Margaret Zhang and the Business of Fashion

Margaret Zhang and the Business of Fashion

meant as a source of #motivation when it appears on your
Twitter feed. It’s also technically true, which is what makes it so
unsettling. “You have as many hours in the day as Margaret Zhang.”
It’s only 6.15AM and Margaret is already in the middle of a hair
and make-up appointment when she answers her phone from Sydney.

A photographer, writer, stylist, television presenter and
director of travel and style blog Shine By
, Margaret Zhang is one of the most influential voices in
Australian fashion. Since starting her blog at the age of 16 she
has contributed to Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar Australia, all
while developing a personal style that lies somewhere between a
well-tailored man and a ballerina. This year she was announced as
one of Clinique’s ambassadors for the company’s #FaceFoward campaign, alongside fellow blogger Tavi
Gevinson and SUITCASE Magazine’s very own Serena Guen.

Margaret has achieved in 22 years what many of her peers might
hope to achieve in a lifetime. And her accolades are made all the
more impressive by the fact that she has been studying for a
Bachelor’s degree in law and commerce alongside them. The
combination of fashion and law might at first seem contradictory,
but her academic training has complimented her creative endeavours,
making her a blogger with serious business credentials.

“Law keeps me grounded,” says Margaret breezily, as if her
double-life is the norm. She goes on to explain that her professors
at the University of Sydney would never accept fashion week as an
excuse for a late assignment. “The problem-solving skills have
really helped with the logistical side of my business – learning to
remain practical about everything and not getting swept up in the
fashion storm.”

If you have the real skills to back up what you’re doing, then people can ‘fake it ‘til they make it’, but you’ll always be better of in the long term

Margaret studied business in combination with law for the first
three years of her degree and as a result developed commercial
awareness skills that have made her an astute entrepreneur. When
the Chinese-Australian blogger became aware of her huge following
in China – “apparently my fan base there think I’m really badass!
They’re used to super-pretty Chinese celebrities with
alabaster-white skin” – she re-coded her website to include a
translation into Mandarin, which she speaks and writes fluently.
She has brokered partnerships with brands including Nike, Swarovski
and Louis Vuitton, employing her corporate know-how to protect
herself from exploitation: “I’m so thankful that I know how to read
a contract – I know my usage rights, what it means when someone
breaches them and what the legal ramifications are.”

When it comes to discussing the Australian fashion industry,
Margaret’s observations are practical and carefully thought
through. She is reluctant to group designers into vague categories
of national style or form: “I do find it quite funny when people
say, ‘Australian designers are so Australian’ and ‘Australian
aesthetics are so interesting’. If you look at the designers, their
works are extremely different. I don’t think there’s anything
inherently Australian about Australian designers that makes them
good; they’re just good designers.”

Margaret cites Dion Lee, Kym Ellery, Zimmermann, Christopher
Esber and Michael Cheika as some of the most exciting designers at
the moment, going on to explain that Australian consumers are loyal
to home-grown brands. “I think they like to see things that are
made in Australia and they trust that more than a chain store.”
Zara, Topshop, Uniqlo and H&M have all expanded to Australia in
the past four years but Margaret says their presence, despite
initial concern, has not compromised the popularity of independent
brands and boutiques: “I don’t think it’s had a huge impact. It’s
just meant that Australian designers have had to keep up – they’ve
all had to build online stores if they hadn’t already and they’ve
all had to stay competitive and streamline their strategy to make
sure they’re reaching the consumer as much as they can.”

Australian designers are now beginning to engage consumers at an
international level as well. Zimmermann showcased its fifth
consecutive season at New York Fashion Week this year, while Dion
Lee exhibited for the second year running. Kym Ellery, meanwhile,
became the third Australian in history to feature on the official
Paris Fashion Week schedule. “It’s taken some time for them – and
will take some time for a lot of them – to figure out how to make
the product commercially viable internationally,” says Margaret,
adding: “There are so many designers that I would say are so much
more interesting than a lot of the commercial stuff you see in New
York. I just think it’ll take a bit of time to get that financial
support and business mentorship for them to be able to expand.”

The Australian fashion industry is taking its time to progress
outwards, as talented designers start to engage international
consumers in a commercially viable manner. “My mum has always said
that ‘real skills prevail,'” says Margaret, explaining: “If you
have the real skills to back up what you’re doing, then people can
‘fake it ’til they make it’, but you’ll always be better of in the
long term.”

Margaret herself is the embodiment of her mother’s belief. She
might have the hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers typical
of any fashion blogger worth their salt, but she also recently
wrote an essay on how social media is affecting the impartiality of
juries in courts of law. Her talent for blurring the boundaries
between an academic and creative career, while underpinning the
superficial aspects of fashion with detailed knowledge of commerce
as well as her ability to provide intelligent commentary are the
skills that make her shine by three.

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