Featured Image by Chris Lim for Maria Tish
“I would never wanna be, ‘Helena, she works for whatever’, but I wanna be ‘Helena, she can do this and that’”, said Helena Yeung, editor and stylist at CLOT. In this episode of Coffee Break, Cyrus Batino, founder of The Stack, unpacks her experiences with being a female in the fashion industry, her biggest motivating factors, and how she sees where the industry is headed towards.
Check out Helena’s Instagram for more of her work.
We wanted to start off by asking you about your journey. How did you get into fashion and land your previous role at Hypebeast?
When I was younger, I wanted to do something with women’s fashion but wasn’t sure what that would be. I loved the movie The Devil Wears Prada. But being from an Asian family, I ended up with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology. But the whole time I was interning at Canadian magazines doing fashion and beauty. That’s where I first got my start.
For Hypebeast, I was lucky. When I first came back to Hong Kong, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay or move back to Canada. I saw that Hypebeast was hiring on LinkedIn, and kinda just applied. That’s when I connected with Eugene Kan, the managing editor at the time, who gave me this great opportunity. I was lucky that he took a chance on me, and became an editor at Hypebeast for 3 years. I learned everything there and it got to the point where I was good at writing, but I wanted to be a little more creative. That’s when I decided to leave Hypebeast to pursue more creative opportunities in fashion.
Were you able to find that creativity at Juice and CLOT?
So after leaving Hypebeast, I started freelancing for magazines. I began freelancing for CLOT after connecting with Kevin Poon, which eventually turned into a full-time. When I joined, I didn’t really have a role or a job description, so I was able to get my hands on everything. But my main objective was to grow the content and the site.
I think I’m very lucky because the team here is very flexible. If I wanted to do photography, I have the option to do so. So far I’ve been styling, I do art direction, I do photography, editing, and now I do PR. It’s a shit ton of work, but it’s definitely great experience. If I were anywhere else, I wouldn’t be able to get that same experience.
I think it’s dope that CLOT is also making its way into the US. Not many people are familiar with it, but with CLOT doing more Nike collaborations, people have taken notice.
Yea, at the end of the day, the part that I connect to the most is the whole bridging of the east and the west. I think right now we’re kind of riding the wave of collaborations, but it has given us that visibility that we need to make sure a brand is able to stay timeless.
On the topic of bridging gaps, how do you feel about the crossover between streetwear and high fashion?
I actually think it’s kinda crazy. When I look back to when I first started at Hypebeast, if you were to ask any random person on the street, they wouldn’t be able to tell you what shoes I’m wearing. But now, it’s come so far in such a short time where high fashion brands are now adopting the streetwear aesthetic- going back to a belief I’ve always had, that everyone just wants to wear what’s comfortable. I was a little surprised when the first Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaboration was announced, but it was a signifier to me that streetwear is fashion.
I agree. Do you approve of all these streetwear designers becoming directors at high fashion powerhouses? For example, Virgil at LV, or Demna at Balenciaga.
When I heard that Virgil would be designing for LV, I had my initial reservations. I was surprised and kinda was like “What the fuck?”. But those feelings were not because he was or is a streetwear designer. It was more because he’s not a traditional designer in the sense of Alessandro from Gucci.
At this point though, it’s accepted. There are so many people in this culture now, that it’s no longer niche. Now that it’s on the runway with Virgil at LV, streetwear has gotten to the point where it’s mainstream fashion. I think at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily a matter of what kind of style of fashion it is. I believe that merit should go to the people that have the creative background to support what they’re doing.
I find it rare to come across a female working in the streetwear industry. What’s your perspective on women in this industry now, versus how you first started?
This is actually a big topic for me. When I started, a majority of girls weren’t into streetwear or that kind of look, unless they grew up in those kinds of communities. Being a girl in streetwear is hard, and it’s still hard. I grew up with friends who were into skating, but I never would’ve thought that an editorial job in streetwear was a thing, especially for a female. I’ve had the experience of not being treated seriously by my peers or people higher up just because I’m a girl.
On that note, do you see the culture of streetwear more accepting of women today? Or is it still a challenge that you’re constantly facing?
The best thing about working within streetwear is that a lot of labels have a mentality that’s very similar to a startup. Half the time it’s not structured or organized. It’s nothing like working for a bigger, more corporate company, for example. That’s just how the mentality is, it’s such a boys club.
In the last few years, however, the role of women in streetwear has been magnified. Because the mentality is super chill, everyone is kind of accepting and open to girls being in this community. But on the flip side of that, for every girl, there’s also been that mentality of, “Why do you wear Jordans, you don’t play basketball.” So I would say there is a lot for females to prove. But people like Emily Oberg have made room for more work in this area for women.
Lastly, we wanted to ask, What’s your next move? Where do you see yourself from here?
I’m that type of person that loves to learn things, which can be a good and a bad thing. I’m very lucky because I’ve been able to do everything I wanted to try. For example, at the Alienegra event, I was telling my friend Max, who’s a DJ, that I really wanted to learn how to DJ. And he said yea sure, I’ll teach you! And now I have my first gig on Saturday. It’s crazy.
I know for a fact that I don’t necessarily want to be working for a company for the rest of my life. I think that’s how a lot of people feel, especially as millennials. At the end of the day, I want to be able to build myself and my set of skills to be self-sustaining. I would never wanna be, “Helena, she works for whatever”, but I wanna be “Helena, she can do this and that”. I want to be my own person and be known for being my own person. I’m still working on it, but the best thing I’ve learned is that if you want to try something, just go for it.