My name is Hongzhan, and I am 24 years old and from Hunan, China. I live and study Accessory Design in Milan, and before coming here, I already completed a bachelor degree in Beijing, majoring in English. After my BA degree, though, I realized that I have no interest in a safe and repetitive job like teaching or translating, and I decided to try something totally different. So far, and at the beginning of my 3rd year in Accessory Design, I am totally content and grateful for this decision of becoming an Accessory Designer. Sometimes I feel, I was destined to choose this career.
I grew up in a small town located in central southern China, where people live in a traditional way and barely have any comprehension about fashion. My grandfather was one of the best shoemakers in town, and he educated my father and my uncle with his experience and skill. Unfortunately he passed away, before I was born, and I never had the chance to meet him. My dad, after failing with some of his own business, ended up working with my uncle in his small shoe factory, and I remember them working there together. My childhood memories are a constant smell of leather and glue, and the sound of the sewing machine working in the leather.
To be perfectly honest, I used to hate all things that had anything to do with shoes, because in China people look down at this business, and also my dad used to work long hours. However, the factory today works well thanks to the wholesale business and in 2004, my uncle moved the factory to Guangzhou, which is the centre for fashion manufacturing. It was right there that I witnessed, how enormous this industry is. When I went to Beijing for university, I saw the luxury brands and lifestyle, and it was all new to me. When I was a teenager, it was the golden years for fashion brands in the Chinese market: hundreds of foreign brands were being imported, and new media was coming out, and with this my interest in the fashion industry was growing accordingly. In 2012, I took a summer course of Fashion Design in Florence. It was really out of curiosity only, but I found myself to be very comfortable with studying accessories.
When I returned to Beijing, I still had to complete my 4th and last year at university, but I decided to also find a job related to fashion. Fortunately, I got one as Sales Assistant in the Hermes boutique. The brand’s value of craftsmanship really touched me, and I kept thinking about my grandfather working with shoes. I wanted to communicate with him, and I remembered having felt very at ease creating with leather in my hands. After finishing University in Beijing, things happened fast, and thanks to my language skills and drawing class as a child, I got into a fashion school in Milan on a scholarship. And here I am.
The most rewarding part of studying in Italy is to see how the fashion system is really functioning. Italy is so famous in the field of accessories, and I really had super high expectation. In the two years that passed, I did lots of things in order to get a glimpse of the world. I sneaked into a real fashion show (I won’t say the brand name), applied to a backstage job during Men’s Fashion Week, and went to various fairs such as Pitti Uomo and Lineapelle. I have always been so impressed by the dedication and persistence the Italians put into fashion, which I haven’t experienced in my own country.
In China, everything in fashion is fast-paced, and entrepreneurs look into fashion and manufacturing as a way of quickly accumulate wealth. When they achieve their financial goal, they take out the gain and invest in real estate or something similar, where the financial return can be even higher. Even if they have had a brand for years, they will simply abandon it. There is of course nothing wrong with pursuing wealth, but it really makes me admire the Italian family companies that hold onto their values, passion, quality, and family tradition. Sometimes I feel a certain mistrust from the Italians towards Chinese people for the bad fame of copying designer goods, and cheap manufacturing, and this can be a bit difficult. But in general, I love my days in Italy.
I never imagine becoming a star designer like Karl Lagerfeld or Yves Saint Lauren one day. In this sense, I’m perhaps not very ambitious. My biggest dream is to have my own studio, and maybe it could be with something more than just accessory and fashion. My days in Europe always make me think about the situation of my own country. I believe that eventually Chinese consumers will go back to reasoning after decades of luxury fever. Being part of the young generation, I think, it is my mission to figure out the unique language for Chinese fashion in the future.
My advice for young people, who wants to work in fashion is to be prepared for the unknown. Studying fashion and becoming an Accessory Designer is, unlike the magazines and catwalks we see, about hard work, and sometimes it’s dull and difficult. There’s a lot of high pressure and risk, and if you decide to make fashion your lifelong career choice, it’s important to understand, what you like the most, and what fits you best. If you really do it out of passion, it’s something that will bring you a lot of happiness.
Follow Hongzhan here.