewelry brand with her brother, Chris.
The Chou family adopted Tiffany's brother Christian a few years later. Chris was adopted from Cambodia and was brought to an orphanage at eight months old. His future family would then travel halfway across the world to meet him and take him home!
Chris was abandoned when he was only a few months old after being found as an infant at the Depo Market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. When the Chaou family first took him in, they discovered he was malnourished at only nine pounds. Chris was later diagnosed with autism at five years old. He and his sister would soon become inseparable!
A Loving Family
In addition to Christian and Tiffany, the Chou family adopted their brother, Parker. Like Tiffany, Parker was from South Korea. According to Tiffany's TikTok page, Parker went on to join the army and, after a tour in Afghanistan, went to school and became a nurse.
All three children were adopted into a big loving family, the Chou family. Tiffany describes her relationship as close with her brothers, but after deciding to spend her 20s in New York City, she decided to make a giant life change that would make her even closer to her brother, Chris.
Tiffany had graduated from the Art Institute, moved to New York to pursue her career in design, learned from some of the best designers in the business, and started her own jewelry brand. She was truly living out her dream. However, things were about to shift.
In 2019, Chou decided to move back home to Maui, Hawaii, to take care of her 33-year-old brother, Chris. Their mother could no longer look after him, and their father had moved off the island to take care of their 102-year-old grandfather. So, Tiffany moved across the country and became her brother's primary caretaker.
Challenges on the Horizon
However, this wasn't going to be an easy task for anyone. As close as they had been growing up, there were always some difficult realities they would have to face. Tiffany later expressed they hadn't lived together for 15 years. Now that's a long time!
Going into the move, she knew it would be both "challenging" and a "learning experience," but she loved her brother and wanted to help. After hearing he was unhappy with his residential situation, Tiffany packed herself up and moved back to her hometown.
Finding a Balance
She knew they would have to come up with a solution that would work for herself, Chris, and her boyfriend, Erin. So, they decided to build Chris his own place in their backyard! "I didn't really know what I was getting myself into when I moved back and took in Chris," she told Good News Network.
Again, it had been 15 years since they'd lived together, so there were definitely some challenges ahead. "He can be a bit noisy and overwhelming," she told the outlet. "So we decided if he had his own independent space, just seconds from us, that would be ideal." So, they got to building.
Building the Cottage
Tiffany was dedicated to making their new living situation work. Tiffany and her boyfriend lived in a house in Mauii with a shed about 20 feet from the main house that they decided would be converted into Chris' new independent living space.
So, altogether, they tore the shed apart and built his new home from the ground up. Although Tiffany and her boyfriend spearheaded the project, she made sure Chris was involved in the process, too, with choosing colors and helping with elements of the build. Her goal was to make it as "fun and inviting as possible for him."
The Perfect Home
To get started on transforming the shed into a long-term living space for Chris, Tiffany had to consider all of his habits. First and foremost, she wanted to create a comfortable and safe living environment for him, but that would also mean tailoring a few necessities to meet his needs.
In her TikTok video explaining the shed transformation, Tiffany explained that her brother has a tendency to use a little too much shampoo and soap. So, they installed re-fillable soap and shampoo containers in his shower that he can take to their local refill store when he's out.
A lot of the time, people with autism prefer to maintain a consistent daily routine so that they know what each day will look like. For Chris, Tiffany implemented two different ways for her brother to remain on track with his daily tasks and responsibilities.
The jewelry designer started by installing a "game-changing" Alexa tablet in his home. "I replaced myself with Alexa," Tiffany joked. The tablet reminds Chris of his daily tasks, from brushing his teeth to reminding him when it's bedtime! "He actually listens and responds to her when she talks to him."
Keeping a Checklist
In addition to having an Alexa, Tiffany hung up a giant whiteboard with a daily schedule with a checklist of things he usually needs before leaving the house. "Chris's whiteboard helps with his mental organization for the week. He does really well if he has a consistent weekly routine," Tiffany said.
The whiteboard has small reminders such as bringing his water bottle, wallet, phone, bag snack, and more. Chou says, "Sometimes even the smallest change, even if it's a positive thing like going on a trip, can cause him to get angry and agitated, so for the most part, his weekly schedule stays the same."
