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A fashion designer’s tribulations in China (part 2)

Where you get to know your suppliers better and other surprises 🤳

How is your summer going? As for me, I’m back to tell you about some other surprising habits I observed during my travels in China.

Although work took up most of my time with Sun, my agent, and her assistant, the tall Jayson, I found what happened on the sidelines just as surprising as some of the work habits I talked about last month. Thanks to a thousand small cultural details, I was able to glimpse a complex and sensitive life, full of subtleties, far removed from banal stereotypes.

I was often surprised by the interweaving of professional and personal life among the people I met. The line between the two is not as clearly demarcated as I was used to, and the work day is much more spread out. In France, people usually work about 8 hours a day, focusing on their specific set of tasks. In China, work never strays too far from my suppliers, but they have a lot more flexibility to fit in other activities.

A pagoda in Dong Shan Lake Park, Guangzhou

Sometimes, Sun would arrange for a massage session in between two meetings. For her, these were moment of relaxation; for me, they were simply torture. To begin with, you have to put on a skirt way too narrow and take off the bottoms, socks and shoes. After sitting in a very comfortable chair, with my feet in a tub of lukewarm water, a masseuse deployed strength and tenacity to crush my muscles and make every single one of my joints crack. I whined and begged for her to stop. Then, after I refused to give her my second foot, she took revenge on my neck. Everyone left relaxed, but I struggled to stay dignified.

Sun is also very fond of taking a detour for a manicure. Exit the relaxing and cozy atmosphere of the massage parlour, everything here was bright and lively. These workshops were full of colorful women. They came with their friends and chatted, showed each other videos on TikTok and laughed a lot. As for me, I brought home my metallic painted nails as a souvenir.

It is curious to see how during professional meetings the atmosphere changes between efficiency and leisure. The switches can happen from moment to moment and what amuses my hosts the most is taking pictures. Seeing everybody so enthusiastic, I never had any problems smiling during these selfie sessions. That boss, so serious a few minutes ago, now looks as happy as a child. Every time they seemed delighted with their snaps, a pose with each person present and then one with everyone. It's kind of a ritual each time we part ways. With Sun, these sessions can happen anytime: in the car, on the street or at a restaurant. I always wondered what they did with all of their photos.

Night market in Shanghai

During meals, the personal and professional worlds merge once again. Sun and Jayson always selected restaurants where I could find veg options. They chose the dishes for me and sometimes I felt like the entire menu ended up on the table. We usually sat in private dining rooms, where we were often not alone. Agents invite their colleagues, friends or family to join us for meals. Usually, guests didn't speak English or were too shy to speak to me directly. Sun acted as the translator in those cases. But most of the time, they talked to each other. This left me with plenty of time to concentrate on the profusion of the dishes ordered.

Sun's daily life also eventually became accessible to me. One late afternoon, she took me for a walk around her neighborhood. Old houses lined the canals. A succession of quiet courtyards and gardens brought freshness to this moist region. We went to see one of her friends with whom we ate fruits and drank tea. Sun then showed me pictures of her two sons, who lived with her mother in another region. She only saw them for the holidays or by video call. Her husband also lived in another region. From what I gathered, hers was an arranged marriage, but she was very coquettish on love matters and some of her subtlety may have been lost to me.

Lady in a park in Lijiang, Yunnan

However, it isn’t uncommon to see children in showrooms and offices. They come after school, do their homework and play, like they would do at home. When their parents work late, they eat there. Families live away from the office and often choose a school next to their office. The proximity of these schools, which are often more prized, allows parents to work longer hours and sometimes to stay overnight. I enjoyed working at the same table as a schoolboy, it makes for a nice change. And for him, I was his day's main event too. The private life / work boundary is so porous that colleagues become like a surrogate family, and home is where you work.

This glimpse into my agent's life allowed me to enjoy less superficial facets of Chinese culture and to have a surprised and interested look at their way of life. Since we created GURU mtp, I have been working from home and the way I organise my work day reminds me a little of theirs. My rhythm is now more in harmony with my personal life. I don't regret the days when I took these distant trips: although I have fond memories of them, they are exhausting. And I'm more comfortable developing shoes more locally.

I hope these little anecdotes have allowed you to get away from it all for a few minutes. Enjoy your summer barefoot! Otherwise, you can find our models made in Spain and Portugal on our site.

Let’s meet again at the end of the summer holidays... Hopefully not too soon!


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