Wouldn’t it be nice if you could travel the world and maintain a steady flow of work at the same time? It seems like a dream that is impossible to obtain, but some people like Elina Liang, make it look easy. Elina is a fashion consultant based in Shenzhen, who chose a career in fashion as a consultant, which allows her a flexible work life, and room to explore every corner of the world.
Through Elina’s travels and work with global clients, she’s learned a lot about different work processes and cultures. In the interview below, you’ll learn about how she wound up working as a fashion consultant, the state of fashion in China, and different challenges that exist in different work cultures.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you started in the fashion industry?
I majored in international business at university and once I graduated, I began working in a foreign trade company which manufactured and exported garments to Denmark. During that period of my life, I discovered a passion for the field of fashion, especially since I saw pieces of fabric and trims transformed into pretty clothes. After one year, I got a chance to start my own business collaborating with Scandinavian brands. At the age of 28, I realized that garment manufacturing was a lower priority to the fashion industry, so I switched to focus on brand operation, including sales and marketing. After that, I found myself even higher in the fashion world, working with design and development. I don’t personally design, but I help coordinate and introduce global designers and Chinese brands.
How do you see the current state of Chinese fashion?
It is at a fast stage of growth, but Chinese brands also happen to be facing a great deal of challenge. Brand owners and designers from China have been aware of the international trends and talents, yet their own teams are not capable of achieving the level of elevating the brand due to the Chinese studying system. For example, Chinese design teams typically tend to be weaker when it comes to the transformation from mood, or idea, to actual design and conception. Therefore, fashion companies who have more of a forward thinking fashion sense and strong economic backgrounds, are more likely to seek global support.
Where do you see trends happening and who do you have on your watch list?
Chinese celebrities nowadays are strong fashion trend leaders. In the airport or on the street you can see icons dressed in the newest collection from popular global streetwear brands. Fans follow these icons and what they favor, closely. People like the singer Kris Wu, other musicians, and movie stars, all have evolved into these international brand ambassadors.
What are the current trends going out of China into the World?
Opera, Kung Fu, and Zodiac are all examples of strong Chinese culture which has heavily influenced the world. You’ll notice Chinese elements in top fashion brands like Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, etc. Chinese faces are making more appearances in Western films and on the fashion runway.
As a consultant who works to place international talent with Chinese brands, what are the three biggest challenges for foreigners to adapt to in China/Chinese work culture?
1. Mindset difference
Westerners are usually more logical, organized, and efficient. Chinese teams (sometimes) tend to fall behind.
2. Work process
Different school systems and environments result in different work methods. Eg. for most Western designers, inspiration comes first then mood and design. Chinese teams tend to be different in that they typically start by purchasing samples.
3. Understanding local markets
Different culture captivates different preferences and ways of dressing. Especially since the Chinese market is huge, even from the North to the South, you’ll notice a different way of dressing. For the global designers, especially the ones who are working with Chinese brands for the first time, there’s a lot to study, understand, and adjust to.
What are the three biggest challenges for Chinese brands when it comes to working with foreign designers?
1.Understanding Chinese customers
Which colors or silhouette are preferred, what kinds of clothes are worn in certain occasions, what fabrics tend to be worn in different temperatures, etc.
2.How to combine innovation base with brand DNA
There’s no doubt that international designers have more of a sense of creativity, but at the current stage, Chinese brands still need to build their own DNA and image. Some designers believe breaking through and rebuilding is very risky. Chinese brands need elevation not change.
There are definitely differences in terms of design processes. Some local designers can’t get used to or adjust to the new processes Western designers introduce, which can result in staff loss.
You live in Shenzhen, tell us a bit about this city which exists on the border of Hong Kong?
SZ is a modern and busy city with a 39 year history. It transformed from a fishing village to an urban cosmopolitan. Every day, you’ll see new buildings growing, subways and expressways being built, new shopping malls opening…People from all over the world come here to work and to live. But to be honest, for me at least, it can be a bit too commercial and stressful, unlike Guangzhou, where you can experience more culture and get a taste of life. Anyways, being next to HK means that this city tends to be more international, growing at a faster pace. In the second half of 2018, a new railway will be built, connecting GZ, SZ and HK, which means it will take only 14 minutes to get from Futian station to HK Kowloon.
Why do you live here, what makes it exciting?
Actually, SZ provides excitement every day. New things are always happening and you can get whatever you need. There are international supermarkets, parks, mountains, greens, shopping malls full of all varieties of brands. We’re close enough to HK where you can go shopping and sightseeing, and the ocean/beach is about 1 hour away by car. It’s easy to make friends from all over the world here, you’ll never be bored in Shenzhen.
Which cities do you consider as fashion cities in China and why?
#1 fashion city not only has plenty of fashion brands, but also people who are passionate to try all trending stuff like clothes or different hairstyles.
Cultivate 80% of the Chinese women’s wear, open to new trends.
Known for men’s wear, full of business wear brands and casual wear brands, nowadays fast fashion. Also known for wholesale trade markets where boutiques can order clothes.
How do you spend your downtime?
Traveling and sports are my go to activities when I take a break from work. I was a sprinter for 15 years, so dopamine lifting is important for me. And the purpose of my life is to travel as much as possible, to meet new people, see new things, and have new experiences.
Tell us about some of your favorite travel destinations in China, or aboard. What is special to you about these places?
In China I would say Sanya, because it is an island in the south with beautiful beaches and plenty of sunshine. Worldwide, my favorites so far are Singapore, Stockholm, Bali and Mexico. Singapore is a tropical city which has modern elements, but it’s also quite relaxing. Stockholm is considered the capital of Scandinavia, and it is fantastic in the summer, surrounded by water and pure nature. You can go fishing, hunting, boating, have a BBQ or just lay out and tan under the sun on the grass. It’s also famous for its industrial and fashion design. Blonde tall people are nice to look at, too 😀 Bali is great for surfing, all kinds of waves for different levels of surfers. Besides the cliffs, beaches and small towns are worth staying in for a while to escape from the crowds. I have yet to travel to Mexico but I’ve read that there are terrific cave pools, so that will be my next destination.
Globetrotters like Elina are exactly the type of women we created our shoes for. If you haven’t had a chance to check out our shop yet, what are you waiting for?!