Embedding Purpose in Business with Cecilia Xu
From a very young age, Cecilia Xu, or Ceci, found interest in the world of fashion, and grew up in an entrepreneurial environment. Studying Fashion Design in 2016 has sparked her interest in launching a minimalistic and typography-based line of streetwear called Paris Club. She draws inspiration from her love for people and belonging.
She strongly integrates her faith and work in one arena.
Ceci launched Paris Club while she was in Wellington, New Zealand. Now, Ceci lives in Bangkok, Thailand as she explores opportunities to sell her products in stores in the Southeast Asian markets.
First things first, tell us more about the person behind the Paris Club. What was your childhood like and how did it influence who you are today?
Great! I definitely agree these things influence who you become and what you choose to do.
Growing up, my dad was always a sort of business person - taking over businesses, starting his own, selling them, etc. He was never really into the corporate or full-time job sort of thing, and I really believe I take after him (my mum would agree)!
In school, I would always get up to trouble with my classmate for speaking up, laughing too loud or something weird. Because of that, I’ve just grown into someone who likes to explore things like that. I usually lose interest when I do the same thing day in and day out. I always think that reflects the type of personality that often leads to doing something different.
I was also quite creative from a young age. My parents always encouraged me to build on that creativity. I went to art classes that taught me how to sketch, paint and other drawing techniques. I also did Chinese typography and funnily, this has become on of my strengths as a designer. This resulted in the Paris Club designs being strongly typography based.
I also remember loving magazines and the way they were laid out. I read typical fashion magazines and also enjoyed drawing clothes. I used to make my own issues and give them out to my family. It wasn’t my strongest pursuit then but that somewhat started my interest in fashion.
What was the path that led you to founding Paris Club? Tell us about the heart behind your company.
I always wanted to design simple and minimalistic streetwear clothing to the point that I actually half-launched a brand two years ago. In 2014, I was ready to launch a men’s minimalist clothing called “Label #fff.” #fff is the web color code for white which depicted the simple and minimalistic design I was going for. It was based off home-printed T-shirts using a special tool but it lacked durability, and so I had to go back to the drawing board.
In 2015, I went to Paris and London and I left the place inspired. At that time, it didn’t inspire any clothing ideas, but when I studied Fashion in 2016 and the idea of launching a brand came back, I knew I wanted something quirky and fun with ‘Paris’ in the name. I wanted the brand to be friendly that includes everybody, especially young people.
My lifegroup was one of the biggest inspiration in the brand name. I was constantly surrounded by a diverse and interesting mix of people. It wasn’t a particular niche but I wanted a brand that loudly says, “you belong.” My heart for people and for fashion were equally big parts of me.
When I think of people, I think of fashion and vice versa. I feel joy when I dress people because it’s seeing two things I love in one place. I think that’s the beauty in which God works. He gives you parts and pieces and you join them together on your own terms, or in my case, it just happened effortlessly.
I was just going to sell a small line of 5-6 minimal T-shirts, but God just let my creativity flow. Within a few weeks, I had 50 designs that I wanted to launch. I truly didn’t think or plan too much on it all, and just went on with my initial ideas. Another reason to prove that you don’t have to have everything all figured out to launch something. It will develop on its own.
In your About Us section of the website, you mention youth, depression and suicide rates. How has this generation’s mental health issues inspired your business’ purpose?
One of my best friends is extremely passionate about issues around mental health, and at the time I was working closely with her on some side projects. While working on the brand’s purpose, I remembered our youth pastor talking about the New Zealand statistics on youth and young adults’ rates. These two factors inspired me to make youth the focus of my brand.
I haven’t personally experienced anything major, but like everyone else, I had my times of lows, sadness and anxiety. I’ve always had a heart for hurting people - to care for them and walk with them through their difficult times. As I got older, I realized how important it is for someone who is hurting to feel loved and cared for.
Fashion is a big topic around the world. There is great difference, diversity and uniqueness in how people present themselves. Using the brand in this niche highlights the need for youth to experience genuine care and love. Fashion is such a big part of young people’s lives these days, so I thought, why not use Paris Club to be an advocate for mental health, and influence people more on helping people with these struggles?
You are an international clothing business. How did you turn your passion for fashion into a profitable company?
I think the profitable part is God’s blessing. I never started the brand to be about the money. It started as a hobby while I was studying. I truly believe that the profitable part and growth of the business has a lot to do with the specialized people that came to my life. It was like an answered prayer to my heart’s unacknowledged desires.
God knew my heart. He brought in one by one people with different skills sets from SEO and web design to photography, and helped me in different aspects of the business that I knew I couldn't elevate on my own.
God was like the manager that went out and got everything we needed. It sounds cheesy, but it was an eye opener for me. Throughout this journey, I had a chance to redeem a relationship with a friend through the help that came along. It shows that God will use things like these to help you in may other level of life too.
