Chris Yen: Badass Kung Fu movie star and martial-arts-inspired fashion designer
I interviewed Chris Yen, an actress and entrepreneur from a proud lineage of Wushu and Tai Chi masters. Her mom, Bow Sim Mark, is one of the premier Chinese martial arts practitioners. Her brother, Donnie Yen, is currently the #1 Kung Fu action star in Hong Kong whose latest film Ip Man 3 will be released in 2016. Chris recently launched a fashion brand (June 2015) called ChrisYenFusion featuring athletic inspired casual wear. Chris had never worked as a fashion designer, yet she was determined to be an entrepreneur with the support of family and friends. She recalls the experience as an 8-month boot camp (check out the making-of videos and images on her Facebook page).
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I have always been fascinated by women who are unmistakably curious and resilient. Chris is certainly one of them.
"We should always stay fluid and let our minds be reshaped. You can equip and empower yourself with knowledge, which is really the thing that nobody can take away from you." - Chris Yen
Together in this episode, we explored Chris' origins and traveled to the time when she was growing up in Boston and trained Wushu with her mom (Bow Sim Mark) every day. We talked why she made the decision to create a fashion line, in an industry that has always been crowded and competitive. In addition to having two very fashion-forward members of the family (mom and brother), Chris added:
"Both the film and fashion world can have a huge impact on people's views. Sometimes distorted, sometimes very positive and profound. I'm fortunate to have access through both mediums which can set strong encouraging statements and actions. I see these two industries together as a powerful tool to influence young minds. This article spoke to me on a level insipired me to take on a new responsibility. I want and show other young women that we can be just as capable and influencial without the need to constantly appeal sexy and provactive." - Chris Yen
We also talked about resilience. What were some of the challenges, rejections Chris had to face as an actress and an entrepreneur? How does she bounce back?
Chris wants to thank her family for their unconditional love and support: mom (Bow Sim Mark), dad (Klyster Yen) brother (Donnie Yen).
Show Notes (Time is approximate):
36:00 Tell us about some of the particular challenges and thrills and excitements
39:00 What are some of the lessons learned?
49:30 What is the advice you would give to women at any age, given what you have learned about how the world has changed?
10:15 CY: I always wanted to create something edgy and fashionable, yet wearable in the martial arts world
18:15 CY: My life basically consisted of training and wushu and music 25:00 CY: I don’t really look at fashion the way that most people do - there needs to be purpose.
31:45 CY: if I could give advice to young aspiring actors, I would say “Don’t go for it!”
36:30 CY: Without having that experience of rejection, there’s no chance I could still be doing what I’m doing now.
40:15 CY: This is an industry where you have to be extremely organized and efficient or else it’s going to burn away your time, your funding, and your energy very quickly
49:45 CY: I’m still trying to figure out my stamp in all of this - what are those one or two core elements I can really hone in on?
50:15 CY: We should always stay fluid and let our minds be reshaped. You can equip and empower yourself with knowledge, which is really the thing that nobody can take away from you.
People, Companies, and Media:
10:00 CY Fusion - the Chris Yen Fusion Collection
13:00 Bow Sim Mark
22:30 The Business of Fashion - “Weaving better narratives about women” (Article)
23:45 Donnie Yen
40:40 FIDM - Fashion Industry of Design and Merchandising
Transcript of Interview with Chris Yen
Welcome to the Feisworld podcast, engaging conversations that cross the boundaries between business, art and the digital world.
I always wanted to create something edgy and fashionable, yet wearable in the martial arts world. Because growing up I noticed, people don't really associate martial artists as fashionable. And I think martial artists, like dancers, they express bodily movements, that's just very beautiful and very graceful. And it only makes sense that what they wear when performing and even training is really an extension of that movement. Typical wushu attire is very colorful. There's a lot of silks and satins in it, and embroideries, and sashes, and very flowy kind of comfortable material, and it drapes very well. So wushu practitioners are very electrifying to watch. As a creator, you cannot just be involved on a design, but you have to learn the making of, you have to learn there's the manufacturing side, production, sourcing. You have to learn also how to build relationships with different people on different levels. We should always stay fluid in and let our minds, you know, be shaped. I think, strength, confidence and wisdom, it comes from experience. And that can happen at any age. And the more you just keep doing and learning, the more knowledge you gain. And you can equip and empower yourself with that knowledge, which are really the things that nobody can take away from you.
