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Last week at the Zalora Style Awards, dressed in an amazing maroon suit from H&M, Lenne Chai won the CLEO Fashion Game Changer award. And we can’t think of someone more deserving.

Having started shooting for magazines at the age of 18, Lenne’s work has featured in Teen Vogue, Elle Girl Japan and NYLON Japan. In 2015, she launched Karaoke Party, described as “a series of fashion films that promote homegrown musicians and fashion designers, through the interactive and relatable format of karaoke”.

A girl with serious talent, we are tipping her as one to watch. We got her to share all her secrets on how to hustle…

Name: Lenne Chai
Age: 25
Current location: Singapore
Favourite city: Tokyo
Spare time activities: Reading!
Favourite fashion trend of the moment: I don’t pay attention to trends
Favourite brand: Miu Miu

What was your dream job when you were little? 
I’ve always wanted to work in fashion, but I always thought I’d end up a designer.

When do you first remember picking up a camera? 
I was 18, and it was for a photography module in school.

What is it that you love so much about photography? 
I love creating, and being super hands-on when creating sets. The best shoots are the ones where I get to set the story in a seemingly-complete universe that I made up from scratch.

How did you start to get experience in your field? 
I was a Photojournalist Intern at The Straits Times during my final year in polytechnic. I was also a fashion blogger at that time, so I was getting the opportunity to do fashion-related shoots thanks to my blog. Things snowballed from there!

You started in the fashion business at only 18 – what was your first job? 
I wrote for an independent fashion magazine called Nth’ – they found me through my blog and I got to play editor for a bit!

What advice would you now give to anyone starting out in fashion photography? 
Draw inspiration from more than just fashion photos if you’d like to stand out.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in the workplace? 
Be nice, everyone is just trying to get their job done.

More from CLEO:
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8 Lifestyle Habits To Steal From The Japanese So You Can Live Longer

How do you walk the line between being inspired by others, and ensuring your work remains original and fresh?
Referencing existing material is a huge part of fashion and any form of art in general, so I think it’s inevitable that your idea probably isn’t as original as you think it is. I think it’s how you execute the idea, as well as giving credit where it’s due (and acknowledging your inspirations), that draws the line between “being inspired”, and simply copying.

What are some of the things about  fashion and photography that you’d like to change or push the boundaries of? 
Here’s a tough one that I’m still figuring out: how can I make fashion seem less vapid in my work?

What are some of your favourite projects so far; and why? 
I really enjoyed working on Conspiracy – I took three months off work to produce the video (on my own too!), and the entire process spanned over 9 months. Inspired by alienation, celebrity culture, and moon landing conspiracies, Charlie Lim plays a hapless “astronaut” abducted by aliens to star in propaganda videos. I was really inspired by retro-futurism and colour palettes used in the ’50s, and I love how the aliens turned out. Grotesque maybe, but they’re cuties.

What’s your biggest accomplishment to date? 
Probably surviving Tokyo alone at 22, without knowing how to speak a word of Japanese.

Linying's Sticky Leaves video still

Tell us about your most recent project… 
My latest project is a TVC for Crystal Tomato that I directed. It was my first time directing a TVC, and the team let me conceptualise the entire thing from scratch, which was cool. Painting all those flowers white wasn’t that fun though. Thank goodness we had a great team!

I also shot and directed Linying’s Sticky Leaves, which was recently released. We filmed it in China with a tiny crew of 4, and it was my first time flying a drone!

What’s next for you?
I’m heading to LA for a few months to see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Images: Lenne Chai