Saturday, 15 January 2011
The WireWorkers Guild
In the United Kingdom,
we've all heard of the
London Jewellery School.
However, I was most interested
to discover, that in BEIJING,
CHINA, there is a remarkable
Jewellery Academy, called the:
SHOU DESIGNERS' JEWELLERY ACADEMY.
JANICE CHONG is the creative founder
behind Shou Designs, which she started as a wholesale
jewellery business and which has since expanded into a school -
with the advanced graduates becoming jewellery designers
with opportunities of launching their own work on the
Shou Distributors Gallery for European and Asian markets!
~ LEARN ~ CREATE ~ SELL ~
Recently I caught up with Janice and she very kindly
agreed to spare some time for an interview for the
Guild ... read on ... I'm sure you will be interested
to hear how, despite personal challenges, she set up
a thriving, creative sanctuary and community away from
her own homeland and culture ...
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND? DID YOU SET OUT
TO BE A JEWELLERY DESIGNER?
My background has always been in the fashion industry.
Upon graduating from University in Australia, I found
a regular job too boring for my personality and went in
pursuit of modelling. After a few years in Singapore, I
decided to branch into something more useful for my
qualifications, hence moving into merchandising with
Robinsons Co. ( a group of Marks & Spencers), but again
specialising in the fashion department. It was never my
intention to be a jewellery designer! That fell upon
me totally unexpectedly, when I came to China.
In 2001, after giving birth to my son in L.A., I moved to
Beijing. The first year was tough in China, as I barely knew
anyone. I met a Malaysian lady who was kind enough to
show me the ropes of "walking-the-markets" in Beijing,
in an attempt to help me ease into a Chinese way of life.
She had done some very basic beading at home for her
Beijing is a paradise for bead shopping! We have markets
for any kind of gemstone, glass beads, crystals, pearls, etc..
Vendors from all over China come together every weekend
on tricycles, cars, vans, or even horse drawn carts, just to
show and sell their precious commodity. It is not hard for
someone like me to be captivated by the
beauty of it all!
However, in 2002 Beijing was hit hard by an pandemic
of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Expatriates and
locals fled the city in millions ... Despite the scare of SARS,
the vendors and the markets remained open. In fact, it was
so deserted that many local's swear they had never experienced
such a "dead" Beijing like we did back then. I could not leave
because my son and I had a cold and were not allowed on
In the quiet months to follow, I must have been the only one
brave enough to visit the jewelry shops and markets. The
owners of the stores I frequented took pity on a poor expat
stuck in Beijing during these harsh times and started showing
me their jewelry trade and secrets! For anyone who has ever
lived in China, we know that the Chinese never ever share
trade secrets with anyone other than family! So it was a
huge opportunity for me.
In addition to that, every vendor had a unique style in
making jewelry. For example, Mr Chan, beaded with straight
forward stringing techniques, but Mrs Gu, used a very
unusual hand co-ordination to knot between each bead with
nylon thread, or Miss Luo, tied Chinese knots to make her
jewelry. Each one of them taught me a little. Well for the rest, I
spent hours working with beads, setting up my jewelry business -
Shou Designs Co., learning new designs from books and the
internet, developing my collections and making more connections.
That is how I mastered such a wide variety of skills.
A few years later, I set up my own retail shop in Beijing
as well as a wholesale online jewelry business supplying
jewelry to Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Germany.
A lady friend of mine, whom I met at my son's school took a
keen interest to beading. She also wanted to learn everything
that I knew and started following me to the markets. It later
turned out that she was the wife of the General Manager of
Holiday Inn Lido, in Beijing - 'THE' Hotel where many foreigners
meet and hang out together. She booked me a conference room,
found a group of 6 ladies and I had no choice but to oblige and
To my surprise, my classes became full season after season
and before I knew it, a decade had passed! The large number of
bead markets fueled a very strong demand for these ladies to
learn how to bead in Beijing. Many graduates from my courses
have since become independent jewelry designers like myself
in their own home countries. That is of course, what I am most
WHY DID YOU NAME YOUR ACADEMY 'SHOU'? - WHAT
IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MEANING IN CHINESE?
The reason I decided on
this name is that
S H O U means
E T E R N I T Y
I like the Chinese character
very much as it can be
transformed to a beautiful
logo. It looks very good on
packaging and jewelry
pouches, which I designed
to go with my brand.
DID YOU HAVE ANY CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME
WHEN YOU WERE STARTING OUT?
