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10 Women Who Are Changing the Rules of Chinese Fashion

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Today is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate, we’ve rounded up 10 young women who are game-changers in Chinese fashion.

Even though women are the majority consumers of clothing, numbers show they rarely break through the industry’s glass ceiling. Less than half of well-known womenswear brands are actually designed by women, and only 14% of major brands have a female executive in charge.

China’s fashion industry is extremely young but growing fast. And notably, Chinese women are taking more leadership roles domestically and globally.

To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, we’re introducing you to 10 young women who are shaping the Chinese fashion industry in 2022.

1. Margaret Zhang

Margaret Zhang seized the world’s attention last February when she became Vogue China‘s youngest-to-date editor-in-chief.

“There‘s a lot of context about China that is lost; often it’s looked at as this one monolithic entity, as opposed to a country of individuals and innovations,” Zhang told Vogue. “I think everyone who appears in Vogue China should be someone people can look up to in a really substantive way and who are driving innovation, regardless of what industry they‘re in.”

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Margaret Zhang and her signature blue hair. Image via Twitter

Born in Australia and raised by her Chinese parents, the eclectic 28-year-old started her career as a blogger and developed her fashion, filmmaking, and digital communication skills.

Some of her most remarkable ventures at Vogue China include exploring inclusive beauty in the March 2022 issue and an initiative to promote young Chinese female filmmakers.

2. Chen Man

It is impossible to talk about Chinese fashion without mentioning Chen Man. Born in Beijing in 1980, the photographer has become a household name and is considered a pioneer in the field of fashion photography in China.

Over her distinguished career, she has shot international celebrities like Rihanna, Victoria Beckham, and Fan Bingbing.

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A self-portrait of Chen Man for Wonderland China. Image via Twitter

Last November, her photographic work for a Dior exhibition in Shanghai sparked controversy and ignited the debate around beauty standards in China. While the uproar was arguably unwarranted, the ordeal highlighted Chen’s commitment to challenging society’s beauty expectations and inspiring women of all stripes to be themselves.

“I wanted to use the international platform to tell every young girl that everyone can be brave to be themselves; and as a female photographer, I am also confident and proud of every different kind of beauty,” Chen tells RADII.

When discussing the relationship between femininity and fashion in China, Chen uses the metaphor of the color of black and water:

“In traditional Chinese culture, black belongs to water. Black contains everything, but also contains infinite possibilities. With the characteristics of water and black attributes, women change their forms to embrace all things in the world.”

“I try to use [my] lens to accurately express this energy and show the elasticity of strength and tolerance,” she adds.

3. Susan Fang

Susan Fang is a fashion designer who focuses on sustainability and the development of innovative textiles. In 2019 and 2020, Forbes included her in the “30 under 30” list of most influential Asian artists.

susan fang women fashion international women's day

Image via Susan Fang

The designer was born in the city of Ningbo in eastern China and grew up between Shanghai, North America, and Europe. Following her graduation in womenswear from prestigious Central Saint Martins, she started her eponymous brand in 2017.

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Runway looks from Susan Fang‘s Spring/Summer 2022 collection. Image via Susan Fang‘s official website

When asked about being a female designer in China, Fang tells RADII:

“Women can be multifaceted. In China, where creativity and design are inclusive and diverse, female designers have the freedom to create groundbreaking designs. Through our designs, we can openly express our ideas and feelings.”

After a heard-turning show during Shanghai Fashion Week last October, Fang teamed up with Zara on its first major Chinese designer collaboration for the Lunar New Year.

4. Rui Zhou

Rui Zhou, 27, is a Shanghai-based fashion designer specializing in body-conscious knitwear who was awarded the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize in 2021.

Her genderless label Rui enjoyed huge international success and was worn by celebrities such as Ariana GrandeDua Lipa, and Rina Sawayama.

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Image via Twitter

Zhou‘s designs challenge beauty standards and break gender boundaries, as she often features gender non-conforming models and different body types in her campaigns.

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Rui Zhou‘s Spring Summer 2022 campaign showcases a diverse range of models. Image via Rui Zhou‘s official website

“Since I am based on the body itself, starting from the different body types, I pay more attention to the diversity of individuals,” she said in an interview with Metal Magazine.

5. Xiao Yang

Xiao Yang is a model and influencer based in Chengdu. Yang has been wearing a prosthetic leg for almost 20 years, and now she‘s embracing it as part of her body and her fashion choices.