Your business has achieved a great milestone. Your product was featured in GQ magazine. We can just imagine how amazing and overwhelming that opportunity was! Tell us about that experience.
Oh my goodness! That was crazy. Until now, I still have no idea how GQ found me, but one morning, I woke up to an email from GQ and they wanted to feature Paris Club as an up and coming brand. That honestly was a blessing that fell out of the sky. I was so grateful for the opportunity and all the help and support that I have received throughout the whole journey.
When I got the copy of the magazine, I ran around my house and kissed that page. I even wanted to frame it. My mum was there at the time that happened and she was so happy for me. It felt strange too because before I was only reading GQ, but now I was related to it. It felt unreal.
What’s one discovery you’ve made about yourself as your business has grown?
I realised through Paris Club how much I enjoy and love working with people as an entrepreneur. Being in business and entrepreneurship has a lot to do with communicating, meeting, negotiating and having quality relationships with a lot of people within and beyond the industry.
From clients to partners to customers, I love talking to them all. I believe it as a way for me to show God’s light and shine it. And it’s not about preaching to them about Jesus, but simply loving and being loving, because that’s God’s number one purpose for us, right? I believe that to love is all we are supposed to do on a basic level before we get the chance to preach.
" I BELIEVE THAT TO LOVE IS ALL WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DO ON A BASIC LEVEL
BEFORE WE GET THE CHANCE TO PREACH."
What has been your greatest challenge yet as a founder of Paris Club?
Reflecting my heart and the purpose of Paris Club into the products has always been a challenge for me, but I would say that this upcoming step is going to be my greatest challenge yet. We are currently on the works on selling Paris Club both online and in stores with other merchants and retailers.
I am trying to learn what the market is like here in Thailand. It’s been a slow process so far but I believe that slow is good. It allows you to learn most and plant some seeds until God gives the green light for the right time. I’ve learnt to never be impatient during the learning and sowing process.
How is your relationship with God? What are your thoughts on integrating faith and work?
Since moving to Thailand, I’ve felt a stronger urge to stay close to God because bigger cities mean busier lifestyles and more distractions. I’ve found spending the first hour when I get up each day and reading my bible really starts my day on the best note and the right mindset.
I ask God to speak to me on what He wants me to know through His word and journal all the words that speak and stand out. It’s been a game changer for me and improved my relationship with God. I’ve also been practicing telling God everything that’s on my heart and mind at the end of each day, knowing that God really cares about all the little things. When you really practice opening your heart to God, the comfort and love you feel in return is priceless.
To me, it is so important to have faith in the middle of your work. I feel like once we take God out of the equation, it just becomes about vanity and earthly desires like money, status or fame. It’s really important to keep your eyes on Him while running your business especially when times are stressful and challenging. It open your heart for truth and wisdom, and gives us the opportunity to know what or when to do something. God is the best business partner and I’m really enjoying this journey with Him.
What verse of scripture has been in your heart throughout the journey and how has this helped you?
In the midst of starting Paris Club, a friend shared Isaiah 58:11 (MSG) with me, and not only has it helped me along the Paris Club journey, but also in my work and life directions. It says:
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
Maybes it’s being a creative and sometimes fickle, but I often felt lost and didn’t know where to go or where I was going next. Through this verse (and others like Jeremiah 29:11), God always reassures me that He has a plan and He will show me. Through meditating on this verse and locking it in my heart, I don’t need to wonder or feel afraid anymore. I know that this is exactly where He wants me to be right now, and I always trust and believe that He will always show me the next step as I take it. Not the next five or ten, but just the next.
What is your advice for people who wish to start their own clothing brand and enter the fashion industry?
Go for it and just put your ideas out there. You don’t have to have it all planned out to start and launch something. Even if it’s a little bit of something. If you feel it in your heart, forget about the logistics. Just do it! Once it’s out there, you will have experiences and feedback to create, mould and make changes for it to become better. Definitely pray about it if you have an idea bubbling. Ask God, "what do you want me to do with this? What should this be about?" God knows more and He will know what’ll work best.
As an entrepreneur in the fashion industry, what does it mean to be a “work in progress” to you?
It means that you are on the road towards being the person God destined you to become. It’s not being too hard on yourself when you make mistakes or when things don’t go right. In my experience, when sales aren’t going well or where I want them to be, I have to remember this is all under God’s control and not mine. I can only do my best and leave the rest to Him. It’s about taking everything as a learning experience to become better and stronger, and most of all, being humble during the process.
Where to from here: what does the future look like for you and for Paris Club?
Paris Club will always be about people, and I am definitely going to try to introduce it into the Southeast Asia market and see if it can open up here. As for me, I really believe I’m at a place of expansion and new things. Coming to a new country is coming into a land of new things, lessons and opportunities. I am seeking God for new ways to grow and further my entrepreneurial path. I am expanding my network and casting out my web and letting God do the rest. It’s an exciting time and I’m just praying for God to bless that and bring in whatever He sees right and fit in His timing.