As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yi Zhou.
Yi was raised in Rome, Italy and studied in Paris and London, earning degrees in political science and economics. She is a polyglot artist whose video works have been shown at Shanghai Biennale, Venice Biennale, Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. In 2010, she relocated to China and founded her personal brand company YiZhouStudio in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Yi Zhou has a stellar presence on social media and has garnered international attention for being positioned as an artist and influencer and endorsing for brands globally including: Levi’s, DFS, Conrad Hotel, Iceberg, Persol, Clarins and Shiseido. In addition, YiZhou has been featured in top press including The LA Times, Daily Front Row, Forbes Magazine, WWD, Vogue Magazine, Vogue China, Vogue Italy, The New York Times etc.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! What brought me to the United States to direct my first feature film stars and scars in late 2017, I was working on various campaigns for fashion brands in Paris, when my best friend suggested that I start my own luxury line, so I also took the chance to launch a global luxury clothing line Global Intuition with the support of Fred Segal in july 2018. Since I had the knowledge of starting a business due to my studies in London and Paris in economics and political science, creative background of being an artist, and was raised in fashion capital of the world, Paris, I said why not! My agents from William Morris Endeavor, then encouraged me to move out to LA, since I was traveling there every month, and so I made the big leap in late 2017, started the luxury clothing line, Global Intuition in 2018 and am building my film and content production company, YiZhouStudio.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I think one major challenge that I encountered when starting my business is trying to start a brand with a team that was on the other side of the world. My vision was to increase sales immediately when Global Intuition’s line dropped, but it was hard to communicate my immediate needs for sales to a team that is more than 12 hour ahead of the U.S. As a result of my frustration, I started building a new team in LA, whom I absolutely love today.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Three things that has helped me get to the position we are in now, is collaboration, team building, and brand awareness. When I look back to when I started Global Intuition, nearly a year ago, to now I see that a lot of the success came from the brand collaborating and partnering with different retailers such as Fred Segal, building a team that is passionate about the brand and is willing to go the extra mile to hit the short term and long term goals, and also building our brand via social media, traditional media, pop-up events, and collaborating with influencers. I feel as though those three components have been the bulk of where our success has really taken off.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
It’s ok to say no
When starting a business you want to say yes to everything, and although in the beginning it may not seem bad taking on a few projects or collaborating with different brands, but it can eventually cost you. And when I mean cost it doesn’t always mean financially, it can be in time and also in your health. Respectfully declining is not a bad thing. You are staying true to your expectations and are maintain realistic goals when doing that. Honestly, companies respect you more when you say no because they understand that your time is valuable and you’d rather deliver great results than to take on a project or collaboration you would only rush or only give part of your attention to.
Being an “effective” leader is one the most important traits to have
When managing two teams, being an effective leader is very important. It’s not just telling people what to do and delegating tasks. It’s being collaborative with your team and being open to ideas from team members. It’s being able to listen and be compassionate to your team and also being relatable and transparent. I am very grateful to have teams that have been with me from the very beginning. I’ve learned people don’t quit the company they quit their leaders or lack of leaders. I always keep in mind: behind every successful business is their team.
Everyone is not your target market
When reaching your target everyone is not your target audience. You have to be specific. With Global Intuition, our target market is Gen Z and Millennials. With our marketing efforts, we are seeing a trend that our audience is not on Facebook but rather on the newer social platforms such as TikTok. Collaborating with younger influencers on that platform have increased our brand recognition greatly.
Creativity in business decisions
In a lot of businesses some people are extremely business savvy and know the numbers but lack creativity. I think it’s important to have a balance of both or hire someone who have a creative mindset. With my creative background in art and film, it is easy for me to identify the human emotion. I can identify how a person feels when they look at a product. What colors evoke a certain emotion. Someone with just a business background wouldn’t know that. It’s important for people to know that people are visual creatures and impulse buy due to how pretty or shiny something looks.
Cut down costs
I had to learn the hard way when starting my business, I was so excited for my line to launch that I was willing to pay for advertisements, brand consultants, large events you name it and saw that I was not getting a return on investment. I quickly learned that I had to start off slow develop an internal team that could cut down more than half of these expenses and collaborate with other brands for events to help increase exposure. In business 101, the main thing you learn is low cost/increase profit.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My biggest advice to any colleague that is wanting to thrive in their business is take some time out to take care of self first. I manage 2 teams one in Shanghai, China and the second office is in LA, and one of the most challenging things I face is time to work from 10–4pm in LA and then to start communicating to my China team at 6pm can be much. But one thing I do make sure I do is take some time out to take care of myself, whether that be to meditate, go to the spa, have a glass of wine and relax, I make sure I do that for myself so I won’t burn out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My greatest help has been my mentor, Frederico Marchetti, and my dad. Frederico gave me the chance to be selling on yoox.com with a special project and campaign he commissioned for me in 2013. He gave a great talk at the WSJ tech conference and I was able to discuss with him in person some of the experiences I should learn from him as entrepreneur / CEO.
My dad has been one of my greatest inspirations and biggest supporter in starting my business. He has helped me build the longevity aspect of the products, guided me in landing business deals and has helped me promote the mission behind the brand which is gender fluidity, sustainability, and cultural heritage.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
My goal is to have the public see our fashion line as more than just a brand, but rather a lifestyle/culture and conglomerate that bridges the gap between fashion, branding and philanthropy. I plan on growing the business as a global brand, reaching the masses in major markets such as New York and Paris.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I want to legacy to be known as the International multi-disciplinary artist that built an empire that brought societal and cultural unity through art, fashion, and film.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I would start a movement that is based on people living in their intuition. I want to encourage people to go with their gut feeling by living their truth and following their dreams. People are so afraid to take that leap of faith to follow their dreams or live in their truth and showcase their story because they live in fear and are afraid of what society may think. I would love for people to join me and the Global Intuition brand to break societal standards and live in their Intuition. The world would be a lot better off if we all started doing that.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on Instagram @yizhouofficial and on Twitter @yizhoutweets. You can follow Global Intuition on Instagram @globalintuition on Twitter @g_intuition_ and Facebook @globalintuitionla.