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Image via Instagram

“This project tells everyone that wearing a prosthesis is a fact that cannot be changed — but wearing a prosthesis that looks gorgeous is also achievable,” Yang said in an interview with Vogue.

The model recently collaborated with Chinese jewelry brand Yvmin to launch a series of artisanal pieces that unite prosthetics and adornments.

6. Tasha Liu

Tasha Liu is the founder of Labelhood, a platform that supports independent designers in China and has become the backbone of Shanghai Fashion Week.

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Image via Twitter

Following the Covid-19 outbreak in 2019, Liu was among the first to introduce live streaming to fashion shows in March 2020.

Live streaming is inseparable from the Chinese commercial reality, which helps connect designers with buyers and optimize the fashion supply chain.

7. Zhong Feifei

Zhong Feifei was born in Guangzhou to a Chinese mother and Congolese father and grew up between China, Central Africa, and the U.S.

She told RADII in a 2020 interview that her rise to stardom was largely unexpected after competing in the talent show Produce Camp 2020.

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Zhong Feifei on the cover of her single “Burn.” Image via Twitter

However, Zhong‘s performance talent and unique beauty keep her in the spotlight. She is now a prominent voice in the fight for inclusivity and diversity in the Chinese fashion industry.

Margaret Zhang has picked her for not one but two Vogue China cover stories, making her the first biracial model to grace the cover of the prestigious publication in China.

8. Xu Ruoxin

Xu Ruoxin is a plus-size model who is currently featured on the cover of the March 2022 issue of Vogue China, which centers around inclusive beauty.

xu ruoxin women fashion international women's day

Image via Weibo

From a very young age, Xu was interested in arts. She studied at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Her graduation project “Touch my Belly” originated from her own body anxiety and expresses “the strength and beauty of women’s bodies.”

“Fashion is not out of reach anymore, everyone can get involved in it. That’s why we hope to see a version of ourselves in fashion,” Xu tells RADII. “We need more diverse models to see us represented.”

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Xu Ruoxin appears at her exhibition “Touch My Belly.” Image via Weibo

In an interview with Vogue China, she stated, “I think absolute self-pity and absolute self-confidence are both unreal. It’s natural to feel anxious sometimes and proud at other times.”

The body positivity movement is slowly gaining momentum in China, thanks to celebrities like rapper Chen Jinnan and brands like Neiwai.

9. Princess Butterfly

Beijing native Liu Min launched her Princess Butterfly persona on her social media in early 2018 and quickly became a trendsetter.

After studying art in Taipei, she moved to London and founded her namesake fashion brand Princess Butterfly (Hudie Gongzhu 蝴蝶公主).

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Image via Instagram

Princess Butterfly‘s style is eye-catchy, sexy, and eccentric. She is one of the faces of the Too Cool subculture (tu ku 土酷), which reinvents aesthetics that were popular in China during the 2000s and later considered ‘earthy’ and outdated. Now the look is coming back.

“My works and I are very feminine, but also strong and aggressive. I don’t really understand how the fashion system is built and works, and I wouldn’t say I like it anyway. What I really find interesting about fashion is its artistic and creative side.”

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Princess Butterfly wears her iconic qipao. Image via Instagram

She is now working on launching a doll inspired by her figure, and she hopes to wrap up the project in 2022. The doll will wear her iconic qipao with the God of Wealth on it.

10. Valentina Li

Valentina Li is a makeup artist, but according to her Instagram profile, she identifies herself as a “face painter.”

Trained as a journalist in college, Li decided to switch careers in 2014 and study makeup in Paris, guided by her intense passion for painting.

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Image via Instagram

Her stunning makeup and nail designs have appeared on the likes of Vogue China and Harper‘s Bazaar China. She also collaborated with both local and international high-fashion brands and artists like Prada and Susan Fang.

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Some of Valentina Li‘s creations. Image via Instagram

Li likes to keep her mind open to creativity and finds inspiration in things surrounding her, like nature, the ocean, and even outer space.

Cover photo designed by Zhuohan Shao

Beatrice Tamagno
Beatrice is a graduate student in sociology at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her writings have appeared on SupChina and ChinaNauts, an online magazine she co-founded with fellow researchers from Fudan. When she is not researching gender in contemporary China, you will find her playing mahjong or binging Chinese TV shows.
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