Parenting with Perspective: Chinese-born designer, Zoe of Rice & Sky

Parenting with Perspective is a blog series featuring working Seattle mothers, highlighting the way their career, personal interests and experiences, extended family, spiritual practices, fostering, gender, and culture shape the lives of their families. The aim of the series is to feature local parents and build a community, but also, in a very very modest way, to do that without portraying mothers as single-mindedly focused on constituting themselves as a certain one kind of person (as social media often seems to do). I focus largely on parents who are either running their own business or work in academia because juggling parenting and work when there are no clear boundaries imposed by fixed work schedules is familiar to me. In the future, this might change.  

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I met Zoe when she reached out to me to photograph her first Rice & Sky collection. What an honor to work with such a talented mama entrepreneur! The collection has only launched in China, but you can get a little peek here. I visited her home recently and we chatted about raising her daughter (soon to be two daughters!) in the US,  what inspires her and her current work-life balance.


Tell me a little about your professional background.

I’ve been interested in fashion design since childhood. My mother, who is a tailor, planted the design seed in me. When I was a child, I used to play in her studio. Sometimes she would let me try on a dress she finished. During Chinese New Year and Children's Day, my mother always made a new dress for me as a gift. She always asked for my opinion on the design. Later, she opened a paper mill in my hometown. I would visit the mill and use all the paper to make complete paper outfits for myself. My parents enrolled me in dancing and painting classes. I was not a big fan of dancing and gave up pretty quickly,  but I was fascinated by painting and have loved it ever since. I applied to the China Academy of Art and majored in fashion design. This had a huge impact on my career. I started to grow quickly as a designer. After graduation, I interviewed with very good women's designer brand in China, called Exception. Thanks to the great working experience and influential designers around me, I gained a lot of invaluable experience. Four years ago, I came to the United States with my husband. After I had a baby, I became interested in baby clothes. I reached out to my college friends who had also just become a mother in China,  and we founded Rice & Sky.


What does a typical day look like for you? 

I currently have two jobs. I work in JNBY Seattle full time. And I spend most of the evenings / nights working on Rice & Sky with my partners in China. My daughter is taken care of by my parents most of the time. I do take some time to take her for a walk in our neighborhood after dinner, get her ready for bed and read to her. After she falls asleep, I start my Rice & Sky work and connect with my Chinese partner at night. Sometimes I get up around 5 am and start working. Now that we are about to welcome our second daughter, and my older daughter will start preschool, so the schedule is likely to change.


You mentioned that your daughter's play with play dough inspired your new collection. You also seem to draw a lot of inspiration from her book interests. How has your work changed since you became a parent? 

I’ve become much better at time management. It feels like a big achievement to be able to work and take care of a baby at the same time, which we do largely thanks to our parents who visit us and watch our daughter or take her to China year-round. Also, I learned a lot about baby’s needs, which helped me identify what the market is missing. Apparel for 0-3 years old kids is largely neglected by many companies in China due to very strict quality requirement. This, along with the deprecation of single-child policy, presented a great opportunity for us. The name of our business is also inspired by my daughter. We called her "rice" after seeing her ultrasound image. "Rice" symbolizes tiny life. "Sky" symbolizes broad and infinite possibilities. Our first collection was themed "Sprouted Seeds." and it launched in 2018. We used organic cotton, brush-painted style seed patterns as a source of inspiration. Now my daughter is two years old. She likes animals and plays with kitchen toys, which inspired me to switch focus.

Why do you want your daughter to grow up in the United States? What is it that you miss about raising a family in China?

I feel that no matter where my daughter grows up, she must adapt to the environment and build her own strengths, especially since she will be going to school here. I hope that she can learn more Chinese language, culture and art, and that they become more part of her identity. There are definitely different ideologies at play in child rearing. In China, most families believe baby girls should be treated as little princesses and raised in a rich environment so that they have high expectations for marriage when they grow up. Here, both girls and boys run wild, climb and bike from an early age. I like that. I think girls need to establish their goals, know what they want to pursue. We are considering providing some rock climbing experience for our daughter, which could challenge her and  help cultivate a strong will. It is hard to imagine doing so for her in China. I feel that people here are closer to nature and more involved in outdoor activities. In China, people mostly focus on academics, the ranking of quiz results, every possible advantage that they can bestow onto their kids at the earliest possible time in their lives. Competition starts very early.


What are your thoughts on being a working mom in the US?

As a single child, I’m very surprised when I hear of American parents in our community taking care of multiple children without much help from their extended family. My husband and I are always in awe of their capabilities. It also makes us appreciate our parents who are constantly visiting us and helping us out. I feel it’s a luxury to Asian people, and it would be really hard without them. Being a working mom is not easy, especially when I need to sync with my partners in China at night after a whole day at work in Seattle. By taking shifts with my husband and, most importantly, getting help from our parents, I manage to work a lot and care for our daughter.

You and your partner are both one child policy children. Now, you are expecting your second child. How has one child policy shaped your views on sibling relationships and child rearing in general?

It’s interesting that our parents belong to the generation when having six or seven siblings was pretty common, while we were born under the single-child policy. To some extent, we could still compare our generation with our parents generation. Since I was the only daughter at home, my parents devoted all the care / attention / resource to me, which was hard to get in their generation, and they were very strict and had high expectations from me. In contrast, I would like to be friends with my daughter, treat her as an independent individual, give her love and care, respect her, and accompany as she grows and experience the world. I want to encourage her to explore what she wants, discover what she doesn't want and support her work. Maybe that’s reflecting the desire of our generation because we no longer need to worry about basic survival and tend to think more about what to pursuit next based on our interest. Living in the US means that our daughter won’t have many cousins to play with, so my husband are glad that she will have a sibling. I hope it also encourages team play and the spirit of sharing. As a mom, I’d like to keep marching towards my goals even with my children on the side. I want to be happy as a mother and keep curiosity and desire for new things.