SPOTLIGHT

In conversation with

Zoe Suen

April 2022

“When you start writing it can be a steep learning curve but that’s also part of the reason that it’s kind of exhilarating.”

Zoe is a writer, editor and consultant based in London.

Á: How have you found navigating your industry as a woman of colour?

ZS: I’ve been really lucky. Business of Fashion was my first experience as a journalist. Although the learning curve was very steep, the pressures I experienced didn’t feel like they stemmed from being a woman of colour, but rather from the demands of the job that was felt across the team. That being said, it’s been extremely challenging seeing the surge in violence against Asian people, and particularly women, in the last two years. It’s not directly related to my work but has definitely affected me mentally.

Á: How did you land your previous at Business of Fashion and what was your experience like? How did you know that BoF was the right starting point for you?

ZS: It was a unique experience for me. At the time, the editor was looking for someone to translate things to and from Chinese and I was able to do that — the role then evolved into an apprenticeship, which eventually led to me becoming a full-time reporter. I was a long-time reader and enjoyed the lens that they viewed the industry with. The industry can be quite closed off, especially for young people who are looking to carve out a path.

I was there for four years and left in December to go freelance. I still write about fashion and beauty, but have also expanded that remit to include food. I’m also doing some copywriting.

Á: Why did you choose to go freelance? How are you finding the career pivot so far?

ZS: Four years felt like a good amount of time, and I was ready for a change. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a daunting step, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find any work. Now, I’m loving it and am glad I made the leap — my schedule is flexible and I can pitch what I want, when I want. Aside from writing, I also produced and shot an editorial in March, which is coming out soon. So it’s nice to get to do a bit of everything and collaborate with people in that way.

Á: Did you ever envisage yourself beginning your career as a writer at a large publication?

ZS: I had never really thought of it as a path for me because I studied law — at the time, it seemed like I was on a very linear path, and I joined BoF when I was still completing postgrad studies in law. During the first year of my undergraduate degree, most people had an idea of what they wanted to do in the field. While I loved studying law, I never thought I wanted to go and work for a big firm when I graduated. I ended up staying on at BoF, but if you had asked me at the beginning of my apprenticeship what I thought would happen, I wouldn’t have known in all honesty.

Á: How did you decide to take the leap to leave the legal career path?

ZS: Before I started postgrad I did a bunch of legal internships at solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers. I also did an internship at the high court in Hong Kong. All three were good experiences and I learned things, but I didn’t feel a sense of belonging and a sense of what I was supposed to be doing. By the time I got to [postgrad] I was already unsure about the path I wanted to take. I felt like I was being carried along by the general flow. When I started the BoF apprenticeship, my reasoning was that studying took up three days and so I could spend the remaining days working. It was a completely new environment for me and so it was very refreshing. Everyone was chatting and bouncing ideas off each other. I really enjoyed the atmosphere. I was never at a mental crossroads in which I was torn between the two career pathways. After doing my undergraduate degree and then the LPC, I has spent a lot of time around people who really wanted to be lawyers and I knew I just didn’t have that same passion.

Á: As someone who didn’t study journalism at university, what would you say to someone who wants to be a journalist and is trying to choose a degree?

ZS: If you are committed to writing and you have an interest in it, that probably means you’re already reading a lot of books, articles and newspapers. You’re picking up a lot from that. I don’t think you need to have a specific degree to do this job. That’s obviously not the same for every profession, but for journalism I think if you have the ability to talk to people and have a natural curiosity, then everything else can be picked up along the way. It can be a steep learning curve but that’s also part of the reason that it’s kind of exhilarating. Especially at the beginning, when you write your first couple of stories and they’re put out into the world. Of course, you get things wrong sometimes and need to spend time cracking certain skills but that’s part of the fun of it.

Á: How can a writer figure out which publication is right for them?

ZS: When it comes to working full-time, company culture is really important but I feel like you have to be in the company to tell what the culture is truly like. A company can easily project something about itself and be completely different in reality. You’ll never really know until you get there, so I would say try and get an internship to see for yourself what it’s like on the inside. As a freelancer, I get to write for publications without dealing with all that, which has its pros and cons.

Á: What advice would you give to your 16-year-old yourself?

ZS: I grew up in Hong Kong and was in an in international high school at that time. I remember everyone being really stressed about applying to university. I’m happy that I didn’t adopt that mindset and kind of stayed in my own bubble away from the panic. So my advice to myself would be to try and keep that state of mind into the 20s and beyond — though I’m not sure how realistic it’d be to live completely stress-free as a twenty something-year old in a big city.

Á: What advice would you give to yourself who had just graduated?

ZS: That I didn’t have to do it just because my peers were doing it.

Á: What’s your proudest work achievement?

ZS: I would say the stories that I have covered about Asia, and the networks I’ve built in the process — sources that have since become friends, as cheesy as that sounds.

Á: What’s the most frustrating thing about your industry?

ZS: As a freelancer, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was waiting ages to be paid. I’m still getting used to that, but I’m also glad it’s pushing me to take an initiative and be more upfront about things like that.

