Beijing fashion icon Joss Zhan: from the IT world to Beijing Barbie
Joss Zhan is the kind of person who would need an entire book, dissertation, or movie to accurately describe the talented global fashion guru as she is. But due to the time it would take, I am here to give our fellow Beijing residents a little glimpse into the life of this brave, passionate and optimistic soul, whom I have dubbed Beijing Barbie.
I met Joss – whose Chinese name is Zhan Qianyi – last year at a Beijing Fashion Week Expo event. Her radiant personality illuminated the whole event. While this wasn’t a fashion show per se, Joss dressed up in a truly runway-ready outfit. Whenever you find yourself in her presence, you are always sure to witness something new through amazing styles, special chic, and fashion like you’ve never seen before. But believe it or not, Joss hasn’t always been in the fashion industry. She draws her global vision, avant-garde style and eccentric elegance from her childhood, as well as her previous career in the IT field.
When did you first fall in love with fashion?
To be honest, I’ve been obsessed with fashion for as long 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 kid I only had one toy, a Barbie doll. I treasured this toy, and since it was my only toy, it got a lot of attention. I often made different outfits for her on my own. When I was in college, in addition to fashion, I also became obsessed with Japanese series and TV shows. I was particularly infatuated with the styles and looks that could be found on these shows; all so different from anything I had seen before. In my small hometown, I was unable to find or buy this type of clothes, so I became my own Barbie and started making clothes for myself.
It is truly inspiring. What was your process for creating your designs?
First of all, it started with drawings, sketches and designing whatever popped up in my imagination. I then took them to a tailor who would help me make them. Once I perfected the process, I wore only what I had designed myself and quickly got used to standing out in my original designs, especially in rural China in the 90s. time, and even today, my fashion is so distinctive and different from what most people are used to, so I feel like a part of me always knew 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 before entering the fashion industry my career took a few detours. After graduating from college, I joined a software start-up and was appointed COO. This market was very ripe, and because everyone in the company worked so hard, our work quickly paid off. Soon our team grew from just a few people to almost 200 in just the first 6 years. I won’t quote the name of the company, but in the end we were bought by one of the biggest data center companies in China and even got listed on the NASDAQ in 2012. I was ultimately chosen to be senior. I think that experience, which pushed me out of my comfort zone, was a big part of what led me to become who I am today and still influences my character in the clothing industry. fashion.
What other detours and experiences ultimately led you to your fashion career?
So far, I have 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 definitely developed my creative eye, from being exposed to different cultures to experiencing the arts from different societies, as well as seeing places that I had only read before. Plus, visiting so many concept stores and museums around the world gave me the opportunity to find out and see exactly what’s going on in fashion in cities other than Beijing.
Wow, 40 countries is amazing. What are some of your favorites and why?
My 10 favorite countries are: Japan, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Greece and the UK. As for the why, in short: I love the cultures of France, Italy, Japan and the UK. Plus, in my opinion, these are must-see places for all true fashionistas. As for the other 5 places, I also like their cultures, but on top of that, I like how when I am in these countries, I have to slow down and live at the same pace as the locals.
So after traveling the world and working in IT, what finally made you settle in Beijing?
I had been to Beijing several times before, but first moved there permanently because the company that bought our IT business was based in the capital. The city really became a part of my life and my heart forever when I met my husband, who is from Beijing, here.
The main reason I finally decided to quit IT was that I had to once and for all decide to stop pretending to be someone I’m not; to stop trying to suppress my deep admiration and obsession with fashion, clothes and style. When I made the decision to quit, I was very decisive about it. When I moved, 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 always be true to herself. I knew I had to follow my true direction, in order to someday be confident enough to tell my daughter to follow hers.
It also helped that when I met my business partner, who is also a very dear friend, we hit it off right away. We decided to set up a media platform focused on global fashion. We started with interviews with store owners and fashion designers, simultaneously pairing them with other businesses, such as buyer visits for industry professionals.
Are you still doing the same job now?
After 3 years of working on this project, I recently took a new direction, because the world and the fashion business have also changed. In the course of my work in IT, traveling around the world, and starting this fashion platform from scratch, I am able to use everything I have learned in my new position as creative director of a fashion brand. I also called on my friend from France, a well-known designer in Paris, to be our director of designers. Even though neither of us own the brand, we still do our best to share the brand, as well as to put our fashion expertise to work for the company.
Tell me a bit about your daily life in Beijing and your Beijing Fashion life?
Beijing is my second hometown. My husband’s family is made up of local Pekingese, so there are several generations living here. I like to see them a lot in my daily life, but I really love when we get together for the holidays, when a ton of family members, young and old, are all in attendance.
My whole life is in fashion, and I have a lot of friends who also work in the fashion and art industries. So I often go to fashion events, parties or gatherings. But I’m actually trying to cut down on time spent at social events lately. Sometimes I prefer to be quiet and alone rather than outside. I really like spending time with myself and relaxing, finding new ideas on my own. Of course, when there is a really wonderful and interesting fashion or art event, I always try to be there.
Who is your favorite fashion designer and why?
My 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 world’s greatest fashion designers. Eleven years ago, I started buying and collecting her designs, but I never imagined that my collection would become 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 that come straight from the runway, on other people all over the world who love and collect this brand as well. I am very happy to be a part of such a global fashion community and to be a person that others look to to help them improve 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 clothing or art show because they like my style, or how often from people from different countries want to buy something they see me wearing. It is such an unimaginable honor.
As for my favorite Chinese designer, it’s Uma Wang. Even though her brand is not as big in the fashion world, it has a strong identity. She knows her audience, and sticks to what she knows without hesitation for business reasons. She is excellent.
Finally, as this year’s China Fashion Week and Beijing Fashion Week just ended here, what did you think of the shows?
Amazing again, and getting better every year. I am so proud to continue to see more and more brands coming to Beijing.
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Images: Joss Zhan