Fei Wu 1:45
You're listening to episode number 42 of the Feisworld podcast, and this is your host Fei Wu. As you can imagine, it's been a pretty long journey, and I'm still having a lot of fun. Today I am introducing my friend, new friend, Chris Yen, who is an actress and entrepreneur from a proud lineage of wushu and Tai Chi masters. Her mom, Bow Sim Mark, is one of the premier Chinese martial arts practitioners, and her brother, Donnie Yen, is currently the number one Kung Fu action star in Hong Kong, whose latest film IP Man 3 will be released in 2016. I decided to interview Chris, who recently launched a fashion line in June 2015 called "ChrisYenFusion", featuring athletic-inspired casual wear. But what intrigued me the most, is that Chris had never worked as a fashion designer. Yet she was very determined to be an entrepreneur with the support of her family and friends. She recalls the experience as an eight month boot camp, and you can check out her progress in the making of images and videos right off for Facebook. If you have been listening to Feisworld podcast for a little while, you probably know that one of my biggest initiatives these days is to interview women who inspire, particularly I've been always fascinated by women who are unmistakeably curious and resilient, and Chris certainly is one of them. We explore Chris's origin stories that made us time travel back to when she was growing up in Boston as a little girl. She trained with her mom, Bow Sim Mark, at her wushu classes every single day. We talk about why she made the decision to create a fashion line in an industry, that has always been crowded and competitive. In addition to having two very fashionable members of the family,her mom and brother, Chris added. The film and fashion world, both have such huge impact on people's views, sometimes distorted, sometimes very positive and profound, she feels so fortunate to have access through both mediums, which can set strongly encouraging statements and actions. She feels a responsibility with these powerful tools to also influence other young minds, especially young women out there. I really hope you enjoyed this episode. And if you do, please share with your family and friends. And the best gift you could ever give me is a review on iTunes. I hope you share full, transparent feedback exactly how you feel about my podcast and who else you would like to hear next.
This episode is brought to you by the O'Malley Taekwondo center in Peabody, Massachusetts. O'Malley Taekwondo is a traditional martial arts school that welcomes men, women and children. The school also integrates self defense training to help members at any age to be more alert and prepared. As a student of Mr. O'Malley's and a practitioner of Taekwondo for over 15 years, I am proud to be part of this movement, teaching others useful and practical skills. The school has a wonderful community of friendly kids and adults, who come together to practice and stay in shape. As a Feisworld podcast listener, you are entitled to a special offer from O'Malley Taekwondo: the 30 day trial for only $95. That includes a free uniform, three private lessons and unlimited class time. By the way, they're over 35 classes available each week. To claim this offer, simply go to Feisworld.com/promo. That is, again: Feisworld.com/promo.
I'm so excited to finally chat with you.
Me too! I have been looking forward to this and I want to learn more about you too, since we are, like you,said two or three degrees of separation here. So we have some common friends, I guess.
Fei Wu 6:24
Yeah, many common friends, and I met some of your family members as well. And, you know, to kind of kick it off - one of the reasons why... There are so many reasons I'm excited to be chatting with you, but one of which is, as you know, I run Feisworld podcast, and so far I've released 39 episodes. And since the very beginning, I'm still super eager to chat with female entrepreneurs and strong women, spiritual strong empowered women, who have transformed their own lives and have all these wisdoms that they could share with, you know, women my age, younger women. And in this case, in your case, I'm super excited that you are, in fact, the super strong woman and I know that you can easily beat up any guy 200 pounds 6′ 2″. I have proof!
[laughs] I don't know about that!
Fei Wu 7:23
They admitted that, and they said you're incredibly physically strong.
[laughs] Who said that?
Fei Wu 7:33
Multiple sources. And as you know, you are very talented martial artist, because you workout very hard, I definitely believe that, but it's certainly in the genes as well, because you come from the, in my opinion, the most prestigious sort of martial art family here in New England.It's just... it's incredible. I've read so much about your mom and I watch all your brother's movies.
Oh, thank you so much. I'm really, really flattered. But you know, I definitely am not the strongest woman in the world. I don't think I can barely lift up my 75 pound dog. Let alone beating up a 200 pound man! [laughs] I am a petite woman. And so, you know, most people are kind of twice my size. And I have kind of gotten used to seeing the world that way.
Fei Wu 8:33
Yeah, let's get right into it. You know, you have a new fashion line, which I've been, like, monitoring the growth of it. And it finally launched on June 1st, it's called the "ChrisYenFusion" collection.
Fei Wu 8:48
So tell my audience about it, tell us all about it.