Á: What’s the greatest lesson you have learned so far in your career?

ZS: I’m still trying to be comfortable with saying no — I’ve improved, but it’s hard!

Á: Is there anything you would change about your journey if you could?

ZS: I don’t think I would. It worked out the way it was supposed to and if I changed anything, I might not be where I am now.

Á: If you could change something about your industry as a whole, what would you change?

ZS: I would say the thoughtfulness with regards to how people within the industry are treated — it’s not fashion-specific but there are so many challenges that would be easier to tackle if people were more respectful.

Á: What do you think influences your work the most?

ZS: It’s hard for me to name a single influence. I’ve had great mentors, and reading others’ work is a big driver.

Á: How did you find working through the pandemic?

ZS: I feel very lucky because I personally was fine and so was my family. With regards to work, writing is something you can do anywhere as long as you have your laptop. So, it wasn’t difficult to adapt to remote working.

Á: What advice would you give to people starting internships and apprenticeships?

ZS: Even if it’s remote, approach people. Have one on one zoom coffees, and put yourself in positions where you can try things out.

Á: How should people deal with rejected pitches?

ZS: It happens, and now as a freelancer I’m learning that more often than not, you don’t receive replies at all. I find the most helpful thing is discussing your ideas with people you trust first. Have people that you feel comfortable asking ‘stupid questions’ to. Ask them if they would commission your piece if they were an editor.

Á: Are you there any particular journalists you look up to?

ZS: Lauren Sherman, Rachel Tashjian and Angela Hui are a few women I love to read — a little biased because I worked with Lauren at BoF.

Á: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

ZS: I love to cook and did that a lot during lockdown to unwind. My boyfriend and I also got into walking, and did that in Scotland and Yorkshire, which was amazing. Before the pandemic, I only read fiction, but am really warming to non-fiction: I did Quentin Bell’s Virginia Woolf biography, The Empire of Pain and The Berlin Wall recently before visiting the city, and enjoyed all three.

Á: Where would you like to travel to next?

ZS: I have tickets booked to go home to Hong Kong — I haven’t seen my parents in two years! Needless to say, I’m excited.

Á: What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

ZS: I like setting extremely attainable goals because things don’t necessarily go as planned. Right now, it’s making sure I get paid for all of my projects. Baby steps.

Á: Any final words for our audience?

ZS: Be nice to yourself!

You can find more of Zoe’s work here.

Interview by Mary Ojidu

In conversation with

Zoe Suen

April 2022

“When you start writing it can be a steep learning curve but that’s also part of the reason that it’s kind of exhilarating.”

Zoe is a writer, editor and consultant based in London.

Á: How have you found navigating your industry as a woman of colour?

ZS: I’ve been really lucky. Business of Fashion was my first experience as a journalist. Although the learning curve was very steep, the pressures I experienced didn’t feel like they stemmed from being a woman of colour, but rather from the demands of the job that was felt across the team. That being said, it’s been extremely challenging seeing the surge in violence against Asian people, and particularly women, in the last two years. It’s not directly related to my work but has definitely affected me mentally.

Á: How did you land your previous at Business of Fashion and what was your experience like? How did you know that BoF was the right starting point for you?

ZS: It was a unique experience for me. At the time, the editor was looking for someone to translate things to and from Chinese and I was able to do that — the role then evolved into an apprenticeship, which eventually led to me becoming a full-time reporter. I was a long-time reader and enjoyed the lens that they viewed the industry with. The industry can be quite closed off, especially for young people who are looking to carve out a path.

I was there for four years and left in December to go freelance. I still write about fashion and beauty, but have also expanded that remit to include food. I’m also doing some copywriting.

Á: Why did you choose to go freelance? How are you finding the career pivot so far?

ZS: Four years felt like a good amount of time, and I was ready for a change. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a daunting step, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find any work. Now, I’m loving it and am glad I made the leap — my schedule is flexible and I can pitch what I want, when I want. Aside from writing, I also produced and shot an editorial in March, which is coming out soon. So it’s nice to get to do a bit of everything and collaborate with people in that way.

Á: Did you ever envisage yourself beginning your career as a writer at a large publication?

ZS: I had never really thought of it as a path for me because I studied law — at the time, it seemed like I was on a very linear path, and I joined BoF when I was still completing postgrad studies in law. During the first year of my undergraduate degree, most people had an idea of what they wanted to do in the field. While I loved studying law, I never thought I wanted to go and work for a big firm when I graduated. I ended up staying on at BoF, but if you had asked me at the beginning of my apprenticeship what I thought would happen, I wouldn’t have known in all honesty.

Á: How did you decide to take the leap to leave the legal career path?

