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Love for Hanfu Helps Me Get Through Tough Times | Story

By DENG, YANICHONGQING|Jun 20,2022

In 2018, Ao Luojia, who ran a store selling Hanfu, took a group of emoji photos of herself dressing up as a Tang-era noble lady and eating Tangyuan(a Chinese traditional  dessert). As her appearance and motion were exactly like a Tang-era pottery figure, she unexpectedly rose to fame on the Internet as “Sister Tangyuan.”

She won several honorary titles, including China Central Television “Thumb-up for China” Online Positive Influencer of the Year 2018, “World’s Best Making” at the 2018 Taobao Makers Festival, Famous Influencer in Chongqing, and Cultural Volunteer of Dunhuang Mural Music and Dance. Four years later, despite a tough time because of market competition and the COVID-19 pandemic, she has gradually gotten opportunities to introduce Hanfu to more people while promoting local culture and tourism at some culture and tourism activities.

Ao Luojia in Hanfu drew the pattern. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Become famous unexpectedly

Zheng Qi is the actual name of “Sister Tangyuan” or Ao Luojia, born and bred in Jiulongpo District, Chongqing. She studied clothing design in college, and after graduation, she ever drew illustrations, painted frescoes, and made creative cultural products. Before she rose to fame as “Sister Tangyuan,” she was already an enthusiast of Hanfu. Moreover, her store was also one of the first Hanfu stores on Taobao. Later, she established a company called Jingyutang Clothing Design Co., Ltd. in Jiulongpo District and opened a brick-and-mortar store.

The emoji photos made Ao Luojia famous as “Sister Tangyuan.” (Photo provided to iChongqing)

On many occasions, Ao Luojia was asked how she thought of herself rising to fame, and she gave her answers. For example, after childbirth, she gained quite some weight and wanted to lose weight, but after those emoji photos, she realized that there are many kinds of beauty in the world; for another example, when she took those emoji photos, she was hoping to record the unforgettable moments in her life while making whoever saw them laugh. After she rose to fame, these words can be seen on the Internet, on TV, and in newspapers.

Looking back on those days, she said frankly that the overnight popularity and the accompanying attention indeed brought her many opportunities to dress up in Hanfu to attend diverse activities and appear in a variety of shows in the country. But as she never expected the great popularity, she still didn’t have a clear plan in her mind about her future after these opportunities. Besides, she was not the type to act ostentatiously to attract attention. Unlike those “Internet celebrities” who were crazy for attention, she hoped to create and present her content positively, so she was not contracted to any talent agencies for a long time after she became famous.

“As my work schedule grew tighter, I used to feel that my Hanfu store, in which I invested a lot, was finally embracing a great marketing opportunity. But actually, I was just being pushed ahead by the attention and didn’t have the time to think over my future.” As she said, she is design-conscious and has a keen interest in Hanfu, but at the same time, she is really bad at operation and planning.

Before she was famous, she had already attracted a host of Hanfu enthusiasts. After she won popularity, more kindred spirits who liked her innovation and design joined her team. Greatly inspired, she expanded her store and pursued her dream together with her partners. At that time, she felt that she was well on track towards promoting Hanfu and Chinese culture.

Love for Hanfu supports her in getting over tough times

But the Internet attention appeared and disappeared fast.

As Ao Luojia ran around attending diverse activities and doing the same performance repeatedly, she greatly reduced time on the original design. In fact, her popularity did not attract that much attention to Hanfu culture as people were more interested in the communication environment then. Because of this, she failed to take the Internet by storm again, although she took more emoji photos about traditional Chinese festivals after she became famous as “Sister Tangyuan.”

Caught up in her hectic work schedule, Ao paid inadequate attention to the company’s management. Without clear requirements from the boss, the extended team that was attracted by her sudden popularity relaxed control over the design and quality of apparel. Comments on the Jingyutang Taobao shop, such as “poor quality and fewer new arrivals,” remain on social media.

She paid the price for it. At the beginning of 2020, she prepared a new array of Hanfu for the Spring Festival holiday. Unexpectedly, the impact of the pandemic, the disagreement with partners, the overstock, and the increased staff turnover swept over her one after another. Some of the problems had not been found, and some had been overwhelmed by her quick fame previously.

Patterns painted by Ao Luojia. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

“It was the toughest time when staff members asked me even at midnight why not pay them the salary in time. I kept asking myself why I failed to deliver satisfactory performance and didn’t lead the team to grow as expected.” Ao admitted that she suffered from severe depression. Not until attending the entrepreneurship psychology training course organized by the Women’s Federation of Jiulongpo District did she realize that self-reproach is the most damaging emotion?

With her family’s support, as always, Ao embarked on a new journey toward her dream. “I just wanted to operate the Hanfu business well. I dared to start from scratch again.”

Ao restored her confidence after frustrations

Although the company collapsed, Ao made up her mind to start over. The studio model leverages her advantage in design and entrusts management and operation to other competent people. An example is one of her product lines — the sample dress based on the figurines of the Tang Dynasty. A stage drama production company is responsible for designing the garment structure, and her ex-employees who work elsewhere help promote the products. “Those Hanfu enthusiasts and I work together to weather the storm,” said Ao.

The Hanfu works Ao Luojia designed are exhibited at Keqiao Fashion Week in Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

In the past four years, she has been most proud of the decision to initiate the Li Yi Hua Xia Hanfu Supermodel Competition in 2019. The large Hanfu contest has been staged in more than 80 cities in China. The event provides a platform for Ao to make friends with a large number of Hanfu lovers and for them to participate in the exhibition. They jointly strive to drive Hanfu revival. Just a few days ago, it was announced that Hong Kong was added to the list of the competition zones, which marks that the event will exert a stronger influence.

“For the time being, I will spare no effort to improve myself,” Ao said frankly, that her obesity is a concern for herself and the people who care for her. She plans to control weight and record the process to show the characteristics of clothing in different periods of the Tang Dynasty, such as the slim image of women in its early period and the plump and bright-colored one in its heyday. Ao continued that she aims to successfully apply for an inscription of the Hanfu techniques in the Tang Dynasty on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Recently, a series of Hanfu Ao designed in reference to the figurines and paintings in the Tang Dynasty appeared at the closing show of Keqiao Fashion Week (Spring) · VDS More than Cyan. Those elegant Hanfu products will be launched during the June 18 Shopping Festival.

In 2020, the number of Hanfu fans was 5.163 million, and the market size was 6.36 billion yuan. In 2021, the two figures grew to nearly 7 million and more than 10 billion yuan, respectively. Ao said that when you fall down, rise up. She still loves the Hanfu culture and endeavors to create distinctive Hanfu with the local culture. Last month, wearing Hanfu, she posed for a group of photos at tourist attractions of Nan’an District, such as Longmenhao Old Street and Nanshan Mountain. Encouraged by the good results, she wants to try more this year to help promote the culture and landscape in Chongqing.

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