Hu Haixia, a native from Lishui, Zhejiang province, works in a tailoring shop in Hengdian World Studios, China’s biggest film studio, on Jan 19. Her shop attracts many fi lm and TV stars who want to buy down coats. XU JUNQIAN/ CHINA DAILY
Dongyang, Zhejiang - Setting up a tailoring business in a neighboring village had only been meant as a way to get away from fierce competition.
Instead it thrust Hu Haixia into the spotlight as a tailor to the stars, while even sewing up an occasional film role for her.
"It reminds me of an essay assigned by my junior school teacher back in school. It was about 'the future me', and I started it with something like 'when I grow up, I want to be a big star wearing beautiful gowns and adored by many,'" said Hu, 25, as she sat behind a sewing machine working on a red cloak ordered by a Hong Kong actor.
"Of course nobody took it seriously back then, but when it actually happens and you look back at those words, the surprise is the 'I-won-a-lottery' kind," Hu said.
When she moved with her mother 10 years ago to Hengdian, a small village in Zhejiang province, she never expected the small town would become a huge center for the movie industry, attracting nearly 30 crews each day. Nor did she ever imagine she would become the down jacket maker of choice for some of China's big stars.
Dubbed the Chinese Hollywood, the 3.3-square-kilometer area is host to 13 studios, and has attracted more than 700 TV series and films.
It was in the middle of this milieu that Hu and her mother suddenly found themselves and their modest business of making down-filled winter cloaks and jackets.
"It turned out that celebrities are more interested in the tailor-made down jackets than the locals, who need to work outdoors even on the coldest days of the year," said Hu, who developed her talent in fashion design and tailoring thanks partly to the influence of her mother, who has been a professional tailor for decades.
Hu said she didn't put much heart into the tailoring business until 2009, when she got laid off from a trading company and became a full-time worker in her mother's workshop.
Then in the winter of 2009, a Hong Kong director shooting in the village thought Hu's delicate facial features would be suitable for a role in his historical TV drama.
"Since then, directors and producers coming to my shop to have down jackets custom made often asked me to act in their movies," Hu said.
In the past 14 months, Hu has acted in more than 20 TV series and films, including some major roles.
The highest pay she received was 2,000 yuan a day for her part as a girlfriend of an action film hero. That was big money compared to the average daily wage of 50 to 100 yuan for bit players in Hengdian.
"I froze in front of the camera the first time," she recalled. "But nobody got mad at me, because everybody on the set, including the camera crew, the actors and actresses, and the producers knew me and wore my jackets," she said.
"They treat me like an old friend," she continued, adding once the camera stopped rolling they talked to Hu about clothing and style.
Hu said she is happy doing bit parts in movies.
"It's a lot of fun appearing with some big stars in the movie," she said, emphasizing that she has no intention of becoming a full-time actress.
"Some of the movie celebrities who frequent my store ask me for advice on fashion," Hu continued. "I really feel honored."
She had four birthday diners last year because all of her celebrity friends wanted to celebrate the big day for her. "But not all of them want to be seen at the same occasion," she said.
According to Hu, more than 80 percent of her regular customers are film and TV stars. In 2010, her workshop, with around 20 craftsmen, produced and sold more than 3,000 down jackets.
With the business thriving, Hu said she is thinking of expanding her workshop into a gallery to meet the high profile of celebrities.
"I may also apply for some acting courses at the Shanghai Theater Academy or Beijing Film Academy, because some of my celebrity friends say these two are the best in China," Hu said.
(China Daily 02/11/2011 page2)