ZS: Before I started postgrad I did a bunch of legal internships at solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers. I also did an internship at the high court in Hong Kong. All three were good experiences and I learned things, but I didn’t feel a sense of belonging and a sense of what I was supposed to be doing. By the time I got to [postgrad] I was already unsure about the path I wanted to take. I felt like I was being carried along by the general flow. When I started the BoF apprenticeship, my reasoning was that studying took up three days and so I could spend the remaining days working. It was a completely new environment for me and so it was very refreshing. Everyone was chatting and bouncing ideas off each other. I really enjoyed the atmosphere. I was never at a mental crossroads in which I was torn between the two career pathways. After doing my undergraduate degree and then the LPC, I has spent a lot of time around people who really wanted to be lawyers and I knew I just didn’t have that same passion.

Á: As someone who didn’t study journalism at university, what would you say to someone who wants to be a journalist and is trying to choose a degree?

ZS: If you are committed to writing and you have an interest in it, that probably means you’re already reading a lot of books, articles and newspapers. You’re picking up a lot from that. I don’t think you need to have a specific degree to do this job. That’s obviously not the same for every profession, but for journalism I think if you have the ability to talk to people and have a natural curiosity, then everything else can be picked up along the way. It can be a steep learning curve but that’s also part of the reason that it’s kind of exhilarating. Especially at the beginning, when you write your first couple of stories and they’re put out into the world. Of course, you get things wrong sometimes and need to spend time cracking certain skills but that’s part of the fun of it.

Á: How can a writer figure out which publication is right for them?

ZS: When it comes to working full-time, company culture is really important but I feel like you have to be in the company to tell what the culture is truly like. A company can easily project something about itself and be completely different in reality. You’ll never really know until you get there, so I would say try and get an internship to see for yourself what it’s like on the inside. As a freelancer, I get to write for publications without dealing with all that, which has its pros and cons.

Á: What advice would you give to your 16-year-old yourself?

ZS: I grew up in Hong Kong and was in an in international high school at that time. I remember everyone being really stressed about applying to university. I’m happy that I didn’t adopt that mindset and kind of stayed in my own bubble away from the panic. So my advice to myself would be to try and keep that state of mind into the 20s and beyond — though I’m not sure how realistic it’d be to live completely stress-free as a twenty something-year old in a big city.

Á: What advice would you give to yourself who had just graduated?

ZS: That I didn’t have to do it just because my peers were doing it.

Á: What’s your proudest work achievement?

ZS: I would say the stories that I have covered about Asia, and the networks I’ve built in the process — sources that have since become friends, as cheesy as that sounds.

Á: What’s the most frustrating thing about your industry?

ZS: As a freelancer, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was waiting ages to be paid. I’m still getting used to that, but I’m also glad it’s pushing me to take an initiative and be more upfront about things like that.

Á: What’s the greatest lesson you have learned so far in your career?

ZS: I’m still trying to be comfortable with saying no — I’ve improved, but it’s hard!

Á: Is there anything you would change about your journey if you could?

ZS: I don’t think I would. It worked out the way it was supposed to and if I changed anything, I might not be where I am now.

Á: If you could change something about your industry as a whole, what would you change?

ZS: I would say the thoughtfulness with regards to how people within the industry are treated — it’s not fashion-specific but there are so many challenges that would be easier to tackle if people were more respectful.

Á: What do you think influences your work the most?

ZS: It’s hard for me to name a single influence. I’ve had great mentors, and reading others’ work is a big driver.

Á: How did you find working through the pandemic?

ZS: I feel very lucky because I personally was fine and so was my family. With regards to work, writing is something you can do anywhere as long as you have your laptop. So, it wasn’t difficult to adapt to remote working.

Á: What advice would you give to people starting internships and apprenticeships?

ZS: Even if it’s remote, approach people. Have one on one zoom coffees, and put yourself in positions where you can try things out.

Á: How should people deal with rejected pitches?

ZS: It happens, and now as a freelancer I’m learning that more often than not, you don’t receive replies at all. I find the most helpful thing is discussing your ideas with people you trust first. Have people that you feel comfortable asking ‘stupid questions’ to. Ask them if they would commission your piece if they were an editor.

Á: Are you there any particular journalists you look up to?

ZS: Lauren Sherman, Rachel Tashjian, Angela Hui are a few women I love to read — a little biased because I worked with Lauren at BoF.

Á: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

ZS: I love to cook and did that a lot during lockdown to unwind. My boyfriend and I also got into walking, and did that in Scotland and Yorkshire, which was amazing. Before the pandemic, I only read fiction, but am really warming to non-fiction: I did Quentin Bell’s Virginia Woolf biography, The Empire of Pain and The Berlin Wall recently before visiting the city, and enjoyed all three.

Á: Where would you like to travel to next?

ZS: I have tickets booked to go home to Hong Kong — I haven’t seen my parents in two years! Needless to say, I’m excited.

Á: What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

ZS: I like setting extremely attainable goals because things don’t necessarily go as planned. Right now, it’s making sure I get paid for all of my projects. Baby steps.

Á: Any final words for our audience?

ZS: Be nice to yourself!

You can find more of Zoe’s work here.

Interview by Mary Ojidu

© AJIFA Limited 2022-2024

© AJIFA Limited 2022-2024