In addition to keeping a consistent daily routine checklist, Tiffany made sure to tailor Chris' new living space to his particular needs. According to Chou, "Chris is the thirstiest person you have ever met," so she devised a clever solution to ensure he always had quick access to water.
"He is constantly up in the night drinking water and needing the toilet," she said. "So we made sure his bathroom and a water tank was right by his bed." Tiffany was looking for small ways to make sure Chris' new home was comfortable and completely accessible for him.
Being a Foodie
With Chris being the enormous foodie that he is, building a fantastic kitchen was an integral part of the home. "Chris loves to cook, so we designed his kitchen to be as efficient and organized as possible." Tiffany made sure to think of everything for her brother!
"Everything he has has a purpose and goes in a specific spot, so it's hard to get messy," she said. "We gave him in Our Place Always Pan because it's an all-in-one; he can boil and saute. It works on his induction top, which we have for safety, and it's cute and pink."
Maintaining a Routine
"He usually goes grocery shopping on Monday or Tuesday," Tiffany says about her brother's routine. And after getting all of his groceries, he does all of his meal prepping for the week. Chris keeps everything very organized in containers in the fridge.
"He'll do his dishes without prompting. It's really helped him be more independent," Chou said about her brother's new living environment. He "does his best when he has a very structured routine." So, by keeping his grocery and cooking schedule consistent, he's able to maintain a great routine.
The Cook in the Kitchen
"By doing this every week, he learns where items are and can eventually find them on his own," the jewelry designer says. "My friend Lindsay comes over and cooks with Chris once a week, and they are working their way through an entire cookbook, and it's one of the things he looks forward to the most."
"With every new recipe, he's learning new skills, trying new things, and gets to do what he loves the most, eat." By maintaining these weekly tasks, Chris is continuously gaining life skills that continue to transfer to his daily routines and gaining independence.
Due to his love of cooking and his incredibly adaptable new kitchen, Chris decided to explore different recipes and test-try them for us to see! On Tiffany's TikTok, she shows her brother experimenting with fun recipes and, of course, test trying them at the end!
For example, Chris has taught us some pretty delicious recipes! From microwave chocolate chip cookies to overnight oats, his very own sun-dried tomato hummus, crockpot pea soup, and even a virgin Bloody Mary! Chris often chops up vegetables and throws them in a crockpot, and lets them simmer.
Installing a Keypad
When transforming her shed into her brother's living space, Tiffany really thought of everything! The whiteboard checklist gave Chris a daily routine, but he would still forget a few things here and there - as many people do. And one big thing he would often forget was his keys!
According to Tiffany, while they were building Chris' place, he was living in the main house and would sometimes forget his keys! So, for his own home, Tiffany installed a keypad system instead of using physical keys so that Chris would never forget his keys again!
Going to Bed
During all the renovations, Tiffany added as many things as possible to ease Chris' independent living situation. She also tried to implement tools that would virtually replace her, as Alexa did. So, Tiffany made sure to install the On/Off Smart Plug.
"Sometimes he stays up too late to watch TV, which isn't uncommon for someone of the spectrum to have trouble sleeping." However, "too much screen time can affect his sleep and mood the next day," so by installing the smart plug, it automatically shut off 30 minutes before it was time for bed!
By living on his sister's property, Chris also has access to the main house and all the grounds. Being Chris' primary caretaker, she ensures he also has varied responsibilities. For example, Chris was tasked with taking care of the family's animals!
Tiffany made sure to teach him everything he needed to know about feeding and taking care of the animals so that he could do everything on his own. Taking on the responsibility of taking care of animals gives Chris newfound responsibilities and, therefore, confidence.
The Final Product
It took the Chou family two years to build Chris' independent home, but 15,000 thousand dollars later, they created his dream place. Erin, Chris, and Tiffany built Chris' house using reclaimed materials and second-hand furniture in order to minimize the cost.
"Chris says living in his own house has been a 20 out of 10." We love to hear it! However, considering that he was 33 when they took on the project and that it's his first time living alone, he sometimes gets a little homesick! We get it, Chris!
