Beijing Fashion Icon Joss Zhan: From the IT World to Beijing Barbie

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Beijing Fashion Icon Joss Zhan: From the IT World to Beijing Barbie

Joss Zhan is the kind of person who would need a whole book, memoir, or movie to depict accurately the gifted global fashion guru as she is. But due to the time that'd take, I'm here to give our fellow Beijingers just a little peek into the life of this brave, passionate and optimistic soul, who I've nicknamed Beijing Barbie.

I met Joss – whose Chinese name is Zhan Qianyi – last year at a Beijing Fashion Week Expo event. Her shining personality brightened the entire event. Even though it wasn't a fashion show, per se, Joss came decked out in a truly runway-ready outfit. Whenever you find yourself in her presence, you're always sure to witness something new by way of amazing styles, special chic, and fashion the likes of which you've never seen before. But believe it or not, Joss hasn't always been in the fashion industry. She got her global insight, avant-garde style, and eccentric elegance from her childhood, as well as in her previous career in the realm of IT.

When did you first fall in love with fashion?
To be honest, I’ve been obsessed with fashion since as far back as I can remember. Along the way, my style has changed and evolved at different times in my life.

Can you tell me more about your first memories of falling in love with fashion?
I was born in Chongqing, China, and when I was a child, I only had one toy, a Barbie Doll. I cherished this toy, and since it was my only toy, she got a lot of attention. I would often make different outfits for her all by myself. When I was in junior high school, in addition to fashion, I also became obsessed with Japanese TV series and shows. I was especially infatuated with the styles and looks to be found on these shows; all so different than anything I had seen before. In my small hometown, I was unable to find or buy these types of clothes, so I became my own Barbie and started to design clothes for myself.

That is truly inspiring. What was your process for creating your designs?
First, it began with drawings, sketches, and designing anything that popped into my imagination. I'd then take them to a tailor who would help me make them a reality. Once I perfected the process, all I was wearing was what I'd designed myself, and I quickly got used to standing out in my original designs, especially in rural China in the ’90s. Back then, and even today, my fashion is so distinctive and different than what most people are used to, so I feel like a part of me always known that I would inevitably be involved in the world of fashion.

So when did fashion become your career?
I have always considered myself to be fashionable, but prior to entering the fashion industry, my career took a few detours. After I graduated from college, I joined a software start-up company, and I was appointed Chief Operating Officer. This market was very ripe, and because everyone at the company was so hardworking, our labors quickly bore fruit. Soon, our team had grown from just several people on staff to almost 200 people in just the first 6 years alone. I won’t mention the name of the company, but eventually, we were purchased by one of the biggest data center firms in China, and were even listed on NASDAQ in 2012. I was eventually picked to be a senior executive. I think this experience, which pushed me out of my comfort zone, was a huge part of what led me to becoming who I am today, and still influences my character in the fashion industry.

What other detours and experiences finally brought you to your career in fashion?
So far, I’ve traveled to 40 different countries, and my many experiences abroad have opened my mind to the vast world around us. I think seeing all these different places has definitely developed my creative eye, from exposure to different cultures to experiencing the arts of different societies, as well as seeing places I had only read about before. Plus, visiting so many concept stores and museums around the world has given me a chance to know and see exactly what’s going on in fashion in other cities besides Beijing.

Wow, 40 countries, that is incredible. What are some of your favorites and why?
My top 10 favorite countries are: Japan, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, and the UK. As for why, in short: I love the cultures of France, Italy, Japan and the UK. Also, in my opinion, they are absolutely must-go places for all true fashionistas. As for the other 5 places, I also love their cultures, but in addition, I love how when I'm in these countries, I'm forced to slow down and live life at the same pace as locals.

So after traveling the world and working in IT, what made you finally settle down in Beijing?
I had been to Beijing many times before, but first settled down here permanently because the company that had purchased our IT firm was based in the capital. The city truly became a part of my life and heart forever when I met my husband, who is a Beijing native, here.

The number one reason I finally decided to leave IT is because I had to once and for all decided to stop pretending to be someone I’m not; to stop trying to suppress my deep admiration and obsession with fashion, clothing, and style. When I made the decision to quit, I was very decisive about it. When I made the move, I was already a mom; and I knew that even as a mom I wanted to be able to tell my daughter that she should always do her best to be who she is, follow her heart, and to always be true to herself. I knew I had to follow my true direction, in order to one day be confident enough to tell my daughter to follow hers.

It also helped that when I met my business partner, who is also a dear friend, we hit it off immediately. We decided to set up a media platform centered around global fashion. We started with interviews of store owners and fashion designers, simultaneously pairing this with other businesses, such as buyers tours for industry professionals.

Are you still doing the same business now?
After 3 years of working on this project, I have recently been moving in a somewhat new direction, as the world and fashion business has also been shifting. Over the course of my time working in IT, my global travels, and starting this fashion platform from the ground up, I am able to use all that I have learned in my new position as the creative director of a fashion brand. I also tapped my friend from France, a well-known designer in Paris, to be our director of designers. Even though neither of us are the brand owner, we always try our best to share the brand, as well as to pour our fashion expertise into the company.

Tell me a little bit about your day-to-day life in Beijing and your Beijing Fashion life?
Beijing is my second hometown. My husband’s family are all local Beijingers, so there are several generations living here. I enjoy seeing them often in my day-to-day, but I really love it when we gather for holidays, when a ton of family members, young and old alike, are all present.

My whole life is fashion, and I have many friends who are also working in the fashion and art industries. So I often go to fashion events, parties, or gatherings. But I'm actually trying to reduce time spent at social events as of late. Sometimes I prefer being quiet and alone rather than out and about. I really enjoy “me time” and just chilling, coming up with new ideas on my own. Of course, when there is a really wonderful, worthwhile fashion or art event, I always try to be there.

Who is your favorite fashion designer and why?
My absolute favorite fashion designer is Rei Kawakubo, the founder of Comme des Garçons. She didn't even study fashion design, but is still considered one of the greatest world's greatest fashion designers. Eleven years ago, I began buying and collecting her designs, but I never would have imagined my collection would turn into what it is today, or that it would be so sought after by others. Now you can see pieces that I have collected, even some which come from directly off the runway, on other people from around the world who also love and collect this brand. I am very happy to be a part of such a global fashion community and to be a person who others look to to help them enhance their own collections. I can’t tell you how often I get messages on different social media platforms from people inviting me to join their garment or art exhibition because they love my style, or how often people from different countries want to buy something that they see me wearing. It is such an unimaginable honor.

As for my favorite Chinese designer, its Uma Wang. Even though her brand isn't as big in the fashion world, she has a strong identity. She knows her audience, and sticks to what she knows without wavering for business reasons. She is excellent.

Lastly, with this year's China Fashion Week and Beijing Fashion Week having just come to an end here, what did you think about the shows?
Amazing yet again, and getting better every year. I am so proud to continue seeing more and more brands coming to Beijing.

READ: Beijing Fashion Icon Sam: "Beijing Has a Laid-Back Attitude on Fashion"

Images: Joss Zhan


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