By Taylor Smith
If anyone has perfected the art of making freelance look glamorous, it’s Liz Peng. A writer and consultant whose work has graced the pages of Vogue, Vogue China, and Modern Weekly, among others, the well-dressed Houston native primarily writes about Chinese fashion. “It really represents this combination of everything that I’ve loved and just strikes a really personal and intimate chord,” she says of her chosen focus. “So it’s really exciting to be able to capture and bottle that excitement that I have for it and make it accessible to a broader audience.”
Peng’s career path has taken her literally around the world. While earning her B.A. in History and Ancient Studies at Rice, she summered in the south of France and did semesters in Paris and Beijing. But she found she still had more exploring to do when the time came to get a “real job.” Peng went to China on a Fulbright Scholarship to research luxury fashion just after the Beijng Olympics and later studied fashion journalism at Central Saint Martin’s in London where she also worked at the style magazine Love. Since then, she has consistently travelled between New York and China, becoming a “go-to” for New York publications on Chinese fashion.
When she’s not interviewing up-and-coming designers, she surfs and skateboards, and dressed to impress all the while (She credits her fashion sense to her mom, who she says has “impeccable taste.”). I caught up with Liz on her morning skate at Riverside Park, where we chatted about working within her niche, her writing process, and how to thrive in the freelance world.
I’m a feeling type, and I mean this in a positive way; emotionality is beautiful––I am just prone to sensory overload, which at times, makes it difficult to communicate what I’m actually feeling. So [written] words have always been the easiest way for me to express myself accurately and precisely. They are, for me, the closest thing that can capture the full-range of thoughts, emotions, ideas, etc.
As someone with a personal interest in Chinese culture and fashion who also writes about these topics, do you feel any sort of pressure to convey Chinese culture in a certain light?
Not really. I stay true to how I feel, what is authentic, what is accurate, what is positive, and what will materially drive the industry forward in meaningful ways. I realize this can seem very subjective, but I know that the depth and breadth of what I am able to take in and see is pretty unique and valuable to others––it’s impossible to appease everyone, so the most important thing for me is to make sure I’m balanced and staying true to myself. This actually requires the least amount of effort.
Your subject matter helps you stand out in a competitive field, but have there been any drawbacks to that? Do you ever wish it were perceived as more mainstream?
Not at all. I think owning a niche is powerful, not saying that I “own” mine (there is room for all), maybe existing rather. I have no regrets because the intersection of China and fashion, or broadly, East and West, however you want to frame it, is simply how I live. But sure, there are moments when you wonder if anyone cares—but that’s not for you to decide. I think it’s more about having greater cultural understanding, shifting people’s perceptions away from prejudice and ignorance to a place that’s more informed. To be able to do that just once, is a wonderful thing.
What tips do you have for making ends meet as a freelance writer?
Split pennies and always hustle and flow. But really flow, be flexible. And all of those insecurities that you feel, know that everyone else feels them too. Also, you never know where you might find your next “big break,” often, it comes in the most unexpected way, so be open. Nothing is ever linear or as you think.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your writing career?
To stay true to myself, to stand for something.
I know you practice Morning Pages; what are some of the ways you hone your skills as a writer?
I have recently begun self Reiki practice which has been pretty powerful and dreamy. I’m also exercising heart writing, which is essentially writing post-spiritual or meditative practice. That, and I make sure to quiet my mind by going out to Rockaway to surf––there’s nothing more humbling than the ocean.
Do you have a favorite article you’ve written? Person you’ve interviewed? Why?
Yes! I loved this piece I was able to write about Chinese models breaking barriers in beauty and business for Style.com, and spoke to everyone from Du Juan and Liu Wen to Xiaowen Ju. My “Guilty as Charged: Not Enough Self Promotion” piece was also fun because it was so personal.
Interviewing Wendi Murdoch and Andrew Bolton for a video interview on Sina Fashion was also pretty incredible, we just geeked out over Chinese aesthetics and their subsequent influence on Western fashion. Interviewing Sarah Burton, Rick Owens, Tory Burch, Fabien Baron, Karla Otto…the list goes on! Each represented one of those welcome moments the job affords me, when I’m able to have a rare visit with real genius and brilliance, to linger a while, and leave completely transformed and inspired.
What is the most rewarding part of the work you do?
The above, and the ability to help others, to get their messages, points, dreams, narratives, visions and values across, including my own, to make connections among seemingly disparate things, especially if cross-cultural, and the fact that I’m able to get paid for playing, for having fun and being me––I mean…🙏.
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