TV host and fashion icon Yue-Sai Kan on her legendary career and how she sees China

In this SupChina interview, Yue-Sai Kan talks about her proudest moment, her charitable efforts, and what she’s been up to lately.


Yue-Sai Kan is an award-winning television host and producer, successful entrepreneur, fashion icon, bestselling author, and noted humanitarian. She first won acclaim with her long-running series “Looking East,” the first of its kind to introduce Asian cultures and costumes to a growing and receptive American audience. Later, she also became a household name in China as host of “One World,” which aired in the 1980s and boasted 300 million weekly viewers in the country. Moving from TV personality to businesswoman, Kan launched her own cosmetics brand in 1992, which grew into China’s leading beauty company before being purchased by L’Oréal in 2004.


People Magazine called Kan “the most famous woman in China” and Time Magazine proclaimed her “the Queen of the Middle Kingdom.”


Ahead of the event, we caught up with Kan to talk about her proudest moment, her charitable efforts, and what she’s been up to lately.


The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


SupChina: Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.


Yue-Sai Kan: What I love about my work is that I can harness the power of beauty to accomplish so many good things.


In 1992, I launched Yue-Sai cosmetics in China. At the time, I was already known as “The Most Famous Woman in China” because of my “One World” television series. It opened the eyes of a billion Chinese to the outside world. My hairdo was copied, the way I wore makeup and fashion was the talk of the town. That was absolutely one of my proudest moments because I was able to start a revolution in China by injecting colors into a colorless country and “changed the face of China one lipstick at a time,” as Forbes puts it!


The idea that every woman can look her best using cosmetics is so emancipating that it not only changed the way Chinese women look at themselves, but also directly impacted other aspects of their lives, including career, education, and their place in society. I’m glad to have played a significant part in changing a deep-seated old mindset.


SupChina: What inspired you to start your own nonprofit, Yue-Sai Kan China Beauty Charity Fund? What are you hoping to achieve with it? In your opinion, how important is it for influential people to make a significant social impact?


Kan: I have been involved in charity activities all my life. In the United States, giving is a way of life. If there is one thing you learn from Americans, it is to be involved in charities. For as long as it has been recorded, the United States has been ranked as the most generous nation in regards to charity. Americans gave $410 billion to charity in 2017.


I started doing charity work when I got my first paycheck. I put aside 10% of my income for charity. At that time, it was an enormous amount of money for me at the age of 19. I always say that the universe really has a way of repaying those back who use their money for good. In 2011, I set up my own foundation — Yue-Sai Kan China Beauty Charity Fund, it is dedicated to the betterment and advancement of women and children through education, health, and cultural programs worldwide.


As the first order of business of my own foundation, we started to host the China Fashion Gala in New York, an annual celebration of Chinese design and an opportunity to support talented emerging Chinese designers on the world stage. Last year we held the Gala virtually and reached a much wider audience of several million people globally.


Each year, our gala brings together more than 400 celebrities, fashionistas, and business and social leaders, hoping to build an influential platform to inspire the young generation and continue to make a difference to the community with the power of beauty.


SupChina: In 2019, your foundation partnered with WeDesign Group to launch a program that taught Chinese fashion executives about sustainability. How did you first become interested in sustainability? In your experience, how much of a factor is sustainability to Chinese fashion lovers when it comes to purchasing and brand loyalty?


Kan: Fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. It is a topic that worthy of everyone’s attention. Actually, our first Executive Education in Sustainable Fashion program was created in early 2016, aiming to inspire and push the progress of sustainability growth in fashion and lifestyle industries in China. And we started to partner with WeDesign in 2019 so that we are able to provide the Chinese fashion executives with more comprehensive programs.


Sustainability is now a big trend in the fashion industry, more and more designers and fashion brands are shifting their focus to creating new sustainable solutions. And they’re really trying hard to educate consumers about the problems and solutions involving sustainability.


When it comes to purchasing, people care the most about the quality of course, but today’s consumers are becoming more sophisticated, they are looking for brands and products that align with their social values. They are willing to pay more for sustainable products as they’re paying more attention to environmental issues. I think quality and price are still the main driving forces of purchase decisions, but sustainability is definitely becoming a bigger factor.


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