Living in China, everyday poses a challenge! It is no
different wether you're running a business or a course here.
To be a good jewelry instructor, I am expected to know
all the names of all the stones and beads in the markets.
Unfortunately, in China, the vendors only know the
names in Chinese, whereas I teach my courses in
English. So it has been a challenge to find out the
names of each stone I use, as students will always
It is also challenging to teach a group of people who
come from all different ethnic backgrounds, cultures and
countries. Not everyone speaks English like myself.
I have ladies from Korea, Africa, Poland, Kazachstan,
Russia, Indonesia, Vietnam ... to name a few non-Engllish
speaking countries! Lucky for me, that beading is so
visual and done with hand to eye co-ordination, in which case,
most of them can learn by watching me in class. We may not
have a common language to bond, but we are all
bonded by our love of beading and our unique experience
of living in China as expatriates.
Some ladies treat the classes as a sanctuary, a place to
get away from daily stress as mothers, wives, employees
or employers. Whatever it is, they never want the classes
to stop! Many have poured their life stories out to me and
to each other and it has been challenge to see each student
move away from Beijing while I still remain here.
HOW DO YOU ADVERTISE YOUR CLASSES AND
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF COMPETITION WITH
OTHER JEWELLERY COLLEGES?
For many years my courses have been filled up purely
through word-of-mouth! Beijing may have one of the
largest expatriate city communities, around half a million,
but still word gets around in town.
Many English magazines that report on the highs and lows
of what is happening in town, have caught on to my courses
and have been reporting and publishing my work and course
timetables for free. My academy is the only one of its kind in
Beijing, and due to its uniqueness, I was recently contacted to
do a TV interview for CCTV China.
In the past, there have been a few other instructors in Beijing,
but none have offered courses as long as I have. Many
have since moved away, after a short stint here.
TELL US ABOUT THE DIFFERENT COURSES YOU RUN
AND THE DESIGN TEACHERS BEHIND THEM?
The courses used to be broken down into Beginners,
Intermediate and Advanced levels. However, since last
year, I have grouped them into just two levels:
BASIC and PROFESSIONAL.
For those who just want to learn to bead for fun, as
a hobby and to pass the time, they normally do the
Basic course. The serious beaders usually move on
to the Professional course which is aimed at people
who wish to set up a home-based-business or make
an income out of this craft. At this level, I also show
them the ropes of the markets and how to deal with
Since I had my second baby a year and a half ago, I
have outsourced the WEEKEND course to one of my
seasoned graduates - Denise Lewis. The weekend
course is designed for working people who can't
attend on weekdays. It is usually a shorter version
of my full weekday course, as working people have
limited leisure time.
Denise also teaches the KIDS JEWELRY WORKSHOPS
on my behalf. Kids workshops include making
little hair clips, hair bands, memory wire bracelets.
Basically very simple pieces which do not require
a lot of tools.
DESCRIBE A NORMAL WORKING DAY FOR YOU,
IF THERE IS ONE ...
When I was running the Academy and my jewelry
business, I used to work 12-14 hours a day! That is
also mainly because my work studio was based at
But in August 2010, I relinquished my duties as head
of Shou Designs Co. and passed the business on to my
sister, who still runs it in Malaysia. She now sources
for jewelry everywhere, including buying from my
graduate designers. So for now, I am just running the
Academy, therefore a typical day will go something like this:
7 a.m. Get up and feed kids
7.30 a.m. Make sure son goes to school
8 a.m. Pass baby to housekeeper
8.30 a.m. Check and reply to emails
9 a.m. Double check I have everything for teaching
9.30 a.m. Head off to class
10 a.m. Begin workshop
12 p.m. Finish workshop, social lunch with students/ladies -
we love to try different restaurants after class!
2 p.m. Walk the markets with students, or purchase some
materials for class, for my collections
4 p.m. Head home and make preparations for class next day
5 p.m. Finish work
5-8 p.m. Family time
8.30 p.m. Update website/read mails, books, magazines ...
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR THE ACADEMY?
My plans for the Academy - given my job schedule now, is that
I do not want to expand it much more. I love my job, but I would
also like more time to dabble in other projects in my life.
Since I have founded the Beijing Jewelry Club with a group of students,
I hope the club will continue to grow and flourish even when I
have moved on in the future. I also hope, that possibly, one day,
one of my graduates will start the SHANGHAI Jewelry Club!
For more information about SHOU DESIGNERS' JEWELLERY ACADEMY,