Yes, your dreams can definitely take you places. And nobody would agree with that statement more than fashion illustrator Rongrong Devoe. Her passion for design and the fashion industry took her across the world from her home in Qingdao, China to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and eventually to her current home in Houston.
Starting her career as a concept artist for a video game company, Rongrong knew she wanted more. “After a year, I was so over drawing scary monsters and zombies, I had to quit to pursue my dream of becoming a fashion illustrator,” she shares.
Today, she runs Rongrong Illustration as an amazingly talented and accomplished fashion illustrator. And having landed many big-name clients like Armani, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus in an industry that’s known for being cutthroat and exclusive, her big move was undoubtedly worth the hustle. But that doesn’t mean necessarily mean it was always easy. Read on to hear from Rongrong about the competitive world of fashion, her creative process, and why those big, scary decisions have a way of paying off.
Name: Rongrong Devoe
Location: Houston, TX
Current title/company: Founder, owner, and illustrator at Rongrong Illustration
Education: Master’s in Illustration, Fashion Institute of Technology
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position?
My first job was a concept artist for a video game company. They hired me after a character design test as well as an in person interview with the art director. He liked my passion for the job and video game industry.
You currently run Rongrong Illustration as an in-demand fashion illustrator. Can you share a bit about your background and what really drove you to launch this business?
I grew up in a beach city where the weather was perfect, full of warm-hearted people, and delicious seafood! Most people know my city because of the tasty beer, Tsingtao! I started to learn how to draw when I was six or seven. My whole life has been involved with art. I was always super obsessed with fashion magazines. I would save my lunch money to buy them … Elle, Vogue, Bazaar… I was constantly drawing from them and dreaming about the day I would work in the fashion industry.
The fashion industry in Qingdao was virtually nonexistent at the time, so at age 19 I left home to study graphic design in Shanghai. My dad told me it was an amazing city where trains run in the sky—eh, that’s called a subway, Dad. During my years in Shanghai my passion for fashion became stronger and stronger. After graduation I worked as a concept artist for a game company, but after a year I was so over drawing scary monsters and zombies, I quit to pursue my dream of becoming a fashion illustrator. I did my research and found out New York would be the perfect place to start! I immediately applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology’s master’s program in illustration and they accepted me! I worked as a designer for a few lingerie companies in NYC after graduation and then moved to Houston last year.
I always wanted to be my own boss. Since I was little I watched my dad build his business from nothing—he started making seashell art and selling it to tourists and ultimately created a thriving furniture business with stores throughout Qingdao. So with my husband’s encouragement and the lessons I learned from my parents, I finally started Rongrong Illustration, a fashion and lifestyle illustration brand, last June.
Tell us more about your artistic experiences. When did you develop an interest in art? Did you always have these amazing skills, or did you take classes in order to refine your craft?
Art is in my blood! My dad is an extremely creative man. He designs his own furniture collections every season. My first art lesson was with my dad using white charcoal—he taught me how to draw a duck on the ground. I also had a lot of training in high school. Initially I did not feel confident in my art ability, as I was not the top art student in my class—I tried so hard just to get a B+! I continued to pursue art, and in college I saw the work of David Downton, a famous fashion illustrator, and my heart started singing! I knew it was my calling and I dedicated my life to pursue this dream.
You left your home in Qingdao, China in order to pursue your master’s at FIT in New York. Was leaving home to pursue your passion an easy choice?
It was definitely a very tough decision because I am super close to my parents and I am their only child. But they have always been supportive and encouraged me to pursue what I love. They knew art was my passion since I was a little girl. I knew if I did not chase my dream I would continue my monster design job, get married, and all the sudden I would be a 40-year-old woman full of regret for not pursuing my passion. I knew I needed to take action in my 20s or my dream may never come to fruition. Now I am happier than I have ever been, doing what I love. If you have a dream, I would encourage you to pursue it now and do not wait, as life will pass you by and you will always wonder what could have been!
Before starting your business, you worked as a concept artist in Shanghai. What are some of the biggest differences between China and the U.S.—especially when it comes to business and illustrating?
