Womaneer: Meet the Fashion Designer Who Found Power by Saying "No"

Introducing: Womaneer, our new series that highlights and celebrates the oft–overlooked women of our day who are making waves in the fields of politics, crypto-currency, not-for-profit, and design. Each of these women have something in common: vision, grit, and a heavy dose of persistence that keeps them going despite the odds.


These women are proof that the gender gap is closing… that is, if you fight for it. With some guts, you can become the next pioneering voice in your field—a Womaneer. We’ve heard from Rebecca Yazbeck of NOMAD. Now, meet the next Womaneer in our series, fashion designer and entrepreneur of eponymous label, Anna Quan. Following a less-is-more principle in her designs, Quan has made an indelible mark within the Australian fashion circuit, finding acclaim among influencers and editors alike. In the lead up to Fashion Week Australia, we sat with Quan to learn more about her career journey thus far. 

Yes, there was always a yearning—but from an early age I felt it was always unattainable, as I couldn’t sew and draw and wasn’t studying art or textiles at school. I didn’t really fit the stereotype of the “fashion” or “creative” person. There was more an expectation from myself and my family that I would go on to do something with a more stable income and conventional career trajectory.

I am embarking on my second solo show at Fashion Week Australia this year. It’s novel to think that I first got my break at Fashion Week in 2014, showing in a group presentation with other emerging designers. Kendall Jenner’s stylist picked up one of my looks off the back of a YouTube clip of that show to wear to her sister’s (Kim’s) wedding.

It’s been about 18 months since I packed my suitcase of clothing samples and headed to Paris (Europe for the first time) to sell on the international market. Since then, I have been back a further six times to present my collection every 3-4 months to buyers all around the world. We now stock internationally in Canada, Hong Kong, China, Ukraine, South Korea as well as locally at Myer.

Founding Anna Quan has been an amazing journey from working a second job, coming home at night and cutting and sewing till all hours of the morning on repeat seven days a week. I am now slowly transitioning to a phase where I can employ a small team (albeit) part-time to help me bring my designs to life and working a little less in the business but on the business.

Going through the earlier, harder years has made me really appreciate what I have created and also made me value the incredible skilful individuals helping me. Fashion is a team oriented industry—you can’t get by without a good team in place.

I think it has a lot to do with mindset. Being able to flex mentally and pivot when the wind changes. Letting go emotionally of certain habits and expectations is key.

So much of what we do as humans and our behaviour is a collection of habits. Sometimes, I don’t really question things and sometimes struggle to let go. However, if something doesn’t work, move on. It’s the definition of madness to do the same thing and expect different result

Like most things that you really want, it is probably the hardest work, yet most satisfying thing. Obviously it doesn’t come without the gut-wrenching moments. Being your own master sometimes means having the hard conversations with people and being tough but fair and making sacrifices for long-term gain.

I think one of the biggest things is saying "no" to people. It’s a hard skill to learn but learning to say "no" to things that don’t align with your business goals, personal values or spreadsheet. Learning to play the long game can be challenging when the world is so instant right now. Learning to be impactful, walking before you can run and working within your own means can be a challenge. 

This is not a question of opinion, it’s a fact. The numbers really speak for themselves. Females are the majority participants in the fashion industry, we are the end consumers and we are the main subject of fashion. Yet, women are under-represented in leadership positions across the industry. I was reading in an article from Business of Fashion some time ago: They did a survey in September 2016 across the four main international fashion weeks, and of the 300+ brands that they surveyed, only 40 percent were led my females. Only four of the 15 luxury fashion brands owned by LVMH are headed by female creative directors. That is less than 25 percent. 

 It's a two way street. I think it has a lot to do with the decision makers in power and also the female participants as women. Learning to say “no” and not being a people-pleaser is harder said than done, and speaking up and expressing your self worth and your opinion is another matter. Saying “no” is incredibly empowering and liberating in so many ways.

The thing is, doubt and fear are perfectly normal. I don’t think we need to place the expectation that we won’t be or shouldn’t be scared. Just don’t let it get to the point where it cripples you. If I wasn’t scared of failure, I am minded to think that I didn’t want it my dreams enough.

I think the trick here is realising and having the expectation that it is scary but you will get through it in one piece. Sometimes when the fear and self-doubt really gets to me I ask myself “what is the worst that can happen?” and usually the worst thing is not a matter of life and death, so really, in the whole scheme of things, it’s not that bad (even though it seems like it at the time).  

By learning to say "no" to “opportunities” and people that did not align with my business goals and personal aesthetic. This also meant not adhering to what people thought I should do or design and really focusing on my signature and handwriting. I got to the point where I realised people were buying my pieces because there was a piece of my creative DNA there. People can perceive authenticity when they see it.

I would probably prefer to call it work/life blend. It’s a difficult balancing act to maintain yourself physically and emotionally. Sometimes you can work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week and not be balanced and feel disenfranchised and not in control. The same can be said if you are working to the bone and don’t have time to look after yourself mentally and physically.

Fashion design and business is a big part of my life, and I live to work. Particularly within the early stages of fashion, I’ve always felt it’s a big case of making sacrifices and putting your head down and getting on with the work. I don’t always get it right but it’s good to at least be aware and self-assess as you go along the big question: “Is what I am doing right now making me happy?”

To shop Quan's sleek designs, which are perfect for the office, click through to her website

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