There was virtually nothing that Tiffany didn't think of when building Chris' new place. From the accessible and organized kitchen, the water tank placement, the refillable shampoo and soap bottles, the keypad lock, and so much more, Chou did everything she could to provide a safe space for Chris.
And besides giving him a decked-out new home, it's given him an enormous amount of confidence and newfound responsibilities, as well as taking a bit of the load off Tiffany. "It's been a game-changer for all of us—I don't have to constantly prompt him to do stuff anymore," she told Good News Network.
Being Chris' primary caretaker, something Tiffany constantly notices about her brother is the lack of self-love he has for himself. "His biggest insecurities are being Asian and having autism," she shared with her TikTok followers. "He is always telling me he's white and not Asian."
He also "likes to say he's regular and not special ed." So, when it came down to finding a career path that would give him the confidence to embrace his insecurities and do something he loves, Tiffany and Chris put their heads together and started their next big journey.
Depo Market Is Born
So together, they sought to create Depo Market, a place that gives people like Chris the opportunity to do front-of-the-house jobs and interact with the community. Tiffany decided to integrate her love for jewelry and passion for helping those with disabilities and create Depo Market, an accessories line.
"Chris wanted to work at a jewelry market, so we started our own," Tiffany said on starting their jewelry line. He had begun creating his own jewelry a few years back. So eventually, Tiffany decided to develop the idea into an even bigger project that would ultimately help more and more people.
So how did the jewelry-making duo decide on a name? Depo Market is the market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where Christian was found as a baby and, after being adopted, was given the name Christian Depo Chou. "I always wanted to use the name for something special," Tiffany said.
Years before Depo Market was born, Tiffany co-founded The Dancing Palette Project. This non-profit organization paired high school students with those with disabilities to work together and do art and dance on the weekends. She's always had a passion for helping others.
"Depo Market's mission is to provide as many jobs for adults with disabilities as possible," according to their website. "Ranging from artistic employment, helping to create jewelry and accessories, as well as customer service jobs, working with and talking to our customers."
Their business gives several opportunities to a larger community that often needs better chances in the workforce. And for Chris, it has improved his self-esteem and confidence and gives him a way to interact with people and earn his own money.
Meet the Team
Besides Christopher and Tiffany on board, Depo Market has an incredible team! One of their first team members is Nathan. Described as the "#1 Raiders fan" and "customer service extraordinaire." He "enjoys talking to customers, meeting new people, and he loves to work," per the line's Instagram page.
In addition to Nathan, Juna is another one of Depo Market's team members! She makes beaded jewelry, and "her dream is to travel the world." The team has an excellent "skills trainer and mentor," Kony, who has been "instrumental in helping Juna with her work journey."
Together, the team creates beautiful handmade jewelry. The pieces are all handmade to order, and there is a wide variety of rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, accessories, and more. Each piece is made to order and packaged by Chris with a signed thank you note!
Chris' signature style uses origami to design earrings intricately, and well, they are gorgeous! However, when Tiffany asks her younger brother if he actually likes to work every day, he hilariously responds, "No, not really." We feel you, Chris!
Storefront Is on the Way!
In the past year, their TikTok page has gone viral, and in response, Depo Market's sales have skyrocketed! For three years, Chris and his sister sold jewelry at pop-up markets in a local hotel. But after receiving tons of support, they can now open their first brick-and-mortar store.
They have officially finished selling their jewelry at pop-up locations and are now focusing on renovating and opening up their store in Wailuku, Maui. In addition to hand-made origami and beaded jewelry, Depo Market also has a selection of fine jewelry pieces.
Both Tiffany and Chris are truly inspirational for us all! Tiffany moved home, converted a shed into a beautiful home for her brother, became his primary caretaker, and began a business in honor of her brother. And together, they are able to create opportunities for more people like Chris.
However, Tiffany finds Chris as the ultimate inspiration."I am not perfect, and I am learning new things every single day that Chris is teaching me. How to interact with him better, how to communicate with him better, how to be a better sister, a better caretaker, and how to be a better person."