A star from the East
Chinese expat Jennifer Feng made a success of her unique Amsterdam boutique that tailors Asian fashion to Western physiques. Jonette Stabbert writes.The last place one might expect to shop for exquisite gala clothing is on Amsterdam's notorious Zeedijk, yet the secret is out — fashionable young Dutch women rub shoulders with society matrons and members of the Chinese community at Qian Fang Yi Lang (Spider Web Art Gallery).
Word of mouth brings them here.
"Customers come from far and wide. Many travel from Antwerp for my bridal designs," says owner/designer Jennifer Feng.
Members of the Chinese community come to her for an authentic qipao or cheongsam, or for repairs to their treasured heirloom clothing, but 90 percent of her clients are Westerners.
Some are tourists, but many are residents who've seen her creations at parties or been referred by enthusiastic clients.
Jennifer can afford to keep her prices low because she has low overhead - she is a one-woman business. Prices vary from NLG 300 for ready-to-wear to NLG 3000 for unique evening gowns.
Customers can supply their own fabric or make a selection from the rolls of beautiful jewel-toned silks on display, some with iridescent hues, others lavishly embellished with embroidery or beads. Jennifer imports these directly from Asia.
"Many fabrics come from China - most are from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore," she says.
Jennifer's success as a couturier has been almost overnight, and is a direct result of her unwavering self-confidence.
A long journey
Originally from Guangzhou in Southern China, she came to the Netherlands eleven years ago and was impressed by the freedom enjoyed by its residents. In China, she had studied journalism, choosing to specialise in directing and making cultural films. She worked for CCTV (Central Television in Beijing, China).
Jennifer's first challenge in Holland was the language. She followed intensive Dutch classes for three years, and studied at the media academy in Hilversum, which led to her getting work with various Dutch television networks.
She is currently in China preparing a new documentary, which will be sent out through the NPS on Ned. 3 in March of 2002.
While studying in Beijing, she learned about costumes and their history, because that knowledge is useful when making films. Jennifer discovered that many non-Asian women love the look of traditional Chinese clothing, but the ready-made dresses don't fit them.
"European and American women's figures are totally different from the Chinese. The Chinese have short legs and small breasts. Western women have long legs and more shapely bodies - hips, breasts and behinds. The Chinese fashions don't fit them well," she says.
She had found a hole in the market. She could make her own designs, inspired by traditional Chinese clothing, fashioned to make Western women look elegant. And she found no competition.
"There is a shop in London with imported fashions made for Chinese figures, but there are very few specialists anywhere," Jennifer says.
Seeking another outlet for her creativity, in addition to filmmaking, Jennifer decided three years ago to open her own specialist design studio.
She immediately encountered obstacles. She couldn't secure a loan for her plans because it was a unique venture. There was no way to predict whether it would work or not.
"The beginning was very difficult for me. I got loans from family and friends that enabled the purchase of a sewing machine and other basic necessities," she remembers.
But Jennifer didn't let anything stand in her way. When people told her, "You have no money, therefore, you can't go further", she knew that was a wrong mindset. Undaunted, she told them, "My talent is priceless. My experiences cannot be measured in money."
She has proven how talented she is. Often stating that 'anything's possible', she has used her skill to also make evening and daytime clothing for men and children, Kung Fu outfits, pillows, purses and accessories.
She recently imported 70 meters of fabric from Asia for a special order of curtains, which she made for a client. But her talent shines brightest with her stunning eveningwear creations. "I dream new designs," she says. "They develop while I sleep."
Jennifer says that not enough people know their capabilities.
"You need to access yourself. You either have special qualities or you don't. This determines whether you are dependent or independent." She draws herself up to her full height. "I am very proud of myself. I can earn money in this foreign land all by myself," she states, smiling with pride. "Anything is possible."
Qian Fang Yi Lang is on Zeedijk 61a 1012 AS Amsterdam. Tel: 620 45 11, Fax: 521 29 98, or email: Spiderweb.firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Expat profiles