Well, CYfusion is a street fitness fashion line. And it's really inspired by my martial views. And , you know, I always wanted to create something edgy and fashionable yet wearable in the martial arts world. because growing up, I noticed people don't really associate martial artists as fashionable people.
Fei Wu 9:16
I think, you know, martial artists have their own fashion sense. And a lot of it really stands from within. I think, it has a lot to do with, you know, the disciplinary training and very high level physical training and that mental awareness that comes along with it. And that combination cultivates a certain level of expression. And I think martial artists ,like dancers, they express bodily movements. And that's just very beautiful and very graceful, and it only makes sense that, what they wear when performing and even training, is really an extension of that movement. That's sort of how I see it. And ,you know, with clothes and fabrics materials, it can be very beautiful, especially when it's worn the right way and really enhances one's features. So in movement it can be physically very stunning. So I'm a very visual person, very imaginative, and that's really what I tapped into. This was all stemmed from my traditional wushu roots, because in wushu.. I'm sure you're very familiar, it's an exhibitional type of martial arts sport. And quite fancy. And is very brought to working with a lot of different weapons, and typical wushu attire is very colorful , there's a lot of silks and satins in it, embroideries and sashes and very flowy kind of comfortable material. And it fits very well. So wushu practitioners are very electrifying to watch ,and especially when they are on a very high skale, very powerful movements, very gracefull. It just sort of makes sense. You know, you combine that fashion sense with certain material types with that type of bodily expression. So it felt very natural for me to tap into that, and that's really what I know, and it comes from my roots. You know, I try do anything that I really embark on, I really try to tap into my background, and it's just what I know best. Because I feel that's the best way to approach something, it's organic. And you may find that there's still a lot a lot of areas to keep exploring further with it
Fei Wu 11:26
I learned about your family even before I came to the United States, and we're talking about 15 years ago. And I knew about your mom and your brother because he's in the film industry but your mom...My Mandarin ,by the way.. please excuse my accent, my Cantonese accent. So , Bow Sim Mark - is that how you say your mom's name?
Yes, Bow Sim Mark.
Fei Wu 11:53
She's legendary. And I learned about her when I was probably only a teenager at the time. And I was wondering, you know, if you could speak to your upbringing a little bit, because you started wushu when you were four years old, and you competed in the first, I believe, wushu international tournament, and you placed in the very top . Top three. And you've been training ever since. What was it like? By the way, for my audience, not only this didn't happen in China, in Guangzhou, but it happened right here, in Boston, in New England. Tell us about your upbringing.
Well,it was quite colorful, very colorful, and, you know, at the time, being so young, I thought that was my world, it was whatever I was doing, and whatever I was surrounded by was very normal for me. But, growing up, I look back and I realize: wow, I did come from a very unique upbringing. And I have two very unique parents, definitely not your typical sort of, you know, traditional Chinese family, and I feel very blessed. I feel like the universe is blessed me with a really cool family. And it is such a strong foundation and I really hope to not let my parents down , I don't want to let my family down. So, I'm striving to always do better whatever I embark on, you know, with 100% passion and effort and purity. So growing up it was quite chaotic also, and, I'd say, probably confusing at times, because I was really the only young female kid around who was doing what I was doing. No one had heard of wushu at the time.
Fei Wu 13:48
Yeah, when people think of Chinese Kung Fu ,of course they immediately go to the typical kind of slapstick Kung Fu movies, and Bruce Lee, you know. No one knew what the wushu was. Boston Chinatown is a very small community, and the word definitely traveled very fast. And we were performing a lot in local events. And my mom's school was becoming more and more well known, students came from all walks of life, they would fly over to learn from her, from many parts of the world. So it was a very adult oriented environment. And everyone was very colorful, there were just all sorts of personalities, you name it. And it was really interesting, you know, but then at the same time, my mom's school was situated in outskirts of Chinatown.I also grew up in a Jewish community, in Newton. And I was like the only Chinese girl in my class.Yeah, so there's sort of that Newton community environment, and right after school I would have to go to Chinatown, to my mom's studio, and start training. And I would train, she would put me in almost every one of her classes. And, you know, she was so passionate about her teachings, she would teach back to back all day long, you know, especially when the school was starting to pick up, and she was kind of in high demand. So I would attend all the classes at a very young age, and just not knowing that I was really absorbing all of this energy. I was absorbing her movements and her skills, and the way she would communicate and teach her students, which was most of the time non verbal, her English was very limited. She also is not a woman who speaks a lot, she expresses through her internal energy. That really is the best way to describe it. And it was kind of like a big playground for me, because I think I had a lot of fun just hanging out with the students. And I would also sort of tend to take on that teacher's role. And I remember, usually before classes, we have an area that's closed off where the students can warm up and practice, and I used to go around and sort of poke fun of students ,like, Oh, you know, you're like, 12 inches away from the split, and a bit of a ball buster. And because I knew that I was a little bit cocky for my age, too, because, I think, a lot of these things, since my mom had really pushed me at a young age, things came a little bit more naturally for me. So I thought, Oh, well, you know, if I can do it, you should be able to do it. [laughs]
Fei Wu 16:47
[laughs] Probably not.
