Yang Shi is not the sort of person you meet often. She has an almost ethereal quality to her—the demeanor of someone who’s both curious about the world and committed to uncovering its secrets. Here at Sid Lee, she devises concepts and writes stories for clients like Hyundai Motor Company, UNDP, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The Heart and Stroke Foundation, and The Belong Effect. Her creativity also extends into photography, fashion direction, music, and even science.
Here’s the story of the winding path that led Yang Shi to make her mark.
Born in ZhengZhou, China, Yang immigrated to Montréal with her parents at the age of 7. She describes herself as a shy and inquisitive kid; one who realized very early on that she had to cultivate resourcefulness in order to thrive in her new world. “My parents were incredibly supportive,” she recalls, “but there were limits to what they could teach me in a new language. So every day after school I’d knock on the door of my neighbour, an older Québécois woman named Hélène, to help me with my homework.”
Throughout our conversation, Yang often returned to her family’s first few years in Canada, reinforcing how the traits that allow her to succeed creatively today—ingenuity, curiosity, and resilience—were born through the experience of immigration. Perhaps as a way to honour this, Yang spent the summers of her late teens working at the Centre communautaire de cote-des-neiges, where she organized outreach activities in the parks for newcomer families and children.
Yang attended the International Baccalaureate program in high school, followed by a four year degree at McGill University in Psychology and Neuroscience. She considers science to be a facet of art, and one that formed her into a more holistic creative. “To this day I apply everything I learned at school in my work. Things like how the mind operates, or what it means to be in a state of flow.”
After school, Yang worked as a model and fashion director while also assisting in a lab at The Douglas Neurological Center. Despite having a full schedule, she still felt like something was missing. Over dim sum, her and her Asian friends would often discuss the lack of Asian representation and sense of community in Montreal. These conversations eventually led to the creation of Sticky Rice Magazine, an e-zine that showcases and highlights the work of Asian Canadians.
“Representation is something I didn't have growing up. And it can be so potent, sometimes you just have to see it to know that you can do it too." In this vein, Yang cites Virgil Abloh as her greatest creative inspiration; someone who made an enormous impact on the fashion industry as an ambassador for his community.
So. What knowledge can Yang impart to those who look up to her? How can BIPOC women and femme-identifying artisans thrive in similar composure? Here’s what she had to say.
“You need to harness your creative energy; sometimes that means saying no. Find people who can challenge you but also know how to uplift you. Find your allies, like I did with Hélène! Most importantly, practice empathy and generosity of spirit. There’s a saying in psychology: neurons that fire together wire together. The more you practice habits like kindness and empathy the more second nature they become.”
You probably won’t be surprised to read that there’s much more to Yang’s story that we can fit in a single article. But, in a strange way, this limitation also fits. If there’s one thing to take away, it’s how incompatible humans are with the labels we impose on them. We’re all much more than the culmination of our work and hobbies. Yang’s accomplishments are impressive, but the manner in which she achieved them is what leaves an impression: through tenacity and gentleness. That’s a wellspring we can all tap into.