Fashion designer learns to sew in secret, from YouTube
BURIED in international trading taxation and federal budgets, Ann Xiao ploughed through the first year of her economics degree; her mind elsewhere.
Having attended a specialist high school where all subjects were tailored towards commerce, science and business, her path was already being paved for a career behind a desk and excel spreadsheet.
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But the Sydney-based creative with a passion for fashion had other plans.
Before her second year of university, Ann told her parents she needed to take a year off to work before getting back into study. A white lie she had to tell.
Behind the guise of a busy working girl, Ann spent 12 months teaching herself to sew in secret through YouTube videos and pulling apart her own clothes; building her portfolio and harnessing her talent.
She applied for every fashion course in the state until she was accepted into one of the best fashion design courses in Sydney at Ultimo TAFE.
It was then she had to break the news to her parents.
"Until then they were totally oblivious to what I was doing; only my boyfriend knew," Ann said.
"So when I was accepted I had to sit my parents down and say 'don't freak out, I'm not a dropout, I have my sh*t together and I am doing what I love'."
Now graduated, the 23-year-old is already making ripples she hopes to turn into waves.
Last year she was selected from a pool of 35 to exhibit her collection, A.N.X, at her school's graduation runway show to an audience of industry heads and scouts.
"We had proper models and make-up artists so it was a real runway show which has been one of my major milestones because only 15 students were chosen," Ann said.
Her latest feat is being selected to present at Dunedin's iD Fashion Week - one of New Zealand's premier events with major designers and industry professionals as well as an emerging designers competition.
"I am actually really nervous about it!" Ann said.
"But so excited to be in a fashion competition with other emerging designers and to meet the judges with international acclaim, the media exposure - everything.
"I am so humbled and happy to be chosen as a finalist to be there."
Ann said the collection she is presenting in Dunedin, called A.N.X, represented "the dichotomy between assimilating into the 'Australian way of life' and retaining an understanding and appreciation of my (Chinese) heritage".
"The collection also features graffiti work by a famous Hong Kong artist, the late Tsang Tsou Choi, or the 'King of Kowloon' which speaks out against the Chinese government's oppressive measures on its people."
Ann's designs are largely unisex, and reflect her own personal style.
"What I wear myself is definitely minimalistic, unisex, streetwear - yes, I like to shop in the boys section!" she said.
"In this collection I wanted to create clothing that people want to wear - not defined by whether it was for a man or a woman - they should just pick it up and love it for what it is."
Meanwhile, Ann is on the hunt for design assistant jobs to continue to build her portfolio and expand her knowledge before taking the plunge on the international stage.
"I am hoping to move to Paris in a year or so and I knew a few people in the industry over there who say they'll work you like a horse, but I am so ready for that," she said.
For now, she is interning with Australian Fashion Chamber, working under the general manager and soaking up as much as she can.