Young Ambition: Maggie Zhou, A Slow-Fashion Advocate from Melbourne

Welcome to Young Ambition, a column in which young adults share their passions, grand plans and pipe dreams with Wildchild. In this edition, we chat with Maggie Zhou, a budding writer and creative from Melbourne, Australia. You may recognize her from Instagram (@yemagz) as she actively speaks out about socio-cultural issues like greenwashing, sustainable fashion and racial identity. Here, she offers insights about the importance of transparency and her choice to collaborate with brands whose values align with hers.

You write mostly at Fashion Journal, since you started off as an intern. You co-host a podcast of your own. You create engaging content on Instagram. And you’re still schooling? What is a typical week in your life like? 

Maggie: Hello! Yes, I’m always juggling so many things on the go. I’m still at university; I’m in my fifth and final year studying a double degree in Communication Design and Media Communication, with a specialization in Journalism. There’s no typical week for me — I usually have a couple days at uni, then I work freelance the rest of the time. I’ve just started in a casual Editorial Assistant position at Fashion Journal and I also regularly write articles for MTV, ELLE, Well Made Clothes, Shameless Podcast and others. I have a pop culture podcast with my friend Jasmine Wallis called “Culture Club”. And on top of that, I do social media coordinating for a couple of small businesses as well as manage my own page. As you can see, I do a lot! It basically translates to me being chained to my desk for most of the day. 

Since you hone your creativity in many areas, which medium is your favorite?

Maggie: Definitely writing. It’s the most challenging yet rewarding thing I do. I love it. I love writing so much and it really fills my cup. I can’t wait to keep developing my story and learning more as I go. I am at an incredibly early stage of my writing journey so I have no idea what I want to end up specializing in. But I do know that I love writing from the heart and about issues that are important to me, such as sustainability and racial identity.

You have shared your writing on your platforms and the ones that are especially poignant to me are your personal essays about being an Asian living in Australia, because it shines a light on how your identity and politics were shaped by your experiences. What was it like to write those pieces for public platforms? Did you feel vulnerable or were you relatively assured about the responses that you might get?

Maggie: You’ve definitely hit the nail on the head! Stories about my cultural and ethnic identity are the scariest to write because I’m putting myself on the line. I’ve had my fair share of horrible comments saying that I’m not Chinese enough to speak on these issues and invalidating my experience as an Asian-Australian. However, these stories are also the most rewarding to write. Whenever I receive a message from a fellow Asian who has resonated with my words, I relish the sense of community writing can bring. 

One thing that I’ve noticed about you is how good of a listener you are! You often post about a variety of social issues and when you ask your followers for their opinions, you’ll share and publicly engage with responses that speak to you. Based on our own private interactions, I get the sense that you’re always listening keenly and offering thoughtful responses. Do you recognize this trait of yours and how it has shaped your writing, such as for interviews?

Maggie: Oh, I’m truly blushing! Thank you for your kind words. I’m not sure I consciously reflected on this up until this moment. I think curiosity and being a good listener are two of the most important traits a writer can have. I’m just genuinely curious about the different opinions and experiences everyone has. I think we can learn a lot from each other. 

Really listening to the other person is crucial for interviews, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve nailed the trick to perfecting them. I spend a lot of time sweating over how I sound or thinking of what I need to ask next. When I interviewed one of my favourite musicians, Arlo Parks, I was shitting myself! But the best interviews come when you’re present and actively responding to what your interviewee is saying. 

Of all the social media that you’re on, which platform do you like the most? 

Maggie: I am definitely most active on Instagram and it’s the one that makes me feel most connected to my audience. I love that I can show off my fashion sense as well as post silly stories. Anything goes, really. I also have to give a special mention to TikTok, the platform that never fails to bring me laughs and cheer me up. I don’t post there but I love consuming its content!

You’ve always been very transparent about your work as an influencer on Instagram – offering to share your rates to those who are interested in knowing – and talking about how you have to balance between working with fast-fashion brands and upholding sustainable practices. Why is that important to you?

Maggie: Yes, transparency is something I try to champion. The influencer sphere is really opaque and as most of us work independently, there’s a lot of secrecy involved. In turn, lots of creators get ripped off, which is something I try to prevent.

Sustainability is an interesting topic because I made a hard-and-fast switch at the end of 2019; I’m still relatively new to the space and I don’t shy away from the fact I used to work with a lot of fast fashion brands. I think being open and honest is always important. We’re all just human and none of us are perfect, especially in terms of sustainability. Showing an imperfect but enthusiastic approach to sustainability is something I hope can inspire others.

Now that you actively incorporate sustainable practices into your fashion choices, how do you decide if you would support or work with a brand?

Maggie: Research! It takes me a while but I vet the fashion brands that I work with by reading through their websites, audits and sustainability reports. I will always try and disclose whether a brand pays a living wage because that is important to me. It gets tricky because sometimes I work with brands that may not align with me ethically but in another sense, such as being sex positive.

Since the problems plaguing the fashion industry — as most problems in the world — are structural, how do you grapple with feeling that individual efforts to be more ethical in our (fashion) consumption are for naught?

Maggie: Well, honestly, I just continue to grapple with it because I am just fumbling my way through it all too. I do believe that governments and big businesses are the ones with the power to evoke the most change, though I don’t think that should stop individuals from doing their part. Living aligned with my values allows me to feel more authentic and content, and that’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything else. 

Feature image designed by Raphael Cheong; all photographs by Maggie Zhou

Sherryl Cheong

Sharer and carer of wildchild

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