Margaret Zhang was the leaping off point for our Forty under 40, see the full list here.
Imagine you’re presenting to a client. You’re taking them through a detailed, complicated report. There’s a lot of thought behind it. Mid-sentence, your client cuts you off to tell you, “It’s adorable how passionate you are.” Are you fuming? Good. So was Margaret Zhang.
When you’re explaining who Margaret is, you could say she’s a recent commerce/law graduate with seven years of fashion industry experience including high level work as a creative director, consultant, photographer and social media strategist. You could say she’s a woman who worked full time throughout her degree, taught a bit of dance on the side, and still got great grades. Or you could call her an “Instagram celebrity” with three quarters of a million followers. All these things are true, but they tell very different truths.
Photograph: Margaret Zhang
Zhang started her blog, ShineByThree, in her early teens as a creative outlet and place to explore her personal style. Audiences quickly responded to her clean aesthetic and warm lifestyle photographs. By 20, she was being flown around the world to sit front row at international fashion weeks. She was being booked as a model in advertising campaigns, working with brands like Dior and Uniqlo and getting chased down the street by ‘fashion paparazzi’, eager to photograph her outfits.
"What good is a following if you don't have a valuable message?"
Though they’re spectacular platforms, the ‘very young’ and ‘very well known’ things can be hurdles. “I think it’s really important to have the knowledge to back up what you’re saying,” she tells us. “That’s why I spent so long finishing uni, as much as it might have been tedious. I could have dropped out and moved overseas to do modelling, but it was really important to me to be able to go into a business context and… work with the numbers they care about and understand their perspective. If you know what you’re saying, you’re speaking their language, and they choose not to understand you, then that’s their problem.”
Photograph: Margaret Zhang
Of course, most of the people who work with Margaret do understand her. They appreciate the enormous influence she has, the singularity of her perspective, and the power she has to communicate to a group of people – young women – who are frequently underestimated, and misunderstood. “What good is a following if you don’t have a valuable message? I feel such a responsibility to remind young people that you can do things your way. You don’t have to play the way the system tells you to.”
In the future, Margaret hopes Sydney: “Stops moving backwards. When I was growing up there was a huge educational push to accept multiculturalism. I worry we’re losing a lot of that tolerance. I worry the same thing is happening to Indigenous people, to gay and trans people. I can’t believe in 2016 this is still a conversation that needs to be had, but I hope we can turn it around.”
Margaret Zhang will be speaking with Time Out Sydney’s editor Alyx Gorman at Sydney Town Hall as part of Vivid Ideas’ ‘Game Changer’ series on May 28.
Go back to the Forty under 40.