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September 11, 2021

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The New York fashion designer and her inner-city Shanghai apartment

FASHION designer Heather Kaye was able to convince her husband George to give up his job and move with her to Shanghai for a one-year stint back in 2006. A year later they bought a 135-square-meter apartment near the Shanghai Library and have been here ever since.

Back then, Heather was working as a designer for Kate Spade and came to Shanghai to help bridge the gap between the team in New York and those here producing their garments.

Heather and George had been married less than a year when they packed all of their worldly belongings into two large suitcases and flew to China. But when they arrived, they ran into a problem, of sorts: the couple had fallen in love again.

With Shanghai, that is.

A year after that, while expecting their first child, the pair agreed to stay put in their new favorite city, but they needed something more permanent for their young family. They decided on a 135-square-meter, two-bedroom apartment on Huaihai Road M. near the Shanghai Library, inside an Art Deco-styled block built in 1948.

“We saw it on a Saturday morning in January,” Heather told me. “It was the first one that we’d seen that we walked in and said: ‘This is it! This is our home!’”

Now the couple have two daughters, 11 and 13, who were born and grew up right here in Shanghai. Both speak fluent Mandarin after Heather and George insisted they attend local Chinese schools instead of international schools.

In 2010, Heather set up her own fashion brand, LOOP SWIM, with her business partner Itee Soni who she met right here in Shanghai. The brand designs and produces protective swimwear for women, men and kids out of post-consumer PET plastic bottles.

That’s one thing she loves about Shanghai: its huge sustainable community, which she said is helped along by support from the local government.

Her husband, too, has launched his own company, Bamzoo, which designs and produces sustainable kids’ toys made from bamboo.

You won’t see much evidence of their work spilling over into the apartment, though, apart from Heather’s passion for shoes and handbags which you can find poking out from every available storage place in their bedroom, and George’s bamboo handiwork on display in the form of sconces as you walk in the front door.

Making the apartment into a home was a slow process, Heather said, that took many years. “We added pieces slowly ... (that are) a reflection of us.” She pointed to a wooden rocking chair in the lounge. “This was a chair that my husband gave to me when I was breastfeeding our first daughter.”

Next to that, a large piano sits proudly. “My husband plays the piano for hours every day, so wherever we’ve lived a piano has been sort of the centerpiece, the hearth of the home.”

But despite having set their lives up in Shanghai, Heather and her family have decided they will probably need to move back to New York next year.

“I think with so many people with families abroad, it is really challenging with COVID because our parents are getting so much older and we can’t travel as seamlessly as we could.”

It will be tough to leave, she confessed, since so much of their lives, and their children’s entire lives, have been spent in Shanghai.

“I think Shanghai will always be our home in our hearts,” she said. “I just can’t imagine matching our time here in any way. I mean, both of our children have grown up here, our whole marriage has been here, my company has been formed here ... really, this has been the most, I would say, important period of my life in so many ways.”

If they can make it work, the couple would like to keep their Shanghai home so that their two daughters can always come back in the future.

“I hope that they will always return here and feel at home.”


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