A woman of many talents, Maggie Zhou is a celebrated freelance writer, podcast host, content creator and advocate for sustainable fashion.
Born and bred in our hometown of Melbourne, Australia, Maggie is what one could call, a classic Melbournian. With an affection for a good coffee and an Instagram feed filled with enviable outfits, Maggie Zhou is our go-to-gal for some killer content. Not only is she incredibly genuine and kind, but she is also our reference point for discovering and learning all about sustainable fashion.
In her final year of university and about to embark on her full-time role as a producer and writer for a major digital media company, we were lucky to catch the ever-busy 22 year old and chat about all things Maggie!
You are only 22 years old and it feels like you've already had such an incredible career! How did you get started in the digital media industry and was it something you always wanted to do?
Like a lot of my peers, I created an Instagram account when I was in year 9. Even from the very beginning, I would always posted a fashion or outfit photo on my Instagram weekly and its almost been a decade! I just haven't stopped. Which is wild to look back on now! At some point, it did just pick up and became more than a hobby.
I knew that I always loved writing and fashion, so it all came really naturally to me and I never over-thought it. None of it was planned and it was all very spontaneous. It wasn't even career oriented. It was just me.
I have always been quite academic and driven to do well. Going into university, I didn't know what job I wanted at the end of the tunnel. Originally, I started in a double degree in design and business and just thought 'oh yeah, it would be cool to learn about these things and improve my skills and knowledge'. However, eventually I moved into my current degree, a Bachelor of Communication Design and Media Communications with specialisation in journalism. I only have one subject left and I'll be done by the end of the year! It's been a long 5 years!
It is often said that fashion journalism is one of the most coveted jobs for young people in the world. How do you continue to break ground in the industry and manage your projects, university and life?
The real answer is that I work a lot. It is a 7 day slog and I hate to admit this because I don't want to glamourize overworking. I understand that it's not healthy or sustainable. But I have to admit that whilst I work 7 days a week, I also allow myself to rest and prioritise taking care of myself.
I have loved being a freelancer and working on multiple projects at once. In a typical day, I might spend the morning shooting content and then in the afternoon I'll be writing an article and in the evening I'll be doing research for the podcast. It makes it so fun and exciting.
However, I also really prioritise spending time with my friends, partner and family. And when I am hanging with them, I really relish and celebrate those moments. I make sure I'm really present. I work a lot and I think many people may think 'oh, you're so lucky!' but realistically I've been working for almost a decade and I'm only 22. It's a lot of hard work.
You have always been proud of your heritage and haven't been afraid to identify and include it in your work. As a young Asian female, have you ever found it difficult to be in the media and fashion industry?
I am very lucky, though my parents can be strict, in terms of my career, they were really open for me to pursue what I wanted and they trusted me to do it well.
Growing up, writing was never a legitimate career path option. At school we were always told that journalism was dying and that you wouldn't make any money. That message, combined with being a young Asian woman meant that I never really saw anyone in the field that had any similarity to myself. And you start to think ''is there even a space out there for me"? So working as a writer never really crossed my mind until I saw more representation.
It's interesting because a lot of media spaces I'm in, I may be the only Asian woman or even just one of the few women in general. Sometimes I feel like I'm a spokesperson for the community and that I have the pressure to uphold and represent millions of people. I am so proud to be a Chinese woman but sometimes I feel like I just can't be accepted as a 'normal' Australian woman. It's always ''She's a Chinese woman''. Which is interesting.
However, there is so much emerging or already really established fellow female Asian creators in the community and to have them as role models has helped me immensely.
It can be difficult to persevere in an industry that you don't see yourself represented in. Are there any people in fashion or media that really inspire you?
People like Margaret Zhang, Zara Wong and Yan Yan Chan are women that I've followed since my early high school days and that I've taken inspiration from. Even on a smaller scale, fellow writers who's works that I've loved always inspire me! These amazing women include Monisha Rudhran who is a fantastic writer for Elle and Marie Claire and my friend, Genevieve Phelan, whom I adore and she writes for Fashion Journal.
We are not alone in this and there are so many talented peers out there. Whether it's admiring them from afar or even asking them questions has helped me immensely. There is just so many great people out there. Inspiration isn't hard to find.
You have really established yourself as the frontrunner for all things sustainable fashion. What made you get into and realise the importance of this movement?
