Even the most incredible and powerful women have someone they look up to, a role model they are inspired by and wanted to be when they grew up. In celebration of International Women’s Day and the upcoming Mother’s Day, we reached out to some of our own personal heroines to find out who — and what — makes them tick. They will be featured in the “WoW Woman” series throughout March and April. We hope you’ll be inspired by them, and find the wisdom and courage in their words you need to pursue your dream, to live the life you want. #GirlPower
WHO: Sarah Lai, The Up-and-comer
WHAT: Fashion designer
WHY SHE WOWS: Turning a childhood fascination into reality — and a career — takes courage, a lot of passion and, sometimes, a stylish grandmother with a wardrobe full of designer togs. Just ask Sarah Lai.
The Hong-Kong-based 29-year-old fashion designer, who launched her eponymous label last year, remembers being awe-struck by the “impeccably tailored suits and colourful silk dresses” her grams used to wear when she was young. So sophisticated, so feminine, so unforgettable. What that little girl didn’t know then was the influence these suits and dresses were going to have on her career two decades later.
Fashion wasn’t immediately an obvious career choice for the Cornell graduate whose first and current job is at Morgan Stanley as a private wealth manager. But it didn’t take Sarah long to realise where her heart really lies — on her sleeves.
So she enrolled in Central St Martins in London (whose stellar list of alums includes Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and one of Sarah’s favourite designers, Phoebe Philo), and created her very first collection for her label that pays homage to her grandmother’s style. Classic femininity and timeless elegance with a modern twist is how she would describe the collection. And the women she designs for?
“I design for the modern woman who stays true to herself — her style and values. A woman who’s confident, who recognises her strengths and weaknesses, and desires to be attractive,” she says.
In a short amount of time, the designer has made it to the glossy pages of Cosmopolitan Hong Kong, and was featured as a “style insider” on Butterboom.com. And she has now two full collections — Spring/Summer 2014 and Fall/Winter 2014-2015 — under her belt.
WE ASK …
Who is the woman you look up to the most — your role model and inspiration in life, if you will?
Sarah Lai: My mother. She is a magnanimous and poise woman with a strong sense of purpose and determination. She’s spirited and exudes a graceful composure. These qualities have influenced me strongly to become a determined woman, and to go for my dreams.
What is the key to your success in your career and in life in general?
SL: Determination, passion and hard work.
What is your advice for someone who is pursuing or wants to pursue her dream?
SL: Think outside the box and look within yourself to find your passion and dream. Dream big, but take one step at a time. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you will be surprised to find people around you who are very willing to help and support you.
What has been the biggest challenge of starting and running your own label?
SL: Breaking into the international fashion scene from Hong Kong, and being recognised as an international fashion designer. With a new business, it’s also a challenge to balance work, life and family.