Young overseas Chinese designer returns to Shanghai for better business

By Chen Shasha Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/9 19:33:39

Highly motivated

Editor's Note:

Decades ago, many Chinese people spared no efforts and expense to immigrate to developed countries in order to pursue a better life and more job opportunities. Their offspring, however, are now attracted by China's rapid development and surging economy in order to realize the Chinese Dream their parents never had. The Global Times recently interviewed several "third-culture" Chinese who have recently returned to China for work. Steven Oo is our 8th interviewee.

"I have that Chinese gene for business in me," 34-year-old Steven Oo laughed. "Every student club I joined in high school turned rich immediately with my involvement as a fund raiser because I would try all means to make money for it."

Born and raised in a Chinese-­Myanmar family in Yangon of Myanmar, Oo immigrated to California in 1999 with his parents, who intended to find better education opportunities for their three children there.

As a knitwear designer today, Oo is now running his own fashion brand in Shanghai and also offering fashion design services to local customers.

Oo went to high school in Fremont of California, and then obtained a bachelor's degree in political economy of industrial societies at UC Berkeley, followed by a master's degree in fashion knitwear design at the Academy of Art University of San Francisco.

After graduating, Oo worked in Los Angeles before finding a job in Philadelphia. In 2011, he started his first fashion brand in his spare time. In 2013, Oo decided to relocate to Shanghai to seek more opportunities.

"My business doubled in the first year I came here [China] and it has been increasing every year," he said, adding that the business environment in today's China is much different than before.

"In the past, China was good at manufacturing, now it also excels in creating," Oo explained. "A lot of factories here are equipped with advanced machines and facilities. The latest technologies and investment are gathering here as well."

Oo believes he came to China at the right time, as the country is now encouraging creativity, which has provided resources and opportunities for fashion designers.

"Many shopping malls have invited me to do designs for them," he said. "Local customers are also expecting something new, different and in good taste."


"I like doing business in China because people act more efficiently. In the US, people just discuss things over and over. But in China, it can be very fast if you find the right person," he said.

Working in the fashion industry, Oo said he has also noticed vast improvement in China's environmental protection. "I can see that the government is making continuous efforts. For instance, it now has strict inspections on dye factories, which I think is a good trend."

Oo, however, faces some challenges when doing business in China. "I was not familiar with Chinese business culture, which requires people to talk in a tactful way. I spoke directly and used to offend my business partners. I have to find someone to help me on this," he said.

The fast pace of Shanghai has also troubled him. "I am rushed and overwhelmed by the high efficiency here, but good ideas actually come from contemplation," he said, adding that he wants to live a slower life.

Oo's family is from East China's Fujian Province. The family went through ups and downs while striving for a stable life and seeking better opportunities.

In 1945, his grandparents on his father's side left their hometown, Longyan of Fujian, and moved to Myanmar due to the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

"They were very poor at that time, so they only brought their younger son, my uncle, with them and left their elder daughter behind in China," Oo sighed over the feudalistic favor of sons over daughters. "But we still have connections with my auntie in China."

Better business

The same year, his grandmother on his mother's side moved to Myanmar, where she later married Oo's grandfather, also a Chinese, who was already living in the country.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the two families started small businesses such as importing dishware from China to Myanmar.

In the 1970s, Oo's grandparents on his mother's side started a factory producing pins.

"My grandfather learned the techniques in China and brought it to Myanmar," he said.

Oo's parents opened a home goods store to sell daily necessities such as plastic dishware and stationary.

Oo's grandfather on his father's side also started a Chinese business association in the 1980s with other ethnic Chinese doing business in China to facilitate trade and exchanges between them.

In 1995, his father built a factory to produce iron furniture, which also had a business connection with China. Like many Chinese parents, Oo's parents wanted better education opportunities for their children. This prompted the family to move to the US in 1999.

To support their new life there, Oo's father sold some of their properties in Myanmar while still flying back and forth for business. His mother worked as a full-time accountant at a Chinese factory based in the US.

"In the past, many people decided to move to the West for a better life. They were probably doing so for the future of their kids, because the West has better educational resources," he said.

When Oo decided to come back to Asia, his father disagreed. "But they see the changes in China now, so they believe that I have made the correct decision," he added.

Chinese origins

"My family has been moving all the time," Oo said, explaining that three different cultures he has grown up in - Chinese, Myanmar and American - have exposed him to different influences.

He believes, for example, that the Buddhism of Myanmar has taught him the basic principles of being a decent person and building up his outlooks on life, while American culture made him creative-minded, which is a critical element to being a designer. Chinese endowed him with a sharp business mind.

"Living in different cities is not a bad thing. It makes you meet different people and learn how to communicate with them," he said. "And to do business, you need to know how to communicate with people."

His parents remind him of his Chinese origins in their own way. They asked him to learn Chinese since he was a child, and he continued to attend Chinese classes in the US. He now speaks not only Myanmese and English but also fluent Putonghua, which he thinks has helped him when doing business in China.

"I used to hate learning Chinese when I was a child because it was so difficult. But my parents forced me to because we are Chinese and we cannot forget our own language. It is our heritage," he said. "I feel really grateful that my parents forced me to do so."

Oo feels that many young people of Chinese origin decide to return to China because the nation now has a much more favorable development environment while the old rules of other countries can no longer meet their demands. "This is happening not only to Chinese Americans but also Chinese Europeans," he said.

"China's economy is young and energetic. The measures of the government have motivated people to want to start businesses here. In China, I feel the same way that people used to think when they went to the US for opportunities. It is the same," he said.


Steven Oo Photo: Courtesy of Steven Oo




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