I worked in a game company in Shanghai for a year and then worked at a few U.S. companies for more than two years. One of the biggest differences in the work environment was the number of hours. In China, I would work until 8 p.m. every night and on the weekends—the U.S. is a little more relaxed. As far as the illustration standard, I have to give the U.S. two thumbs up! People here are more open minded. No matter if you have amazing skill or not, you can become a successful illustrator as long as your style is unique and interesting.
In China, people are more drawn to Japanese animation or the Russian influenced super realistic style. China is nowhere near as diverse as the U.S. market. Overall the fashion illustration industry is not as well known in China. There are many amazing illustrators in China and I have seen their work on Instagram. I am happy they have a medium such as Instagram to showcase their work and meet potential clients all over the world!
Your work is so beautiful! Tell us a little bit about your creative process. Can you describe your artistic process—how do you take something from concept to reality?
Thank you! I usually get my inspiration from places I love, things I cannot live without, people I admire, and art that draws me in. I keep those feelings and ideas in mind so when I create my art I express those feelings on my canvas. Fashion magazines, movies, and Pinterest are my secret weapons.
Let’s talk a little bit about Rongrong Illustration’s business operations. Are you a one-woman show? What does your average workday typically entail?
Up until this past month I have been a one-woman show. I recently hired a super sweet and smart intern on my team, Gizelle. She helps me manage my social media and customer service and assists me during my live sketch events.
One thing I love about my work is there is no such thing as a typical day! I generally focus on business in the morning and illustrations in the afternoons and evenings but that will always change depending on what is going on at that moment. Sometimes I stay up all night drawing because I am so inspired by the projects I am working on! I also attend as many networking events and workshops as I can.
Introduce yourself to the people you want to meet. Be friendly with everyone.
You’ve worked with some pretty big name brands and businesses. How did you form these partnerships? Any amazing networking tips we should know?
Two of the most valuable tips I can give are always show your best work and utilize social media in the most effective way possible! Companies are always searching for talent online, so a strong online presence is extremely important. When the jobs come put your originality and passion into the projects and you will have definite success! As far as networking, you can’t be shy. Introduce yourself to the people you want to meet. Be friendly with everyone.
Balancing your social life with being a successful business owner must be a challenge. How do you find balance and make it all fit in one day?
Because I am just starting my business, social life tends to take a backseat. I see my business as similar to a child—I need to dedicate pretty much every waking moment to it so it will grow up healthy and strong! I take breaks here and there to socialize with friends or go out to dinner with my husband and will not look at my phone so I can give everything of myself during those particular moments, as they are so few and far between.
Taking an idea and turning it into a booming business is no small feat. Can you tell me about some of the steps you took to turn your dream into reality? Any advice for aspiring business owners?
I think trusting your gut is far more important than any analytics. Every step you take or any decision you make, double-check with your heart, not your brain. Is this what your brand stands for? Will you be closer to your dream goal if you do this? As my business is still in its infancy, I think finding mentors also can be helpful. You can find them on YouTube, podcasts, etc. One of my all time favorites is Marie Forleo.
Trusting your gut is far more important than any analytics.
The world of fashion is pretty competitive. How do you stay positive and motivated in an industry that can be so tough and cutthroat?
I am a very positive and driven person. I am working towards my goal every day. I think fashion is a pretty competitive industry, but also very huge. There is room for all kinds of fashion illustrators and I cannot worry too much about other people or discourage myself. I should put this time toward practicing my sketch skill or connecting with my next potential client!
What advice would you give your 23-year old self?
Focus on writing and speaking English! That has been one of the hardest transitions since moving to the United States, and if I started earlier it would be easier!
Rongrong Devoe is The Everygirl…
Favorite way to blow off steam?
Take a shower or go out for a coffee.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Marie Forleo. I can cook her Chinese and she can cook me Italian!
The best part about living in Houston?
People are super awesome! They are so friendly! I love living here, making new friends, and building my business.
I wish I knew how to…
Sew, so that I could make clothes like a fashion designer.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Follow your heart!