But what did I know? So had, I remember, there was a lot of fun times, you know, it was definitely a lot of hard core training, because my life basically consisted of training and wushu and then in music. My father is musician.
Fei Wu 17:08
Oh, I didn't know that.
Yeah, erhu, Chinese erhu, he is actually one of the first people in Boston who brought the erhu instrument and started performing with that. And he was also the first musician who played erhu with the Boston Civic Symphony. And he also plays the violin. So music was definitely a big influence in our family. Plus, my mom used to be first soprano.Yeah, way before Donnie and I were born. So she was singing a lot too. She was really into musical stage performance, and singing was part of her thing, accompanied by her martial arts performance. So she filled her head of that early on, which is why later on, she went on to develop wushu theater. And she was choreograping and directing, in like, programs in Harvard, in Boston University, in different university level and score, she was invited by them to, to teach them to perform as well.
Fei Wu 18:12
Wow, so funny. In 15 minutes, somehow, I learned so much about you and your family. I had zero idea that both of your parents are musicians. And I just have to say that it's so funny, I realize I've been doing martial arts, in particular Taekwondo, for say, 14 years now, roughly, and I've been bragging sometime like: 14 years! And when I was a kid, I did Kung Fu. But really, I want my audience to understand, that the level of training and the intensity and sort of the influence, that I had, is really nothing compared to your experience, that differentiation is definitely worth mentioning.
It was different. It was definitely different. But I think, you know, with any form of martial arts the core principles are still there. You learn at a very disciplinary level, you learn at very high mental level because also you are training your mind, you're training your mental awareness and alertness, you know, you are sharping mind as well. And your coordination and that whole physical bodily movement, just kind of naturally stems from that. So, I believe it really starts in the mind first, and I think all level of martial arts training really homes that.
Fei Wu 19:34
It's a ,you know.... I wrote a note on my book here, and it says: The moment I start talking about martial arts with you, I think we could have like a 10 episode series.
Fei Wu 19:47
Maybe because I didn't, honestly, I didn't come from a martial arts family, for some reason, this is like one of the most proud aspect of who I am. And it is still ,to be honest, a very important element of my day to day, and I feel like I want to think and walk like a martial artist, and it's so integrated as part of my life.
You're definitely a martial artist, I mean, 14 years is a very long time, and it shows your dedication, you know. I'm sure, you're...how you've evolved, getting a black belt is not easy. And especially as a woman, and I read about your background on your site, and you come... You know, you're very diverse in your skills and knowledge, so definitely something to always be proud of and brag about.
Fei Wu 20:45
Thank you. And I think, what really intrigued me about your fashion line and martial art, even though yes, there's the basic line, there's the wushu line, and there's definitely a very obvious interplay. But naming aside, what I also begin to read about your line, is that you're not just a woman who like the rest of us, like fashion, want to be a fashion designer, but I think you have a very unique and very crystal clear message, that you're delivering here with a posts that you share on Facebook, for instance, and I keep reading them and I find very inspiring, one of which it's called "the business of fashion".I believe, It's weaving better narratives about women. And in particular, the theme about the fashion industry must do more to create more compelling, nuanced narratives about women and girls. And I love have you speak to that , very special.
Well, I want to say, first of all, I do not consider myself as a fashion designer, really, I love the creative process and energy in anything that is just involved in creation. And it just so happened, like, I got inspired to jump into this without having any background and seriously not realizing what I'm getting myself into. And it's a really crazy industry. I never thought of myself as a fashion oriented person, to be truthful to that. In fact, I used to look up to my brother as a fashion icon. But whith so many years apart, and, you know, we didn't grow up together. So essentially, I grew up as an only child, but he was already out making movies in Hong Kong, but he would come home and visit and every time he'd show up, he'd been spotting, like, this new cool black hoodie, or, you know, some new kind of sweat pants or T-shirt, and you're like: what is that? It was really eye popping, and especially being from Boston is, you know, Boston is considered more of a conservative town.
