"We’re Not Really Strangers" Founder Koreen Odiney on Making Vulnerability Cool

Her viral Instagram focuses on feelings and fostering connections.

we're not really strangers card game

We're Not Really Strangers

Koreen Odiney is the 25-year-old former model behind the card game and viral Instagram account, We’re Not Really Strangers. The account stops you in your scroll to ask: “How are you really?” Odiney spoke with Byrdie on the cult following of her card game and account, both of which foster meaningful connections and reinforce that we’re all more similar than we think. 

“Warning: Feelings May Arise” is the card game We’re Not Really Strangers' tagline. The game aims to create meaningful connections by asking thought-provoking questions that dig deep beneath the surface. The red-and-white cards pose questions like “How are you, really?” and “Who in your life do you feel you could be your most vulnerable with?”

You might have seen the game on Hailey Bieber’s Instagram Live in April, Noah Centineo’s social feeds, or even at retailers like Urban Outfitters and Free People. Or perhaps you’ve seen the viral Instagram account of the same name, with 2.4 million followers and counting, which features artwork with sayings, like “Don’t hurt yourself loving someone else” or questions that ask followers to reveal something vulnerable about themselves in the comments.

The founder behind the game is Los Angeles-based model Koreen Odiney, 25, who is signed to The Society, the same modeling agency that reps Kendall Jenner and Adut Akech. She began conceptualizing the card game when she was 21 and officially launched in November 2018. But the story of WNRS (she pronounces it “winners”) started when she was much younger.

woman on the computer
We're Not Really Strangers

The more open you are about what you're going through, the more likely you are to find common ground and connect deeper with other people.

“The card game came about because I've been photographing and interviewing strangers since I was in middle school,” Odiney, who was scouted for modeling while doing street photography, explains. “I got a camera to take better MySpace selfies, but that later evolved into realizing taking photos of other people was way more fun. I also asked them questions based on what I was going through at the time. If it was my first time getting out of a relationship and feeling the pain of that heartbreak, I would ask strangers: ‘Do you ever get over your first love?’ and then get their responses.”

These questions and photos wouldn’t end up anywhere except in her personal collection, but these encounters have helped shape what she does now. Odiney says a stranger even inspired the name. “[A stranger] said I would write a book one day and it would be called We’re Not Really Strangers. The name slowly got me thinking about what a brand could be and how a product could help people create meaningful connections."

The unexpected encounters and conversations are now the core of WNRS’ mission. The Instagram, which Odiney started as a marketing tool, has grown into something so much more than a platform in which to sell her game. “I wanted to create a community, not around the product, but around why the product existed. I decided to take the elements of the game—vulnerability, connection, love, heartbreak—and create artwork around it,” says Odiney, who was inspired by Simon Sinek’s TED Talk Start With Why.

Today, technology makes communication widely accessible, but oftentimes conversations lack the depth that allow us to be truthful about ourselves and how we’re feeling.

zoom on laptop
We're Not Really Strangers

Today, technology makes communication widely accessible, but oftentimes conversations lack the depth that allow us to be truthful about ourselves and how we’re feeling. Scrolling through Instagram, which is a highlight reel of people’s lives, can create a mindset of lack. WNRS stops you in your scroll to ask vulnerable questions. “I wanted to promote vulnerability, which meant I had to be vulnerable,” Odiney says. “I started getting really personal and made artwork around questions or quotes relevant to me. I started treating it as a public diary—and still to this day, I always write the most honest thing I can. I know that’s what people are going to see themselves in. If it helps me talk about something or helps someone feel less alone, then it’s worth it."

Addressing mental health is a core component of WNRS and is something Odiney has struggled with throughout her life. “Mental health scares have helped shape me, luckily in a positive way,” Odiney says openly. “One of my scariest mental health moments happened about two years ago. It involved anxiety, feeling paranoid, and very scary invasive thoughts—even though things were seemingly going great on the surface. One of the most healing parts of that journey was when I created an Instagram poll around anxiety. I posted on the WNRS Instagram story, ‘Have you ever experienced anxiety?’ I saw the majority of people related to what I was saying. To see [that commonality] took a weight off my shoulders.”

Odiney hopes people struggling will find solace in her Instagram account simply in knowing they’re not alone. “There are people in the world that have been there,” Odiney says adding, "That's what I've learned from creating this account and creating artwork about what I feel. When you have the courage to find a way to get your feelings out, it's easier to know you're not alone.”

facetime call
We're Not Really Strangers

When you have the courage to find a way to get your feelings out, it's easier to know you're not alone.

Odiney’s profound sense of wisdom at such a young age can be, in part, attributed to her upbringing. She was raised by a single mother who always encouraged her to ask questions and read books when she was dealing with anxiety as a teenager. “Instead of getting on antidepressants, which is what I really wanted at the time, my mom gave me a bunch of books and introduced me to The Secret, Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle, and all of these thinkers who talk about the power of our mind (and how it can help us feel better),” she says. “She gave me a book on happiness, because I was not happy, and I took those books in. I have notebooks with notes on TED Talks and Oprah Winfrey interviews. I would fall asleep listening to that stuff because I was desperately trying to feel better. When I started seeing it work, I kept on that.”

It seems only natural Odiney would inspire others to do the same. While the cards can be played with anyone in your life, she has since released expansion packs called Honest Dating, Voting Edition, and WNRS x Red Table Talk to encourage specific conversations. “A big goal from the beginning was how to make vulnerability cool,” she says. “Our audience is pretty young, so it was about tapping into younger minds with [thoughtful topics] about anything they might consume online.”

Online consumption has been at an all-time high, given how much time we’re spending at home. As many are isolated from social situations, creating new connections is difficult. Odiney’s says staying honest and open about what you’re going through and working on already-existing connections with loved ones is the best way to get through this time. “This year has caused immense anxiety and stress for so many people. The more open you are about what you're going through, the more likely you are to find common ground and connect deeper with other people.” She adds, "When we're kinder and more compassionate to ourselves, we can better give that to other people."

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