Originally from Shandong Province, fashion designer Alicia Lee moved to Beijing to study English. Not being able to ignore her creative impulses any longer, she acquired skills in fashion design from Raffles Design Institute and eventually set up her brand, Willow Willow, in 2008. Design China sat down with her at her Sanlitun store to find out more.
How did you find yourself working in design?
I initially worked as a translator because I come from a very conservative family who don’t approve of a creative career. I’ve always been rebellious and loved art though. Whilst working as a translator at Raffles Design Institute, I started to soak up information about fashion design and developed more skills in the area. Finally, I established my own brand. Initially, nobody really supported me, so I did struggle a bit. But I feel that it is important to be true to yourself. This is me and my life, and I will always have this.
Your store is currently located in the heart of Sanlitun. How has this helped to develop your brand?
It is a busy, commercial area, which helps to expose my work to a large audience. Sanlitun also does a lot to promote creativity. But this particular street is also messy. Initially, I concentrated on t-shirts that were aimed towards a young, hip audience. This approach fit the location better. Now, I’m gradually shifting my focus to high fashion and I may have to renovate the store or move entirely to attract the right type of clientele.
What are you currently working on?
My winter collection is now in progress. This is inspired by various concepts; for example, ‘queen’ or the idea of being regal. Descriptive words that come to mind include proud, cold and distant. This is combined with a gothic touch and special fabrics such as reptile or fish skin. The texture of such materials was the biggest inspiration behind this collection. I am also using leather with silk chiffon and bamboo fibers. The results are mainly big dresses in blacks, greys or burgundy.
Who are your clients?
Mostly young professionals.
Where can your collections be bought?
At the moment, only from my Sanlitun store. I don’t have many other outlets right now, but I am working on this. I approached other stores before, but I had a small team at the time that could not meet the demand.
What are you inspired by?
I am a sensitive, emotional person so many feelings inspire my work. My work is never straightforward though; for example, my current collection appears quite strong and hard on the surface, but there is also a foundation of sentiment - a controlled surface over great emotion. I also love history and many of my collections are inspired by different eras.
Have you participated in any events recently?
I don’t promote myself in this way. I usually concentrate on media promotion (magazines and websites). I was actually recently featured in the Beijing taxi mag!
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
I have had a few, the biggest one being financial issues and figuring out how to survive. Also, balancing between the commercial and creative. Employee management is another challenge here: it’s hard to find and hire competent, loyal assistants. Overall, I feel that too much of my energy is consumed on admin, and very little time is left for designing. I am constantly trying to find a balance.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now, I am working on my ambitious winter collection. I am also in great need of a website!