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Aanchal Wadhwani: “You can’t do everything on your own”

I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and it has not been an easy journey growing up as a minority among the locals. Although I speak the language, it’s always a harder fight to enter any industry compared to my local or Caucasian peers. I want to encourage other minorities to believe in themselves […]

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I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and it has not been an easy journey growing up as a minority among the locals. Although I speak the language, it’s always a harder fight to enter any industry compared to my local or Caucasian peers. I want to encourage other minorities to believe in themselves and despite the difficulties they face in their younger years, to remain motivated because they can achieve anything they put their minds to!

I have shared my knowledge and skills with young minorities through NGO organizations, given talks at local secondary schools to encourage diversity, spoken on a TEDx stage and through my newest venture — STAGE Management — I hope I can make a big change within the industry.


As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aanchal Wadhwani.

Aanchal is a 28-year-old photographer, actress, model and entrepreneur based in Hong Kong. She runs several businesses including Matryoshka Studio, STAGE Creatives, STAGE Management and Academy of Design.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me! It’s a pleasure to share my journey with Authority Magazine. I have to say, my career paths were all serendipitous. I majored in Fashion Design and had always thought I would be a designer when I grew up.

During my first year as a design student, at 16 years old, I wanted to know what it was truly like working as a commercial designer and applied for internships throughout the city. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to intern and decided to spend my summer productively by giving myself an opportunity. I created ‘Matryoshka’ as a jewelry brand where I handmade pieces to sell through social media at first, and a year later, I had 2 shops selling my pieces.

Simultaneously, I used to spend my free time exploring different facets of the industry — modeling, styling, photography and even retouching. I fell in love with photography because of its boundlessness for me to create absolutely anything within an image. I eventually continued as a photographer under the same name ‘Matryoshka’.

Acting happened when I was 18. I was still studying fashion design at the time and was scouted to be on a local TV show to share my journey as a designer. Half of the program was scripted where I had to act in my second language — Cantonese. It was quite a challenge, but it opened many doors for me! I really enjoy going through a script and analyzing how I would naturally react, questioning my thoughts and emotions. It helped me grow as a human being.

I co-founded ‘Academy of Design’, a design school that offers short courses and workshops to promote the art industry in Hong Kong. A lot of local design courses are conducted in Cantonese with the pretense that the course is in English simply because the notes or presentations are prepared in English. It makes it difficult for foreign students to join local courses and it’s very costly to join programs from international institutes. Therefore, my partner and I created Academy of Design to provide cost friendly programs for all ages and skill levels, purely in English or Cantonese.

A year ago, I started a visual content production ‘STAGE Creatives’, where a team including myself provide a one-stop service for photography, videography, animation, illustration, graphic design, website design and development. The purpose is to simplify the production process as well as reduce costs and time from delegating to several companies. I’ve also launched a talent and model management together with a veteran model under the company called ‘STAGE Management’. We are the city’s leading agency to focus on diversity and inclusivity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

It’s hard for me to pinpoint a single story. I think the biggest perk of being a creative working in so many areas of the industry is that every day is different.

As a photographer, the most interesting projects I’ve worked on are projects I’ve created solely for myself. When I graduated from university, I created a series of artistic portraits, one of them was a recreation of the painting ‘The Birth of Venus’. I found a shell fountain like the shell Aphrodite stands on in the painting, but it was situated in the middle of a commercial hub. We decided to start shooting very early in the morning and the model arrived at my home for makeup and hair at 5am. We drove to the location; she stripped her clothes off and had to climb down a wall to get into the fountain. We gathered quite the audience while shooting and had to make it quick before we got caught. It was spontaneous, and I had to think on my feet to get the perfect shot.

The most interesting experience I’ve had as an actress is during an episode of ‘Sparks’, a mini-series by DBS Bank in which I play one of the main characters — Riya Rai. In the first season, we had an episode shot in Lijiang, China; outdoors in winter at -4 degrees, which is a big difference from the winter we have in Hong Kong. The most challenging scene was the first time I had to cry on command — to build up the emotions at the right time, to cry and then to do it all again until we have the perfect shot.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I’ve made starting out as a photographer is burning a strobe light while shooting in a studio. I left the plastic cover on and took photos until I saw smoke coming from the light. I realized that the cover had melted onto the light bulb. It was embarrassing but luckily it was a creative collaboration that I put together to practice.

Rather than studying to be an actress, I had to learn on the job, so I’ve definitely made some funny mistakes along my journey. The silliest was at my first table read. The other actors, director, script writer and producer were all seated on the table and we started to read our lines. At the time, I had no idea what the purpose of a table read was, so I quickly read out the lines without any emotions. The director eventually had to stop the table read to make sure I knew what we were there for.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

A few months ago, during the midst of the pandemic, I partnered with a veteran model, Nikola Lines, to start a talent and model management — STAGE Management.