My involvement with this movement probably really started to gain momentum in 2019. However, I was definitely slowly and surely micro-dosed with sustainably for years before then. In the beginning, it didn't really click for me and honestly, I didn't really care that much about it. There was a cognitive dissonance whereby my actions and values didn't align.
Eventually this paradox did eat away at me. I was collaborating with a lot of fast fashion brands and it just didn't feel right. So at the end of 2019, I made a semi-declaration to stop or at least slow down my consumption and collaborations with fast fashion brands. I really needed to make a stand so that I'd stick to my journey.
There are so many people significantly more educated on this topic than me. It is a very humbling process! I constantly look at things that I thought I believed in and my values are continually being challenged. That is something I really appreciate.
How have your purchasing habits changed?
To be honest, I've always been stingy! I never really shopped that much to begin with. I don't buy that many things. I was always taught to save my money so I op shopped a lot in high school. And of course, I preferred doing this instead of buying new as it wasn't using new materials or resources. Second hand is still better than buying new.
However, I was still buying a lot and contributing to overconsumption. I would still be incentivised by the prices and buy a lot of clothes that I would only wear once. So I started to try be more conscious, even if it was just a $2 top. I would ask myself ''do I really need this''?
Despite this, on the flip side, I was used to thinking that a $20 t-shirt was expensive. But now, I allow myself to invest in quality and large items and put my money where my mouth is. I also try to financially support brands that are doing the right thing.
Starting a sustainably journey in fashion can be incredibly difficult when you are so used to low prices and high quantities of items. What is your number 1 tip to becoming more environmentally conscious when shopping?
My number 1 tip is from one of the founders of Fashion Revolution, Orsola De Castro. She says ''the most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe''. When we think about sustainable fashion we think about really expensive clothes. And that's something that used to hold me back. But really, you should be looking at what you already own and thinking about how we can make the most of it and extend its life.
I helped pioneer the hashtag #reweardontcare and it's all about rewearing your clothes. You can achieve this by styling them in different ways and not falling victim to that constant need for trendy new items or the fear of not being cool.
That's my favourite piece of advice because it costs nothing and everyone can partake. Aside from this, I'd say it is okay to take it slow and change in a way that suits you. An element of consciousness in your purchasing decisions is the most important thing. You can still shop from fast fashion brands but if you usually buy 3 tops a month, consider only getting 1-2. Take the time to start making subtle and conscious efforts to change your consumption.
You have already achieve so much in your life, are there any goals or aspirations you are working towards at the moment?
The dream changes a lot and I want to abolish the idea of dream careers and jobs. I feel that capitalism conflated jobs with our identities so much that its really scary. Sometimes I wonder ''if you take away my job, who am I''? So, I'm really working within myself to change that narrative and to work really hard on my friendships and hobbies.
I'm such a homebody, so lately I've really been enjoying rearranging flowers and sincerely enjoying my morning walk when I'm getting my coffee. I want to really enjoy everyday moments of life and I think that's the dream. To live a really holistic and fulfilling life that I'm proud of having.
What is something that brings you great joy everyday?
Making a tea at the end of the day! An English breakfast with a dash of soy milk is an everyday ritual for me. I also really enjoy drinking warm water. It feels like I'm boiling water every single hour, so you'll always find me boiling water and filling up my thermos for the day. It's just a habit now but it brings me joy!
Your favourite book right now
Crying in H-mart by Michelle Zauner. It's so good! Every time I've picked it up I've cried!
You've recently spent a short period of time in Sydney preparing for your new job. Do you have a favourite memory from your trip to Sydney?
On my first weekend, I was walking around the local area and I saw two old Asian men sitting in the corner. One of them was playing the electric guitar and the other one was playing the trumpet and it was just so beautiful. It was so picturesque and I stayed with them for a little while so I could tell them how lovely it was.
You love a good brunch session, so what is your favourite cafes in Melbourne?
Terror Twilight in Collingwood and Oppen in Windsor.
Once international travel opens up again, where is the first place you'd like to go?
Somewhere in Europe. I haven't had the chance to go yet.
And to finish, one word that simply describes Maggie?
Indecisive (or joyful 😅).
Thank you so much to Maggie for making time to speak with us about her journey to sustainability and a career in journalism. We are always so inspired by each of our S-kin Muses and we hope that Maggie's story has given you inspiration to work hard for your dreams too!