In 2012 when I started learning about styling with the renowned Debbie Kuzniecky in Panama I thought “mix and match” clothing was easy, as I’ve always had a natural eye for my personal style I believed it was simple just to scan a personal preference, add some psychology of color, get to know someone’s right body measurements and then BUM! the job was done. It was when I studied Branding for Fashion I started feeling something was wrong with my preconceptions about fashion and then, the cherry on top, my first job in China.
Back in 2015 when I first arrived in Dongguan, a city filled only with factories that used to be a top production city due to its strong connection to the Opium War in 1800 and a vivid industrial development place in the 80s I realized we know absolutely anything about the things around us. Nor about beauty, nor about fashion, nor about tech. We have no idea about how things are fabricated and developed, we only know about consumerism. I expend 8 months in Dongguan that now is claimed to be “a whole in earth” even by people who have been living there for years. I used my time to explore the city but mostly to fill my curiosity on the factories. Food factories, clothing factories, bag factories, jewelry factories, metal factories, and of course, the factory where I was working.
It was 8 months later I decided to move to Shenzhen and get back to my natural state: aesthetics. During the 3 years that followed I worked as styling staff for mass fashion companies and also as a personal shopper for independent clients in my free time. These are 6 things I learned from Mass fashion working for brands like Zaful, Wish and so on:
MASS FASHION IS MASSIVE AND CHEAP
China has always been famous for cheap production. From shirts that can cost 0.15 cents to produce to electronics which design you can customize there is space for everything. Usually, when I was going to interviews I realized one company had 10 different websites or more, selling all the same items. As one of my managers used to say “if you find a productive business model with a good return you only copy and paste it on many markets as possible, to the infinite”.
As the manufacturing labor cost has increased in the last 5 years most of the companies like Nike or Adidas have moved their factories to cheaper markets, it has a direct impact of production as customers don’t push creative incentives for more costly and better-looking development. So, if you have a good idea for designing a product the seller will tell you “make your design and send it to me” because they literally: don’t know anything better.
Under our western mindset what seems to be huge quantities is medium or standard for the Chinese mindset. And it also includes clothes production, supply chain, MOQ and all related to production. So when I had a to choose styles I had to dive into the millions of suppliers. For photoshoots, the same item was updated in all 20 websites in the next 2 days. At first, it was an impact to me, then I realize in a market where numbers are first, this is a fixed mindset. Quantity is important and to have more profit we need as many websites, FB pages, and items as possible. This is the most important thing. Quality was the last.
Lesson #1: business is a mix of mindset, strategy, and resources. Success is the result of mixing those 3.
SYSTEMS ARE PRIMORDIAL
On my first days working in Panama, I remember I used to see these racks of clothing, around 80 or 100, and then we did the fitting. My first day as a stylist was totally different, there were 4 racks filled up with clothing. Two of them with almost 150 tops and the other with almost 100 shoes, I turned around and there were only 3 pairs of shoes. I was thinking “you can’t match almost 200 items with 4 pairs of shoes”. Suddenly a tall, white, European girl who in measurements looked like plus size model looked at me and told me “no worries, we always use the same shoes”. I panicked.
What followed was a week filled with full day shooting of 180 to 210 outfits daily, that gives the average model to shoot in 3 minutes or less. I learned “15” “45” “25” “front” as angle codes, the dynamic was simple: you say the code, the model poses in that angle, and the photographer does the job. So I had to learn to say the numbers while looking at the computer screen to make sure the angle and the pose and the face match correctly for the website. It was the fastest, structured and almost boring thing ever. But when it came to the end of the week I was settled, and after I meet the models and the team I WAS ON!.
Modeling is one of the top paid jobs in China, mostly because the local market loves ads with foreigner’s faces; white westerns or Korean beauty style. In the other hand because there is unlimited access to markets, so companies can cast as many models as they want for their several websites and shoot the same item over and over again for a different market in our studio. Sometimes I shot the same items in 4 different girls either to measure return or just sale on different markets.
Lesson #2: structure your time and create a system. Just make sure you pay attention to details.
ANYONE CAN MAKE e-MONEY
Have you read those ads saying “learn this course and make money from home?”. Well, it is possible. And many people are doing it, at least selling clothing online in China or selling clothing from PRC to western markets. The truth is, most of the business models on China have a high return on investment, mostly because retargeting makes it possible, also FB Ads and Instagram Ads. So when it comes to creating a sales business of the internet, is it really important to recognize that at the most basic sales levels, everyone can make money on it.
As a stylist, I had also to do flat layers and I remember the first introduction I had to flat lays and the “Tumblr style” was thru Anne Marie, a blogger and visual artist that help me on my first projects as an independent creator. Doing flat lays I learned 2 things.
- First, on the internet, all come thru the eyes. What makes you money is what people see and how good it looks.
- Second, the internet is everywhere and everyone needs something.
