Immigrant Women Entrepreneurs Europe

We are Women Migrentrepreneurs. Finding our place, making our mark.

Crossing Borders Conversations: Qiao’s story of reinvention

In 2008, Qiao (a migrant woman from China now living in Portugal) opened  China Qiao in Porto, a one-of-a-kind shop that sold original clothes “designed in China” (as she puts it), celebrating a fusion between traditional and contemporary styles.  After about two years, she closed her business, but changed to an online space on Etsy, which she co-manages with the creator of the pieces.  Last Saturday I had the pleasure of interviewing her about her experience, and we’re happy to share her story of reinvention here with you.

How did you come to open your shop/ start your own business?

It just came like this {snaps fingers}! {laughter} Well, I studied medicine in China; then I went to Holland for my Masters in Nutrition. After I came to Portugal, actually, I tried to find some opportunities to continue in nutrition but unfortunately I didn’t find any. Maybe…I think deep down, the inside-me never wanted to practise what I studied… So I found out it’s not working and I needed to do something – I couldn’t stay at home all the time (though my husband was working, I did not want to be dependent on him all the time).

Then, in 2008 (I came to Portugal in 2007) we went to China to visit my parents and I realized there are a lot of nice and interesting things in China which I never saw before when I was there. So I noticed the country was changing a lot and there were a lot of young artists and designers who had very good ideas and I liked their work. And on the other hand, I saw in general how people abroad – because I’ve been abroad for some time – think about China. Here in Portugal there are a lot of Chinese shops and this kind of shop sells very cheap products – you can find almost everything in one shop… and actually what people think here is that this kind of shop represents China: that’s what we produce, that’s how China is – full of these plastic products, very cheap, very low quality, full of copies or fakes… but actually this is not the case  – of course we also have this but, it’s just one part of China.  And that’s how I came up with this idea – I wanted to show people here, abroad, the other side – the other part of China, more original, more Chinese, more of the cultural aspects – that’s it.  So I just went back to China again and contacted the designers!  And they appreciated the idea as well.

Before opening the shop, I participated in some craft fairs in Lisbon… and many people were surprised to see my things. I was selling more clothes with original designs, by some young designers in China – and I think a lot of people liked them, so I was quite encouraged to continue this business. Then later we moved to Porto (as my husband got a job here) and I found this opportunity to open a shop – so I decided to do it!  I found a space which I liked …and then well, yes, I’m crazy, so I just opened the shop! {laughs}

What were some of the good things about having your own shop?

Well, it was like having one of my dreams come true. I never imagined that I could have a shop and one day I just opened a shop!

And not only that, you opened in a foreign country, where you did not speak the language, where you did not really know anyone…

Ah, actually I never thought about it that way, but now that you mention it… yes, I did a big thing! {smiling, surprised}

 What led to you closing the shop?

I think for a start my idea was good, but I actually never had any experience of business management, and actually I had no idea of how business worked. I had to figure it out by myself and I think that’s one reason I closed.

In the end I had to close, because it was too tiring.  I couldn’t stay in the shop every day and the finances were a mess (what I earned, what I invested – I didn’t pay enough attention to that) and I have to say that working alone is not a good idea, it’s much better to work as a team.

How did you move from closing to re-making it into an online shop?

It was very sad to close the shop, because I really loved what I had.  I didn’t want to close just like that – just shut the door and say good-bye to all this and start another thing.  And because I really liked the kind of design, and I still had some old clients who also really liked it… and I’d heard about Etsy, an online space for original designs and handmade craft, I opened a version of the shop online.  But it’s not a replacement [for the actual shop] – now it’s more like a hobby, I’m not earning a living from it and I’m only doing it part-time.

From your experience, what did you learn…what would you tell someone who would also like to open their own shop or start their own business?

Well, though my business was not successful (in the end I closed, it was not profitable), actually it was a very,  very great experience and I really appreciate that.  Because if I never had this business I would never have had the courage to contact the designers in China (because I just went ahead and contacted them).  Now, when I think about it, it’s like “Oh, I did all this? I can’t believe that!” It’s quite encouraging.

Also, I’m very happy that I met a lot of friends, because of the shop… Friends from other shops [in the neighborhood], they really helped me a lot and we are still very good friends, and without this experience I would never have met them. And also, some clients became good friends too! {I’m one of them! ~ d*} And I think I’m really lucky.

The experience is unforgettable.  I cannot say that next time I’ll be a successful “business woman” but now I have the experience.  I don’t know if I will open another shop, but I’ve learned a lot of things and next time I’ll know what I should be aware of  and what I should pay more attention to… and I don’t want to work alone! {laughs}

Thank you so much! It was really great talking with you – I loved it!

Obrigada! Me too!


We hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation too – feel free to participate (and to have a look at Qiao on Etsy, for images of the designs). ~ d*


Filed under: Creating Opportunities, Crossing Borders, Ideas, , , ,

One Response

  1. […] it into practice – an interview with migrentrepreneur Qiao on her […]

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