Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Career tip by the queen of bridal gowns: Do something meaningful

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 10:58pm

To call Vera Wang the reigning queen in bridal market is almost an understatement. The designer, whose fashion empire sprawls from wedding gowns, accessories to even home decor, is one of the most successful businesswomen in fashion retailing.

Ranked the 29th among Forbes’ richest self-made women this year, with an estimated US$630 million fortune, Wang said it was luck and dedication that brought her to what she is today.

“To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be lucky and you also need to have a dedication,” Wang said in an interview with the South China Morning Post on Monday. “It has to be something that means a lot to you. If it’s just something you do to fill your time, you won’t be able to do anything.”

Wang is one of the star attractions at the 2017 Global Conference on Women & Entrepreneurship in Hangzhou, organised by Alibaba Group, which also owns the Post. At a job fair in the US last month, Alibaba’s founder and chairman Jack Ma Yun said hiring women is the company’s “secret sauce” to success, because women care for others more than men do.

“Women are going to be very powerful in the 21st century,” Ma said during the Gateway ‘17 job fair in Detroit. “Because last century, people compared muscle; this century, people compare wisdom.”

Watch: Eight lessons for a successful career (and life) from Jack Ma at Alibaba’s Gateway ‘17

A figure skater-turned-designer, Wang said the fact that she ended up in fashion was “quite accidental” – the result of a string of setbacks in her teenage days.

“It was because I quit figure skating, had a bad love affair and ran away to Paris, where I found my love for fashion,” said the designer during a break at the Hangzhou conference.

Wang, born and raised in New York to an immigrant family from Shanghai, was 19 when she ended her career in competitive figure skating. She went on to study art history at the Sorbonne during a junior year abroad.

She was later hired at Vogue as a temporary assistant and then quickly worked her way up the ladder, becoming one of the magazine’s youngest fashion editors.

After being turned down for the editor-in-chief position, Wang left Vogue and joined Ralph Lauren as a design director in 1987.

Her “best advice for career women is to work for somebody you admire, if you have a direction”, Wang said. “Work for them first and learn about the business. If you aren’t interested by anything, then you shouldn’t be afraid to explore. You never know where something can lead you.”

Speaking in Hangzhou, the capital city of eastern China’s Zhejiang province, where Alibaba is headquartered, Wang urged the largely female audience at the annual conference to be courageous and willing to test or redefine norms.

She said it is always difficult for women to live dual lives. “Many of us have responsibility to be a parent, then there are also responsibilities at work. And it is not a perfect world for trying to do both,” she said.

Despite being a world-renowned designer, she said she doesn’t consider herself as “that successful”. After almost 50 years in fashion, she still gets disappointed every day by the difficulties she confronts and the decisions, big or small, she has to make in her daily work.

She said she always has plans, constantly analysing what is possible and what is not.

“It is constantly on my mind 24/7, I think that helps me to survive, maybe it is one of my assets,” she said.

Wang, 68, admitted that she questions everyday whether she should step down. But the fashion industry’s multitude of difficulties makes her think differently.

“[These are] very challenging and exciting moments,” she said, adding she still works 10 hours a day.