Having invested many years into the industry, we both realized there is a standard of beauty that is unhealthy — only featuring a certain look and certain ethnicity. We decided to initiate change through running our own talent management and including talents that feature different skin tones, hair types, height, body shapes, cultures, body art and identities. We believe that models are not just beautiful faces but also carry beautiful personalities and individuality that deserve to be seen!

Along with trying to break stereotypes, we ensure that our talents are timely, professional and responsible. We make sure they are safe and ensure that they are treated fairly on every project.

We are proud to share that our models and talents have worked on projects with brands like McDonalds, Fila and New Balance. We look forward to growing as an agency and cannot wait to make a mark here in Hong Kong!

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

A few years I organized a photo series featuring people and their pets — mainly to introduce different species of animals so that people can make a calculated choice before purchasing a pet. I was inspired to start the project after noticing how many animals are abandoned because they were not what people expected.

Through the series I photographed a parrot and his owner and learnt so much about birds. I photographed a red tegu lizard and fell even more in love with reptiles. I photographed a little girl and her dog and heard about how he comforts her through her disability. I photographed a young lady and her two turtles — one of which laid an egg at my studio! I photographed a blind kitten adopted by a young lady and was inspired by how eager he was to explore despite not being able to see. Overall, it was a beautiful experience.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Most people I meet start out with a fire and love for creating something unique. Over time, after having to comply to the commercial world, they get sucked into using their creativity for income and eventually forget why they started their journey in the first place.

My biggest advice is to remind yourself of your passion through organizing creative projects for yourself! Put together a project that inspires you and go out there to do it! I guarantee you will feel inspired and fulfilled after the project. Personally, I make sure I do a big project at the end of the year to ring in the new year with positivity and energy.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

As a model or actress, it’s quite a tough industry with a lot of emphasis on maintaining your figure and having good skin. It can be pressurizing to constantly hear negative things about your body and can lead towards dangerous eating habits, body dysmorphia and mental disorders.

Going into an industry that relies so much on physical attributes, you must be level headed and strong minded with your morals and beliefs. You need to know when to say no. It’s important to have a strong support system around you, whether it’s your agency, friends or family.

Building your portfolio is important and work will come once a solid portfolio is built. Collaborate with photographers, directors, makeup artists, etc, to work on projects that can bring out a different light in you — it’s important to show your personality, a variety of characters and your ability to morph with different looks.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I practice simple yoga before I sleep. I do stretches and try to spend 10–15 minutes quietly before sleeping. I have to admit, some days it gets difficult, especially if it’s a late night — but I try to do this as often as I can.

I also strongly believe in visualizing my goals. I repeat affirmations to myself and visualize my goals mentally. I do this daily.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

One — You can’t do everything on your own. Everyone has a different skill set that can benefit a business or idea. It’s important to trust the team you have around you.

Two — Society is constantly evolving, and a successful business must adapt to the changes and needs of the social generation. Keeping the old ways will only lead to the business going downhill.

Three — Don’t be afraid of challenges, it’s okay if you fail because when one door closes, another always opens.

Four — Constantly keep your mind open to new ideas, it could inspire you towards something new.

Five — Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are your biggest ally, you know your strengths and weaknesses, give yourself the opportunity to grow and learn but be kind to yourself. You are amazing!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I was 14, I was studying fine art in my spare time and was never a stickler for the rules. I would always attempt the opposite of what my teacher suggested. One day he told me ‘you must be a master before you break the rules’. He explained I had to learn the rules and understand why they are there in the first place. Only once I fully mastered the structure, will I be able to know where I can make changes and apply my own creativity to improve the structure.

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 about that?

There are quite a few people who have had my back since the beginning. My parents, my sister and my best friend (who is also my business partner) have always supported me throughout every difficulty and every success. I know they are always there for me if I need advice or someone to talk to.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and it has not been an easy journey growing up as a minority among the locals. Although I speak the language, it’s always a harder fight to enter any industry compared to my local or Caucasian peers. I want to encourage other minorities to believe in themselves and despite the difficulties they face in their younger years, to remain motivated because they can achieve anything they put their minds to!

I have shared my knowledge and skills with young minorities through NGO organizations, given talks at local secondary schools to encourage diversity, spoken on a TEDx stage and through my newest venture — STAGE Management — I hope I can make a big change within the industry.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would love to spend time with Tim Walker. He is a brilliant photographer that inspired me as a young teenager to pursue photography. His work is a reflection of his mind and I strive to have visuals that make people feel the same way.

How can our readers follow you online?

Personal: www.instagram.com/therealaanchal

STAGE Creatives: www.wearestage.com | www.instagram.com/wearestage.hk
STAGE Management: www.wearestage.com/management | www.instagram.com/wearestagemodel

Matryoshka Studio: www.matryoshka.ws | www.instagram.com/matryoshka_photo

Academy of Design: www.aod.education | www.instagram.com/aod_hk

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!


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