Ladies First: Shiatzy Chen Founder Madame Wang On Working With Family
If you haven't heard of 69-year-old designer Wang Chen Tsai-Hsia you probably have heard of her celebrated Taiwanese fashion house Shiatzy Chen, which debuted at Paris Fashion Week in 2009. Wang is also behind popular Cha Cha Thé Ltd, a tea and lifestyle brand inspired by Chinese history and aesthetics. The proud mother of Harry Wang, who now runs the family business as CEO, talks working with family and the responsibility of sharing Chinese culture with the world.
Can you tell us about your upbringing and how you became a designer?
I never dreamed of becoming a designer. I came from very humble beginnings, and I was also the eldest in a large family of seven children so there were a lot of responsibilities, I had to leave school to work. I feel like everything that has happened came out of necessity. I helped in my uncle’s business, a ladies’ tailor located in a small town outside Taichung City in Taiwan and became quite good at needlework and embroidery. Then after I met my husband and had two children, we decided to try to start our own business.
You started Shiatzy Chen 40 years ago with your husband and now your son is CEO—what are some struggles you've had to deal with when working with family and how do you overcome them?
I was a mother when I started the brand, and it was really hard to balance both parts of my life at first—I had my child in my arms while I worked. Of course, working with my husband, there were conflicts as well. As a woman, I totally feel that how to achieve a balance between family and work has always been the biggest challenge for women as the society always expect women can sacrifice and dedicate more to family, but I've learned that it's all about knowing when to persist and when to let go. I’ve never thought about giving up work and being a stay-at-home mom, though. Never. You just have to accept that there’s always going to be sacrifice, and you need to have persistence, then more persistence.
What is it like having your son as CEO now?
I never use the fact that I’m his mother to win an argument. I know that he only has the company’s best interest in mind so in the office we're not mother and son, there’s only the CEO and designer.
What did you hope to achieve with your partnership with Disney?
40 years have passed since the brand began, and with the times, our customers are gradually getting older too. My main goal is to try to connect with a younger generation, so that the spirit of the brand might resonate with them. Disney at that point had never worked with a traditional Chinese fashion label before and I think the mix worked well for both parties, bringing youthfulness and fun to our brand while Disney got an elegant line of clothing.
Why is it important to you to share your Chinese heritage through fashion?
One year I wanted to contribute to a charity that supported the Miao Hill tribes so we wanted to take inspiration from them for the fall-winter 2019 collection. Chanel and LVMH have supported the charity as well. Another season I looked at calligraphy for inspiration. I think every country has a cultural footprint, and it’s important for brands coming out of China to share its culture with the world—other people have their own cultures to share, like Chanel has their French heritage.
Are you proud of where your brand is now?
I always think that I could have done better after each collection. I still don’t consider myself successful. I look at brands like Chanel, the legacy and status they have and I still feel like I have a long way to go. Every day is an exercise of suffering, and I think there is still a lot of room for progress.
What are you working on next?
Our next collection is going to be inspired by a headstrong, spirited woman of Chinese history.
Is it Mulan?
I can't say yet!
See also: 7 Female Asian Fashion Icons You Need To Know