In Conversation with Susie Bubble
Written by Daniel Peters
Known across the fashion industry as one of the original personal style bloggers turned respected journalist, Susanah Lau – or Susie Bubble as she is affectionately known – is using her platform to go beyond the clothes, and challenge the industry on its lack of change.
Many people know you for your blog stylebubble.com, but what was the moment in your childhood that inspired you to see fashion as a potential career path? Was there someone who encouraged your love of using clothing to express yourself?
I can’t really pinpoint a single moment or a specific individual. I always loved personal style and dressing myself, so my love of fashion really stemmed from that, rather than being enamoured by designer high-end FASHION!!
I grew up in Camden, where my parents had a Chinese takeaway, it was a really vibrant place to see style tribes. I’d also go back to Hong Kong to see family and get to see a different lens on personal style which was heavily inspired by Japanese street fashion, so I just nurtured this very magpie/eclectic attitude towards style, going from the UK to Asia and back. Seeing that people walking around the streets could wear quite madcap outfits was a gateway into fashion, and really started it all. I also went to a very academic rigid girl’s school and so fashion was a very outward way of rebelling against that environment.
As a child of Asian heritage, what was the family reaction to your chosen career path?
The reason I started my blog was because fashion wasn’t a clear cut career path. I had a job in advertising that was more readily accepted in my family, and went on to become hired as a Digital Editor at Dazed off of the back of my blog. So as long as there was a full time job with a steady wage, that’s all they cared about.
My family however became worried when I started to freelance, but I think that they could see that I was gaining opportunities and making the most of that.
For a long time they never really fully understood what it is I DO, so they just let me get on with it and vaguely congratulated me whenever they saw me in magazines or on TV. I’d say as an Asian family, they’re fairly open-minded about creative careers seeing as all three of my sisters are also in the creative industries. I think they’ve really educated themselves about what are the possibilities and how there can be viable careers.
Was there a poignant moment in your career that you felt unaccepted by the industry? How did you challenge that lack of celebration or acceptance?
There wasn’t a specific moment, but when I started working in fashion, around 2008, it was so pointedly obvious that it was very white-dominated and also made up of people who were already privileged and well-off. I wouldn’t say there’s a specific moment, but in all honesty from when I started working in fashion, which was around 2008, it was so pointedly obvious that it was very white-dominated and also made up of people who were already privileged and well-off. Going to fancy dinners as press or a blogger/influencer, you had this constant imposter syndrome where you felt like you’d get “found out”. I think going to Paris to see the shows, and not being allowed in because they thought I was chancing it, or to offices of fashion houses and being stopped by security guards, being mistaken as a Chinese tourist customer – those experiences have been the toughest because even if you’ve worked your way up through the industry, it’s more galling when these things suddenly happen out of the blue.
I think being more vocal about it immediately in those situations and also bringing it up with PR’s and people who work at those houses, having those conversations and not just burying them in embarrassment is key. I think it’s really important to let your peers and colleagues know that these experiences exist and to make them aware so the culture can actually change. It doesn’t work if you suffer in silence. I’m definitely a lot more vocal about these things on socials as well which really has been the catalyst for a change in culture. Finally, I now sit in a UK press block at shows that aren’t just predominantly white!
Fashion seemingly courts controversy at times, and you have rightly challenged the moments that don’t sit well with you. When did you feel confident enough to speak up on subjects such as the Dolce & Gabbana campaign?
That confidence does come with age to be honest. I think in my 20s I would have been afraid to speak out against brands, and particularly when I was working for a publication. But nowadays, there are certain things that happen and you just see red. Like the Dolce & Gabbana campaign and Stefano Gabbana’s subsequent comments. Some things actually just hit you immediately and you can’t help but speak up.
How have you seen meaningful change being adopted by the wider industry since 2020’s black lives matter movement and rise in Asian hate crimes?
For sure the culture is changing and outward diversity is very much on the agenda in terms of image making and the catwalks. Behind the scenes, you also have diversity and inclusion hires at higher levels so that brands don’t commit racially insensitive “gaffes”. But I think there’s still a long way to go until inclusion and diversity isn’t just a corporate box ticking exercise and something that is truly ingrained into a brand’s DNA. White creative directors and designers are still dictating the mainstream fashion conversation, and I think that is a lost opportunity. Slowly but surely that is also changing.
You recently – rightly – pointed out that with such a high number of Asian people studying fashion year on year, why aren’t more of the community making it to the “top of these houses”. What do you think the blockage is?
I’m speaking broadly, but I think for a long time Asians were just happy to be at any level in the fashion industry. Assisting stylists, working in production for a fashion house, working as session hair and make-up stylists, as junior designers – I know this having worked with and spoken to many Asians in the industry. There was this almost self-imposed attitude of “Oh well, I AM working in fashion so that’s GREAT!” Also generally speaking there is this keep-your-head-down, keep-quiet, don’t try and stand out too much, kind of feeling in the Asian community that means that fighting for those senior roles doesn’t even occur to us. From the perspective of decision makers, perhaps we’re not seen as “strong” candidates even if the talent is there.
As a mother of two, what would your advice be to either of your children should they choose a career in the exclusive fashion club?
I would say my children obviously have the outward benefit of being half white and that they are part of a new generation and will be working under hopefully very different circumstances than when I came up in the industry. But, I would say that if they do want to work in fashion, I’d tell them to work in an environment on their own terms. Don’t ever have anyone make you feel “less” or “diminished” in any way.
It will be a changed industry I hope and the opportunities to flourish as an independent creative will hopefully be even more widespread.
As Lau comments, it’s true that change is afoot, but why must the underrepresented continue to be the ones at the forefront of championing change.
Follow Susie @susiebubble
As seen in The Reporter, published in February 2023