This is how I started contacting companies only to shoot flat layers and Ads for their websites. I got referrals from companies selling almost everything, promotional items, bags, handmade creams, candles, underwear, and there were, of course, the e-commerce companies. At the same time, I still got my position as Manager on Social Media, in a company where we had hundreds of people working only on Facebook, Instagram, Affiliates. When I was a photo shoot at factories I realized even the factories had their own small Aliexpress Shops, and most of the people who are selling to businesses also are selling to customers.
Lesson #3: geography might be a limit but there is no limit on the internet. Use it.
ON INTERNET NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS
The first time I got paid for an Ad I thought “this is a one time job” as an Ad is just an Ad and you can rotate it as many times as possible and retarget it to the limit. But the company called me back, and send me several items for me to shoot. Turn out that my classes about visuals and my thoughts about how a good picture can have a good ROI on the internet where true. The downside was, all the clothing was ugly. At the time I had launched my own mini brand where I was selling visuals to all companies I get to know, I was going to their studios and shooting anything they had, mostly really ugly accessories or clothing and I shoot and shoot until it looked like a luxury item or at list what we call in China “Zara style”.
This went on for about 6 months until I realized most of the companies were sending me really unworthy things, things I would never pay even $10 to buy. When it comes to having ethics I feel it was sort of a lie, making good pictures do not make a good product and people is going to believe in what they see on their phones or computers. Most of the people do not have the knowledge to distinguish between a 2$ production item and a $4 production item, and I know there is a lot of difference in those 2$ in between. So I decided to stop it and put higher standards on my own business.
Lesson #4: it doesn’t matter how much good money you make, be ethical and don’t hurt others.
MODELS HAVE FACES
Before coming to China I was really hooked by high-end fashion. I remember I used to look ads, read reviews and watch fashion shows per hours. But it changed as my daily environment was spread with piles of cheap clothing and 2 models to shoot on hundreds of items of clothing every 24 hours. On daily basis we where receiving girls to cast, they came to the studio, they grab some clothing from our rack and then the photographer did some sample shots. I never knew why for. But after months of seeing these girls and shooting my own things I start having these thoughts about the kind of ads they could do.
One day we were shooting and a bunch of Russian girls came to the studio, there were a pair of twins, both pale, skinny with Korean straight reddish hair. One of them grabbed a gown and the other one some pencil pants. When the first girl came out and seat my first thought was “she looks like e-commerce” and when the other one came and pose I was like “she looks a lot like Levi’s“. Since that day I was giving all models a brand face when they came to cast at the studio and sometimes I told them. It turns out the girl from Levi’s got a match with a Chinese high-end clothing brand. That was one of my favorite things to do.
It was until I read how facial cognitive perception works and how can some factors contribute to the specialization of certain cortical areas for face processing so we can connect previous cognitive frames to new frames or input that I realize I was actually leveraging my own perceptive knowledge about modeling and fashion.
Lesson #5: everything you learn is important and everything you are curious about is important. Don’t take it for granted, at some point your knowledge will make sense.
NUMBERS RULE THE WORLD
The market value of China is expected to reach RMB1,592 billion by 2019. Chinese garment brands can be divided into two major categories. The first comprises upmarket brands, targeted at consumers from high-income groups with growing spending power, an increasing taste for luxury and high-end brands, and concern for garment quality and shopping experience. The second adopts a mass market strategy and trendy garments especially favored by young consumers, this also includes all the e-commerce retail garment industry. So in order of styling and providing services, there is good room here.
One day I was at the studio and my manager came with a paper to told me I had to measure the time of the photoshoot, evaluate every team member, score every outfit and every resource I had to make every outfit and at the end of the day we were going to compete with the other shooting team and the best group would win. I was panicking again. I suck at numbers and I had no idea how to make a creative work accountable. My manager realizes that only by looking at me and he just told me “rosi, if you cannot measure something you are losing your investment, you will not get the good thing”. I will never forget it.
As a fashion stylist on my arrival, my focus was on style, provide good service and to develop a good sense of fashion. Almost every job in China will require you to be ass good as you can at numbers. 4 years later, on an economy that pushes for quantity over quality, and where social status sets the difference between price, good taste my mindset about fashion styling has changed incredibly as I had learned more about my numerical perceptions.
We might think there are people who get numbers easy and there are people who get art easy. This is not true, we all have the abilities to develop numerical and none numerical skills is a matter of environment and a matter of practice. I am not the best at Excel sheets but I have increased my numerical skills in many other ways I didn’t think I could.
Lesson #6: the brain is a muscle. If your skills suck, accept the challenge and start practicing.
Mass fashion is one of the most powerful industries and currently with the help of several website building online people have a whole world to discover, and diverse markets to test. Either you are in fashion, tech, development or just want to sell something and make money, on my experience, there is no way you cannot achieve that. Life unfolds by doing. Do the thing!
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