For Anya Raynae, an ambitious American millennial her move to China was sparked by a desire to live a more fulfilling life.
Struggling at home in the United States with a difficult romantic relationship and problems at work, Raynae told the universe, ‘I just want to be free’.
“Now with the universe, you have to be very specific. So the universe said, ‘okay, you want to be free? I’m going to take away your job, I’m going to take away your boyfriend and I’m going to take away your car.’ And I said, ‘dang universe, I didn’t mean it like that!’” – Raynae.
Despite the hardships, Anya stayed positive. With time she realized that her loss would actually give her the chance to pursue some of her greater passions such as fashion and modeling. Having already enjoyed stints teaching English in Korea and Taiwan, Raynae found a teaching position in china which she saw as a unique place to expand as a model and try her hand at entrepreneurship, so she packed her bags and moved to Beijing.
The business of fashion
While teaching English full-time, Anya made plans in her spare moments to open her first online boutique, Hotspot. For Anya who has always loved fashion – it wasn’t unusual for people to stop her on the street, asking where they could buy what she was wearing. After noticing that many foreign girls were struggling to find unique outfits that fit their bodies in China, opening up a Wechat shop with service in English seemed like a natural solution.
“The most challenging thing is just figuring out what people want…” she says. Raynae spends a lot of time researching and making note of what people respond to on social media. “It’s basically trial and error.”
Recently she started another online boutique as an extension of her Anya Renae brand. “Running both those while teaching and modelling is definitely a lot of work,” she says, “but it’s fulfilling.”
The opportunity to build her modelling profile was another aspect that drew Anya to Beijing.
Back in the United States, Raynae had started modelling on the side as a way to express her creativity, collaborating with various photographers, often on a trade-for-pay basis. When one of them suggested she move to China where she – as a black model -would stand out, it seemed like yet another reason to go abroad.
“… you’ve got to be willing to do stuff other people aren’t willing to do,” she says. “For example, a lot of models are not willing to travel to different cities or different countries – I am.”
Since coming to Beijing Anya Raynae has expanded her modelling portfolio significantly. As an independent model she contributes her success in this city much to leveraging her network. Whenever she met someone and exchange wechat contacts she would follow up the next day letting the person know that she was a model and ask if they knew any photographers.
“… And they would send me somebody’s Wechat contact and that person would say oh let me add you to this group”.
But for the striking creative, while she has built an enormous following from scratch it’s more of an artistic outlet than anything. “If I never make a dime from modelling, I wouldn’t care,” she says. “For me, modelling is another opportunity to inspire and empower other young women. It’s not just getting in front of the camera and striking a pose, it’s showing other young women … you don’t have to be just one thing, you can be so many different things.”
Dealing with tough stuff
Though fast-paced Beijing has its opportunities, Raynae’s travels have, at times, made it apparent that racism and ignorance are alive and well. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘wow I didn’t know black people could be elegant like you. When I see them in movies they’re always maids, so I thought every black person was like that,’ that’s really difficult to hear. It just causes you to have a different perspective of the world, like, okay, this is still out there, this is still going on.”
As a model, she’s also run into her fare share of racism in the fashion industry, which is a big reason she chooses to work independently. “I’ve applied to a lot of things … and when I apply, they say ‘oh no, we’re only looking for white models.”
Finding solace in the black community and other like-minded creatives in Beijing has been a lifesaver. “I wouldn’t trade that for their world,” she says. Raynae also commits time to watching motivational videos and listening to positive affirmations before bed, which helps her keep her focus, set – and achieve – specific goals.
While Raynae doesn’t plan on living in China forever, she has no definite timeline for leaving either. There’s just too much to do. “I want to soak up all the business knowledge that China has to offer.”
Aside from nurturing her personal brand and online boutique, Anya also has a novel in the works, Indigo Blue, set to come out by the end of 2018.
While Anya has found much of the fulfilment she was looking for in Beijing, she knows it’s an ongoing process. “People want instant gratification,” she says, “but you know what? It doesn’t happen like that. You gotta be patient.”
Follow Anya on instagram: @anyaraynae