Fei Wu 23:06
Oh, yeah, I totally agree.
We didn't have exposure to that, there was no access to that. So I just started seeing, like: Wow, that's cool. And I've always been a tomboy. And for some reason, I just was always drawn more to men's fashion, just the way it cuts, and is tailored, and there's something very strong about that. So that was really my first exposure, and I never grew up wanting to get into this industry. You know, because I don't, I guess, really look at fashion in sense of like most fashion people, who developed themselves into fashion designers. For me, it's about inspiration, it is about art. But out of that, you know, everything I also try to do ,from here on, there needs to be a purpose, there needs to be a good intent. I just feel as long as I'm true to what I believe in, and I choose the right path in whatever I do, whether it's through my fashion clothing line, or, you know, even through films, or even through writing, I want to hone in on this message. And it's empowering, it's an empowering message, not just necessarily for women, but the younger generation, the next generation. I think, we need more education to sort of shift the mindsets of it, send out all the positive vibes as much as possible, and hopefully I can be a good influence on somebody.
Fei Wu 24:36
You have been! I think, your brand has a very clear message. And I think, you know, one of the questions I had earlier on, I think you're almost on the path of addressing that as well, is.. I would like to kind of dive into some of the challenges that you've possibly faced in the past 2,4,6 months, and I'm interested in learning about what is the size of your operation. So what is the core team, the maker team that you're managing on the regular basis?
Okay, so before I start that one, I just want to go back for a second, you've asked me about, you know, what other sort of career paths I've taken, and I'm still on that, it's just... that's not my primary focus right now. But definitely the martial arts, wushu element, has played a big role in this new venture, but also having the film experience, you know, be on camera, an artist, being an actress, having that level of expression. I was trained in acting in front of the camera in theater, being exposed to production on set, you know, doing action, choreography, beating people up on stage. So, all of that is still a big part of it, like I said, I just take everything from all my experiences, and I just throw it into this. And that's essentially where it came from. Because being in a film industry also, I was exposed to, especially in the LA, to a ot of fashionistas and styling and photoshoots and all that. So it all just sort of came together. So I just sort of picked up a little bit of everything along the way. The film experiences really exposed me to a lot, I actually started out working for Donnie in film production. So I would get to travel a lot, and watch the inner workings of choreography, and how to make films and on, you know, various different levels. So it was very educational. And then coming to LA to try to carve my own path, just my own little path here, definitely was very, very challenging. I'm sure as you aware of you being Asian American in the Hollywood industry, it has its own setbacks. And I think I quickly realized, I had to make sort of a decision. Do I want to sort of follow the herd, do I want to continue on this path? Do I feel like getting in front of casting directors and trying out to audition, you know, for something that I may not necessarily be in love with. I wasn't sure if that was really truly me. So when I started to realize that, I became more picky about the projects that I wanted to get involved in, and picky about another kind of roles that I wanted to express myself in. And, and that's when I started to actually develop my own projects. I wrote several scripts over the years, and I actually tried to show them around and taking on producer role,both here and in China.
Fei Wu 27:57
Wow. I am so glad that you've opened this up, by the way. So glad that we had jump right into sort of next steps. But I have your IMDb open right now. I would love to have you speak to some of the learnings as you have mentioned, but some of the setbacks as well, because I interviewed John Haggerty, who is a Broadway actor who's based in New York City, and who shared his very authentic origin stories with me as well. He's half Korean. So tell me about maybe a kind of,educate us, open up this Pandora Box, for people who have never been in the film, TV industry. What is it like? What is it like, to be an Asian American, working in LA as an actress?
