Posted on August 31 2016
This week's Wednesday Woman is Vanessa Lee, British-born Taiwanese model with Elite London and New York Model Management, and vlogger. Here's her story:
Newnham; What were you like growing up?
Lee: My mum once described me as “the infinitely happy child” because I was super upbeat all the time (I put that down to eating a lot of sugar!). I’d say that I was super creative and curious. We didn’t have a lot growing up so I made do with what I had, creating things even if they didn’t mean anything or make sense from drawing to painting to sewing.
Newnham: When did you first get interested in fashion and tech?
Lee: Fashion was the undercurrent to all my hobbies growing up, ranging from wanting to be a fashion designer to journalist because, in its simplest form, it’s accessible creativity. Vogue was £3, which was a small fortune at the time, but compared to everything else it wasn’t. By 14 years old I was so well-versed in the fashion history, old and new, that my friends would be able to show me a picture from a show or a magazine and I’d be able to identify which season and designer it was from. I also interned in between school, spending my summer holidays/weekends working for anyone to get my foot in the door, even interviewing at the Gucci press office at 14 - they thought I was 16 - and then a few years later I was scouted and became a model. Now, I work in fashion but it isn’t the dominant interest in my life.
Tech came in the recent years. I’ve always been bookish and after digesting as many fiction/non-fiction books possible, I swiftly progressed on to business, economics and naturally that was followed by startups/tech. I’m also naturally a nerd, hyper curious and my favorite people to learn from are my friends who work or founded companies in Silicon Valley. I’m the kind of girl who is friends with 45 year-old tech CEO's simply because I’m interested in IPOs and startup culture.
Newnham: What's life/work life as a model? What are some of the highs and lows of a modelling career?
Lee: Either incredibly exciting, busy and wild or dull, slow and repetitive. There is no happy medium. The job is entirely personal, everyone experiences it differently, but in the end, it is about how you take to it. For me, it’s a job not a lifestyle. It’s my means of financing my life, a monetizing opportunity and a platform. I love spontaneity and having a different “work” day, every day.
The highs are traveling around the world and meeting new people with minimal investment from my side. The lows are not having control over my schedule, but again you make it work. I’ve learnt to be flexible and relaxed about how I live. I have tentative plans and then just roll with it as it comes. I live way below my means so that it’s not going to be a big deal if and when I stop. I think a lot of people get into it without considering if they have the character to handle it, for example, you don’t just need a thick skin, you need a thin one too. You need to be able to take the criticism and not cry and adopt an eating disorder, but also accept the compliment without endorsing arrogance.
Newnham; You have started an awesome foodie vlog - how are you finding it and what are your top tips for those who also want to start a vlog?
Lee: Thank you so much! That means the world to me. I’m finding it hard (work) but in the most selfish, mentally-rewarding way possible. It’s nothing short of pure joy (in the words of Marie Kondo no less) to put time and energy into something that stimulates both my creative and curious sides and make something for the people I care about.
It’s still in the early stages so I don’t know if I’m in the position to give out tips, but if there was an inkling of substantial wisdom I could pass on it would be to find something you genuinely find fun to vlog about. If it’s not fun you won’t be motivated to spend hours, and I mean hours, doing all the menial things that come with it. Put it this way: if you start a vlog and your friends or that guy you’re seeing asks you to hang out, but you want to work on your vlog instead, then you know you’re on to something. If you have to consider the two options, then you probably aren’t into it enough.
Newnham: Who/what inspires you?
Lee: In terms of life, there isn’t a particular person, but there’s a couple people that serve as reminders when I find myself slacking. People that apply continuous hard work and grit such as Elon Musk and Casey Neistat. In the words of my favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, it's about the “10,000 hours” and then some.
Newnham: Finally, if you could go back in time, what advice, if any, would you give a younger Vanessa at the start of her career?
Lee: The same advice I'd give myself now. You will never be the prettiest girl so ignore the noise and try to be the smartest, happiest and most honest version of yourself. Also, people will tell you to hold your voice back but most of the time those are the same girls who can’t ask for what they want but will then ask you to do it for them.