Business / Companies

Model designer fashions her career

By Andrew Moody and Yu Hang (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-01 07:29

Model designer fashions her career

Mary Ma attends a fashion show in Beijing. [Photo/China Daily]

"When I was a little kid at school, I was always wondering why girls couldn't do what boys did. At the time, I had no idea of what society or the world was like. I think this still troubles me and it is something that informs my feminism."

Ma was not born wealthy and was brought up in Zhoukou in Henan province, with many of her family being farmers, although her father was a teacher.

She stood out as an athlete and was on course to becoming a national champion rower on the verge of competing in the National Games when she seriously injured her back in a boat crash.

"I could not recover for the Games since there was only a month to go. The loneliness and sadness as my fellow team members went on to compete has stayed with me forever. I had trained for four years to win a gold medal and had missed the chance. This was my last opportunity and my rowing career was over."

Soon afterward, while shopping in Shanghai, the statuesque 1.78-meter-tall Ma was spotted by someone looking for modeling talent.

She was entered into the Shanghai International Modeling Competition in 1995 and won, which paved the way for a successful career in modeling.

Often referred to as "China's Cindy Crawford", she was the country's first supermodel.

This led to her also being the face of numerous high-profile television ad campaigns.

Ma was determined to build a new career and studied design at Donghua University before launching her own fashion label in 2002.

She now has 20 employees in Beijing and has a number of internationally known clients, including former England football star David Beckham and many big Chinese names.

"I fully realized that being a model was not going to be a lifetime career. I also felt I needed a new challenge.

"I always had a love of fashion. I didn't come from a wealthy family so had few opportunities to wear beautiful clothes like other girls. Being a model enabled me to wear beautiful clothes and now I can design them."

Ma believed there was a market gap for a Chinese haute couture brand and that increasingly well-off Chinese wanted something that more reflected their own culture and not just luxury Western labels.

"I always felt there was a need for a fashion label to reflect China's 5,000 years of history and culture. I think my clients feel the same. They want their own dress style. They are not blindly obsessed with famous brands anymore. In fact, I don't see those brands as my competitors anymore."

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