Um, it's all, I think...First of all, these days we are definitely seeing a lot more diverse roles. We're seeing a lot more Asian Americans on TV, in films, and taking on bigger roles, and even main character roles, which is definitely really refreshing. And I'm so happy to see that. But I still feel like, you know, there's some ways to go, that there's always room for more improvement. I'm not as active now in this auditioning space, cause my primary focus is really launching this, but I still would love to continue on that dream, it's an unfulfilled mission for me right now - to get my own film off the ground. So that's something I'm actually very, very passionate about. I actually love acting, and when I discovered that it could be another form of expression outside of martial arts, outside of the only thing that I really knew, you know, it just opened up my world, it's like a part of my creative brain and muscle that was untapped. And when I finally discovered it, I was just so passionate. So I feel because the industry itself is really difficult and really challenging, it's so competitive, that I was never quite successful reaching my goal in that. So I haven't let it go yet. If I could give an advice to young aspiring actors, I would say, don't go for it [laughs] . Don't get into that business, unless you are really solid and grounded. And really got to have a very level headed, you know, head on your shoulders. And, you know, that comes with a lot of things, of course. Your upbringing, family background, who you are, your experiences, and there's a lot of very young actors who are very, very mature, far more mature in their age, and a lot more mature than I was when I was their age. And I certainly know that if I tried to embark on this in my late teens, early 20s, I would easily been too caught up and I would've gotten really lost. And I did enter this later in life. And I used to feel like, "Oh, I started too late, I don't think it's gonna happen". But you know, now, I am looking back, and I'm actually fortunate, because I would have probably easily gotten caught up. If you don't find mentors out here, then you're essentially kind of alone. And I came out here pretty much on my own, and no really family in LA, and Donnie, you know, stayed in Asia, we just got very different lives. And so I never really had a mentor in that space. But I just kept seeking, I kept seeking different instructors and acting coaches, that weren't just skillful at teaching acting, it is really not acting, but also, you know, have a lot of life experience to share. And that was really important to me, because it's such an intimate process, and it's a skill that you really have to develop in a confidence, to learn to shut away all your inhibitions and shut away all that, you know, self consciousness, in order to achieve a certain level where you can just be in a moment, be truthful, be very sincere, be very real. And I think some of the best acting really comes through characters, actors when they have reached that certain mental state, as well as, like, it comes too in your physical performance, cause a camera captures everything, it captures your thought process, you don't even have to have dialogue. So it's a really intimate setting. And it's much easier when we, as audience, watch performance, you know, to judge and to criticize, and it's much easier said than done. That's why it takes years and years and years of training to to hone that skill.
Fei Wu 33:10
Yeah, you know, especially as a woman, I think, with this training, I think...You had mentioned, it was so interesting to me when you said, you know, go to auditions, which by the way, I've done a couple of them for commercials completely out of the blue, random. And I just, I've never experienced that until last ,actually, just a few months ago. It was a six months ago for Christmas commercial. They were looking for a martial arts instructor. I'll never forget experience. I was not chosen. But I was just thinking, you know, it's really.... I had a full time job, I still do, so it wasn't my primary focus. It was really for my own thrill. But to be able to handle rejections and still be so grounded and really believe in yourself and continue with that momentum, be tenacious, I feel like that's the energy you're portraying here. And I think women will really resonate with that voice, because women are really throwing themselves out there, so out there these days, but it doesn't mean that they're always balance. And we have moments that we doubt ourselves all the time. But I think, you know, not having to line up all the stars, not needing all the answers in this case, you start your own fashion line, you know, the production, all these so many different levels expertise and the dots that you have to connect to do what you do.So I think maybe that could be a segway to start telling us about some of the particular challenges and thrill and excitement.
Yeah, no, certainly, just to wrap up on the last note, when you get that key word - tenacious, tenacity. And I believe, you know, everything happens for a reason,I do believe that. I feel that where I'm at now, is a big part of my journey in the past. Without having that experience of rejection over and over and over again, without having gone through that theer is no way possible, I could be doing, still trying to do what I'm doing now. So leading into this, it definitely still has its own set of challenges in the fashion industry that I'm still learning about, I really had no idea how overwhelming, how many moving parts and how diverse and just how many sub industries within this big fashion collaborate there is, you know, you cannot, as the creator, you cannot just be involved only in design. But you have to learn the making of, you have to learn what there's to the manufacturing side, production sourcing, you have to learn also how to build relationships with different people on different levels, you know, manufacturing, I'm still learning about that, you know, that's not my prime focus, but I have to do it, I have to learn it. And it's really complex. But, I try to find factories who have kind of an open mind and open door, open communication policy. So that way we will develop a relationship because essentially, it's like a marriage, when you find your factory. That is so important, you need to always have those communication channels open. And, you have to develop trust with each other, they have to learn how you work, understand your product, and your branding, your vision list, and I have to understand, you know, how they work. I want them to be the most efficient they can be and do the best of making my products, but not all factories work on that level.The challenges, there's definitely plenty. This is an industry, you need to have a very... I am not saying that I did, when I jumped into this, but I quickly had to find and figure it out. You need to have a very clear plan moving forward, you know, what it is that you're trying to do? What's the purpose and a business plan as well. You can't just be focused on your creativity, but you gotta learn how to balance the business end of it. Especially being a new design entrepreneur.
Fei Wu 37:51
What are some of the lessons learned, I guess, in that sense?
