Margaret Zhang is a young woman of many, many talents: writer, photographer, stylist, model, blogger and creative.
She’s also the brains behind the lens of Gritty Pretty Magazine’s most recent cover shoot featuring Australian supermodel, Jessica Hart.
Hot on the heels of Zhang’s announcement as global ambassador for CLINIQUE, we caught up with the 22-year-old super star and founder of Shine by Three to chat all things digital, fashion and of course, beauty.
GP: Congratulations! You’re the new global face of CLINIQUE alongside Tavi Gevinson and Hannah Bronfman. You must get approached by beauty brands all the time. How important is it to you to turn down work in order to retain integrity?
MZ: I probably say no to about 80% – 90% of opportunities that come my way, mostly because companies don’t do the kind of research that CLINIQUE did. They approached Tavi [Gevinson], Hannah [Bronfman] and myself with the complete understanding of who we were, what our interests were and what kind of brands we work with. They presented the ambassadorship to us as a partnership that we would’ve envisioned. I think that’s really unique and it goes several steps further than any other brand campaign. All three of us have an interest in fashion and beauty that is fundamentally undercurrent to what we do. We all have very individual personal styles and different beauty regimes but for us, they’re lifestyle facets rather than the be-all and end-all. Tavi is obviously doing a lot of acting now and Hannah is more into the fitness side of things so we all bring something really different and unique to this campaign.
GP: It’s true you have many different hats. Do you think having just one skills set is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about you?
MZ: One hundred percent. As a fashion blogger, which is what most people like to label it, the industry has almost gotten their head around what that means. There are a lot of bloggers who have photographer boyfriends so people either assume I have that or that I have a massive team behind me. It’s just me. I did a photo exhibition earlier this year and it was the first time people in this industry even realised I’m a photographer. That naivety can be disillusioning at times because I’ve been working on Shine by Three for so many years. You think that people know what’s up and then suddenly someone says, “Oh, you take pictures?” Then, I’ll be banging my head against a wall [laughs]. But, I do have to take that with a grain of salt, and the people that matter know how multi-faceted my and I brand are. The “slashie” tag has always had a less credible connotation to it because it’s hard for people to digest that it’s possible for one person to do many, many different things.
GP: You’re also studying a combined commerce and law degree at the University of Sydney. Do you plan on practising law after graduation?
MZ: I have one semester left but I think I might extend it and take an extra one just because I’m working so much at the moment. I don’t think I want to work in a law firm straight away as I’m really focused on fashion. But when I do, I think I’d like to work in intellectual property law. It’s is a really grey, unchartered area particularly as online expands. It kind of goes hand in hand with what I do. It’s also a space where I think it needs someone to spearhead it because the judges and people setting the law don’t necessarily understand what “online” means (aside from basic contractual terms, conditions and licensing). I recently studied a defamation case – and this is the law here in Australia – that defamation only occurs when an article is “downloaded”. What does that mean? Did they read it, save it, bookmark it or download it as a PDF? It’s such a grey space that I feel like someone needs to do something to help create guidelines. I’m also interested in media law as well. It’s a strange time because suddenly the line between advertising and editorial has become blurred. Soon, the lines between print and online will also become very blurred so when that happens, the question is: who is going to regulate that?
GP: Within the media industry, there is the concept of ‘ageism’ and the attitude that youth reflects immaturity. What are your thoughts on this?
MZ: I think there’s this assumption that young people can’t think for themselves because of this formula that people give you in life. Some people believe it’s your job to listen and you do everything that you’re told until you’re instructed that it’s your time to move forward. It’s a right of passage whereby if someone is treated poorly as an intern, they go on to become a manager who treats their interns poorly later in life. I think it’s a self-perpuating cycle where people think I can’t possibly have five or six years experience in the industry because I’m only 22 and when they were my age they weren’t doing what I am. I don’t think it’s necessarily an insecurity on their part but it can be very frustrating for me. Equally, people who judge anyone on age, gender or race are people who you don’t want to be working with anyway. I know it seems like a throw away approach but you do accept that in this industry, not everyone is as open minded as people like us.
GP: You’re incredibly successful. Do you ever give yourself the time to stop and reflect on how much you’ve achieved?
MZ: To tell you the truth, I probably don’t enough. In the past six months, I’ve realised that I live so much of my life behind a screen or a lens and it’s so important to live life in reality, which is ironic because you want to be real. In this industry, it’s easy to get caught up in the storm. We’re constantly living in the future and thinking about tomorrow. Even though I’m in digital, the rest of the industry works 3 to 6 months ahead so I’m often working to those timelines. It’s my goal this year to be more reflective particularly for self growth. How can I improve if I’m not sitting down, looking back and asking myself, “How could I have executed that job better?” “What would I do differently next time?”
GP: You started Shine by Three six years ago now. Did you ever imagine you’d be sitting here today as one of the global faces of CLINIQUE? And, where do you hope to see Shine by Three in another six years?
MZ: Gosh, no. No one can ever anticipate this. When it comes to Shine by Three, I’ll always have my personal content but I’d love to be sharing more of my photography work and editorial exclusive content – ensuring that all of my articles are really substantial. At the moment, I know where I want it to be but I’m really limited with time so I’m only blogging once a week. Instagram has changed the nature of blogging and when it comes to blogs, I think you need to produce actual substantial content, heavily interviewed and well written articles while short, sharp and fast content is solely for platforms like Instagram and Twitter. I’m a control freak when it comes to my content – I should probably grow my team to more than one [laughs]. I think that’s probably a good next step. I’d also like to develop Shine by Three to become almost like an agency which creates content for brands – they may not necessarily be aligned with my personal style but that wouldn’t matter as I’d be separating my personal brand and the Shine by Three brand in order to provide content creation and a digital strategy service.
GP: Having experienced so much creative freedom, do you ever think you could work a 9am – 5pm job for an employer?
MZ: No, I don’t think that I could. Having someone else’s priorities as my priorities would kill me.
GP: You just returned from LA, New York, Paris and Austria. You must have flying down pat! Tell us, what are your in-flight essentials?
MZ: I always take an empty 1.5ml water bottle and ask the flight attendants to constantly fill it up. On a long haul flight, I try to drink three of those. I always board a flight with clean skin (no makeup) and I take CLINIQUE Turnaround Revitalising Instant Facial mask instead of moisturiser. I find that if I apply layers of moisturiser, I’ll break out. And for extra hydration, I also take CLINIQUE Moisture Surge Face Spray.
GP: Do you get a lot of your ideas when travelling?
MZ: I always get on a plane with a check list of things to do. I generally get through half of it and the other half of the time, I write down things I think of. I also have a habit of writing down paragraphs of experiences I might have. I guess it’s like keeping a journal but I tend to write it from a removed, third-party perspective. Day to day, I do have a notebook with all of my editorial ideas and if I meet a model or a location that’s perfect for something, I’ll slot them in. I also think a lot on planes because I’m not a good sleeper. I think about big life questions like spontaneity and how not spontaneous I am [laughs].
GP: You have over half a million followers on Instagram. Tell us, who do you follow?
MZ: I really love following @drawroberston. He’s an artist who is also a roving creative director at Estée Lauder. He makes art out of everything – duct tape, his kids Cheerios, bed sheets. He’s really quirky and super funny. He also has really cute twin kids. I like following @knightcat. She hasn’t blogged in a long time but she posts a lot of beautiful and ambient seascapes and landscapes. I also like following @michaelzavros, who is another artist and a dear friend of mine.