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Jiawa Liu on Reshaping the Notion of Influence

Jiawa Liu on Reshaping the Notion of Influence

Jiawa Liu, influencer, editor, creative director, and founder of Beige Pill Productions, is next to be welcomed into the Jing Daily community of individuals shaping China’s booming luxury fashion industry. These profiles highlight industry leaders who contribute to the national and global ecosystem, from creatives and influencers to business executives and entrepreneurs.

Born in China, raised in Australia, and based in France, Jiawa Liu is the definition of a global citizen. After seven years in the legal sector as a contract lawyer, Liu did a complete U-turn and started her fashion blog under the pseudonym “Beige Renegade.” At a time before Instagram and Facebook, Liu was one of the first to start a “dot com” page. Now the digital influencer counts over 900,000 followers across her combined social media presence.

Jiawu Liu, aka Beige Renegade, has over 900,000 social media followers. Photo: Beige Renegade’s Facebook

Yet, Liu is not only a lawyer-turned-blogger: her vast curriculum ranges from contributing editor for Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, to the founder of the boutique creative agency Beige Pill Productions. 

As Liu admits, being an “outsider” in the fashion industry has enabled her to wear many different hats. Now, Liu is on another mission. In March 2022, the influencer traveled to Poland to report on the influx of Ukrainian refugees into the country, with the aim of using her platform to raise awareness of the emergency situation and give a voice to NGOs (non-governmental organizations) as to how the general public can help.

Here, Jiawa Liu talks to Jing Daily about her role as a creative and influencer in the fashion industry and the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

Given your varied upbringing, how do you stay connected to your Chinese heritage?

I was born in China, but I left when I was very young, around 10 years old. We were one of the first to come out of China. At that time, my parents and that whole generation believed it was very important to assimilate and westernize. However, now you do start questioning what it’s like to have two racial-cultural identities. There is actually an undeniable link, which is my birthplace! So even if I can’t say I have the best knowledge of Chinese culture, everything to do with my country is so close to me. That is pretty important for me.

A creative director, KOL, editor, and photographer: these are a lot of hats. What is your typical day like? And what’s your favorite part?

As you said, every day is different; but I’m not sure that they are so different, these hats. It’s almost like one hat with different colors. All the different roles are related to the one I got into the industry with — a blogger.

Actually, most of my everyday life is admin. It is a lot of emails because my agency Beige Pill Productions takes care of production from beginning to end. Sometimes we talk with clients for many months before it turns into an actual project. So, a big part of it is communication. But my favorite part is definitely: the concept. And I’m lucky enough that my clients are open to doing things. Once I think I proposed one of the craziest ideas to a brand — to have a miniature house — and they liked it. So my team and I had to learn about the story of miniature and we even approached a miniature artist community in France. Having to do projects that get us to delve into a world we didn’t know existed before, that’s very exciting for me!

Beige Pill Productions worked on the August 2021 cover of Harper’s Bazaar Singapore featuring Louis Vuitton jewelry. Photo: Beige Renegade

What key skills from your law background help you most in fashion?

It’s cool not to be from fashion. There are lots of people that I admire that came from completely different backgrounds. The skills I learned as a lawyer have become instinctive and help with things that others might sometimes find difficult. For instance, I type very fast and I’m very comfortable with phrasing a professional proposal or knowing which kind of language to employ for different types of communication. Obviously, I have a comfortable understanding of the law, especially contract law, as I was a contract specialist. So things like contracts with clients don’t need to be looked at by a lawyer, because I am one. Many people in the creative industry struggle with these kinds of things, so I do feel very lucky.  

What made you found your creative agency Beige Pill Productions?

I definitely didn’t have the intention of creating this business when I started as an influencer. But I do see that production was a natural progression from it. I see influencers as content specialists. However, they don’t get enough credit for this. We always tend to discredit what influencers do, thinking that it is easy. But you can’t deny influencers have developed very special skills. There is a misconception that what an influencer creates in terms of content is not of the same value as a campaign or a lookbook shoot by a professional photographer. So I felt the need to work on this perception and decided to create a different entity to better communicate my production capability, one that is unrelated to the digital services that I can provide. 

Beige Pill Production has an impressive portfolio of luxury clients — Valentino, Gucci, SKP Beijing. What are the services they look for from your agency?

It is rare for clients to choose newer players. It’s a saturated market — there are agencies that are huge and generally have worked with the client for over ten years. But I think now brands want to try something different, ideas that they are not getting anywhere else, and there is an attraction to be associated with the digital universe. 

Once, we collaborated with Valentino. At that time they were partnering with Animal Crossing to create skins in the game. They were in the mood to be linked with young people and what was going on in the metaverse. I think through our profile they saw we were able to bring them the kind of innovative point of view they were looking for. And, after that successful collaboration, they came back to us to create another campaign. 

Did you spot any differences when working with an international house and a Chinese company?

I wouldn’t say the differences are that apparent. If I were to compare extremes, I would say European companies are very corporate and bureaucratic, they require many layers of approvals. Sometimes during the process, the work kind of gets diluted from what you have intended at the beginning. That happens too when I work with projects linked to Chinese companies, but I feel like they are a bit more open to what you are suggesting to them and what the new trend is. 

How do you think your Chinese identity has shaped your creative vision, and do your luxury clients appreciate this aspect? Have you seen a shift over the years?

I think I do understand Chinese values, even from an instinctive point of view — having relatives, talking to Chinese colleagues. So, when we work for the Chinese market I can bring those into consideration.  

It works the other way round too. China is in a very exciting period, they are discovering new ways to be creative. This also applies to the KOL community. I see their trend is often about aesthetics and beauty rather than creativity. But they are discovering it now. So for them, it’s a brand new proposition that could enrich what is going on in the Chinese market. I’m very excited about that side: to bring what has been successful and interesting in the West and have it play out in the Chinese market and see how it works.

Why do you feel a moral obligation to wade into difficult topics?

I’m just very interested in how the creative industry and professionals should behave in these circumstances. I’ve been interested in this since February 24 (when Russia invaded Ukraine). The most visible part of what we do in the fashion industry is so irrelevant in times of war. As Demna Gvasalia said in the note of his show: fashion doesn’t even have the right to exist. So this is what the industry is thinking: do we even have the right to continue to do what we do, even if nothing we do contributes to the good in this context — and may even be harming it?

The fashion industry is closed off in its bubble. I’ve had so many conversations with so many people. We don’t know how to continue. But we have to continue because it is our job. I think what I can do is to give courage and inspiration to the people working in the same industry as me — that it’s not crazy to post about runway shows, and be concerned about people living in the metro.