Um, well, cause this is an industry that could quickly eat up funding without you even realizing it, because everything is kind of like a domino effect, you know, we cannot have one thing without the other, and so on and so forth. And going back to having a really clear plan is having a clear budget involved too. And I think, starting out, the first two to three months were actually quite shaky for me. And about sort of basis lesson is that I went in head over heels, because I was driven by inspiration and passion. It's great to have all of that. But I don't think it was widely balanced, because I didn't exactly have a clear budget or clear business plan in mind. And I was just trying to pick up knowledge wherever I could, you know, I was a little bit all over the place. This is a industry where you have to be really organized and efficient. Like I said, also, it's going to burn away your time, your funding and your energy very quickly. And so I very quickly did get overwhelmed, I was stretched too thin, my plate was really full. So in the beginning, I tried to, you know, work with some interns, and I tried to meet all kinds of people. Just like in any industry, like film industry, not everyone you meet is always going to carry the same torch or their heart is going to be in the same place as yours. So, it's also an industry where I think, you know, people who are veterans in it, they can easily smell new blood. Being, you know, sort of a petite Asian woman, there is sort of that.. people are judgmental. So, I think that kind of came with it a little bit, like they can tell: All right, you're a newcomer, you're on your own, you know, you kind of don't really know what you're doing. So, there's a lot of people out there that will try to take advantage, and that is, unfortunately, just all over the place. So I think that's one thing that, looking back, if I had to do it differently, you know, I think I would have held back a little bit on my excitement, get to read a little bit more and talked to a little bit more people, reach out rather than just diving into it. You always feel like, oh, there's not enough time. Times gonna go by really fast, and I don't want to wait anymore. You know, it's just...now is the time. And also because I see my family getting older, it's hard to see your parents get older. So I really just don't want to waste any more time before it's too late.
Fei Wu 40:51
Got that. Wow.
It's driven by a lot of things. I know.
Fei Wu 40:56
It's an incredible journey. And I think it does, you know, having a fashion line encapsulate, and the sort of your background, when you said, dance, martial art; I see all those elements like it's part of a kaleidoscope, that kind of concludes what you've ever learned in life as part of your fashion line. And I really say this, and I know if you go to Parson today, I'm sure they would tell you a similar story where, you know, younger designers, more experienced designers, their collections are reflections of their souls, which is what I see and see why. And I think that's what's really unique about it. So really, good luck to your endeavors. And I'm going to stay very close to your Facebook page and all of that, you know.
Fei Wu 41:46
I'm really interested in learning about what you think as a brand, maybe perhaps this is part of who you are for yourself, but as part of the CYfusion fashion line, what are maybe the upcoming short term next steps, or things you want to explore, things you're interested in, in doing next for your fashion line? Or is it too early to say right now?
Um, well, no, because this is definitely very fast paced industry, that works in season always. So you always have to think few seasons ahead. However, I don't think that I'm that kind of a brand or that kind of a designer, because I'm not really trying to follow the trends here. To be honest, my truth is kind of coming from my background, so I feel, I want to create pieces that are functional and can be timeless. So, hopefully, you know, that will carry through to many, many, many seasons, and never really go out of date. I think, moving forward, I would like to expand more into men's line because now, you know, it's predominantly female empowered, which is dilute and foundation of this. However, there are also unisex options because in the martial art space, of course, you cannot just have women's wear. So, I do want to expand into a larger men's products. I have unisex right now, but I'm still working to fine tune what I have. I started out thinking that I was going to create a capsule collection, the 10 pieces, but somehow that doubled into about 20 something. So I don't certainly have all my designs in production right now. You know, that's not possible, wouldn't be wise to do that. That's another advice I definitely give anyone, who wants to start this, is try to start small. There's really no hurry, no one is putting these deadlines on you, you're not starting out going with buyers and wholesalers and distributors, you know. It's okay, even to start out with maybe three to five pieces in a set and then sort of figure out, what are your staple pieces? What are your core pieces? And out of that, that course really stem from your message, you know. What is this about, and why? You always have to put the "Why" there, you should have an answer to that.
Fei Wu 44:31
I love that process you just described. Because, what you're saying, essentially, is being nimble, and instead of thinking about, you know, 15-20 signature pieces, and how each one was going to sell and resonate with your audience customers. But instead, you're testing out the market a little bit and see what really works, instead of just sort of hiding behind the assembly line, and just always trying to crank out more new products. I really love that, because I think not only there are future fashion designers, who are listening to the podcast, but as a project manager, in particular, a digital producer, that's something I'm trying to hone in on my own skills and trying to deliver to my clients as well - is not right, for instance, like a 200 page business requirement documents, but creating these nimble prototypes to really begin to test out your ideas and make adjustments, continue to learn and discover along the way. So I very much encourage that.
Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. Because, you know, I'm still trying to figure out my stamp in all of this. And what is that sort of one, two core elements, that I can really hone in on and develop it further, because I'm just getting my feet wet right now. And I've met a lot of veterans in this industry, have been very honored to meet some really cool people, who have a wealth of knowledge to share, and they've been in business 30-40 years and are still learning. It's just one of those industries... you never stop, especially in a textile world. Nowadays ,with so many technological advances, fabrics, materials are becoming very high tech and being incorporated into, you know, into fashion, as you can see in a lot of active wear. I'm not so much in that space yet, I'm not exactly trying to compete with Nike, or any of those active wear brands. I just, I don't really think about it on that level. But I guess, life to me is sort of big discovery and exploration. And I think, anything that you sort of discovering, do and you hone in on out of that, you know, it's going to be organic, it's going to be very real, and something that...Nobody can take those qualities away from you. And abundance... there's just too much of that in the world right now. I'm really big on,and I'm still learning, what is recycling and sustainability. And that's also another important characteristic of my brands, that I don't want to follow the fast fashion path. I could also be a contributor in some way, you know, there's a lot of textile wastage in this industry so much, it's almost heartbreaking. And all the materials that does not get used, it could turn into waste, which therefore will end up in our landfills. And so, that's a big contributor to our environment. So I'm really keen on that. And I'm trying to still figure out ,like, how can I continue to support that, because I believe in that, I don't like to waste things.I want to keep exploring textile recycling. At some point, my company, my brand will get to that stage where I can align myself with these textile recycling plans, companies, so all the materials that I use, I can then recycle and use it back and make other things with it. I really believe that's kind of how the world should be.
Fei Wu 48:20
As of,you know, for you and your position, powerful physically, mentally Asian American woman, I would like to close on the podcast and ask my last question, which is, what is the advice you would give to women at any age of your choice? What is your advice to them, given what you have learned till now and how the world has changed.
For me that's actually a very deep question. It brings up a lot of things. But I would probably say, you know, we are met right now, and I believe, we're always evolving and we should be. We should always stay fluid in and let our minds be reshaped. I think, strength, confidence and wisdom, it comes from experience. And that can happen at any age. And the more you just keep doing and learning, the more knowledge you gain. And you can equip and empower yourself with that knowledge, which are really the things that nobody can take away from you. I mentioned this earlier, because at the end of the day, you know, that's your best asset. That's your best confidence. All of the external stuff, beauty and cosmetics and sex appeal, how we look at ourselves, how we think other people look at us, there's really no substance to that, unless you're truly passionate and engaged in what you love to do. And I think what stems out of that, is just an certain organic beauty that just comes from within. As long as you stay real, and you're passionate, and you have a true purpose, you can attain anything. And I don't believe there's any age barrier to that at all. My mother was a true representation of that, although I didn't have any mentors growing up, you know, I definitely channel her and look at her path and who she is and how far she's come. Especially being first Asian woman to step foot in North America to do what she does without any English language. Now, this was a really incredible journey. So to me, you know, that's my source of strength. And I believe everybody, everyone has that source of strength. You just have to look from within. Don't read these gossip magazines, don't watch what's out there. I mean, work with what you have and hone in on that, you know, and learn from it, and just experience. You just got to keep going out there and doing it you'll find the answers.
Fei Wu 51:05
In time you'll find the answers I I love that, and I have to say that even though we never met and this was the first time for us to speak, but when I have to face again a 200 pounds man next to, I was told that Fei, you have no excuse to say that I'm 5′ 4″, back then - 115 pounds. Because Chris Yen, you know, was this powerful woman who punched and kicked harder than anybody else, easily that any men, so you've been my inspiration and I love when said "work with your assets". And you will, you'll be very, very powerful and be true to yourself. So man, I can think of a better way to conclude that.
I am very happy to have shared, you know, everything that I can and that I know, and I'm thank you for this opportunity Fei. I had a lot of fun doing my first podcast with you. And you know, it is just exactly what I anticipated to be. Because I could tell, I've been also hearing your other podcast and reading up on your background. And seeing your pictures.. your picture tells a lot, and I felt this is exactly how it's going to be. So I'm very comfortable. And thank you for creating this very comfortable atmosphere. And this allowed me to be who I am and speak candidly, and so I very much enjoyed this process.
Fei Wu 52:35
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