BWW Interview: Xiaoxiao Cao of XIAOXIAO DESIGNS
Have you ever been to your local dancewear store or shopped online looking for a cute, elegant, or just a different leotard? As ballet dancers, in addition to dancing in beautiful tutus and costumes on stage, we also want to look nice in the dance studio for class, rehearsal, and auditions! And that is what the leotards of Xiaoxiao Designs provide. Started by professional ballet dancer and entrepreneur, Xiaoxiao Cao in 2015, Xiaoxiao Designs has leotards for every ballerina to stand out, and feel beautiful and confident.
I had the lovely opportunity to speak with Ms. Cao about her designs and company.
Q: Can you tell me about your dance background?
A: I've been dancing my whole life. My mother was not a dancer but, loved ballet very much and enrolled me in classes at our local dance studio when I was 3 years old in Changsha in China. As I was growing up, I realized how much I also loved ballet! When I was 10 years old, I started attending the school at the Guangzhou Ballet, located in Southern China. There we had both dance classes and academics. And when I was 15, I joined the Guangzhou Ballet company. In 2011, I became a soloist in the company. That was a big deal because there are only five ballet companies in all of China.
But I soon realized that I wanted to do something different and more contemporary work. So, I decided to come to the US in 2012 and I danced with Roxey Ballet that is based in New Jersey. And in 2014, I danced with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Washington DC. Since the company folded, I moved to New York City and do freelance work as a dancer.
Q: What is Xiaoxiao Designs?
A: It is a ballet leotard company that I started in 2015. I wanted dancers to feel and wear feminine designs. I would shop around but couldn't find my "dream" leotard. I wanted something that was sweet and elegant. I got bored with the way leotards looked and wanted something different for myself and thought others might like them too. I wanted to have something for everyone whether it is sexy or classy.
Q: What led you to start designing your own leotards?
A: Growing up in China, there were a limited number of leotard brands available. If you wanted more options, you had to order from the US or Europe, but it was often very expensive to do so.
I also always had an interest in fashion. I loved reading fashion magazines! I would also sketch a lot too. When I was 18, I had sketched a few designs and found a website that could make them. However, when I got them, they weren't exactly what I had envisioned. So, while I was on summer break from Suzanne Farrell Ballet, I went to New York and took a few summer courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). There I took a beginner's sewing and also a sketch class. I also read books about how to sew swimwear because it is a similar look to leotards.
From there, I bought a second-hand sewing machine and started to make my own leotards. When I would go to class or rehearsal, people liked them and would ask me where I got my leotards. I would tell them I made them. They were impressed by what I was making. That's when I thought about taking this more seriously and started Xiaoxiao Designs.
Q: Where did/do you get inspiration from for your designs?
A: I am very much inspired by the paintings of Edgar Degas and the elegance of Audrey Hepburn. Being in New York, I love going to different vintage shops. I also love bows, ribbons, and lace- which is very much a signature look to my style. I like the color white. I think it's a very beautiful color. Every leotard will have some white in it.
I also base my designs on things and looks that I would like to wear. I have a pretty long neck and a lot of the designs often include turtle necks.
Q: What kinds of products do you sell?
A: I have both an adult and a children's line of leotards. I have over 20 styles- all with lace and bows. Also have different light colors such as lavender, pink, cream blue, etc. There are some that are made with velvet and have various patterns like stripes and flowers.
Q: What's in store for the future of Xiaoxiao Designs?
A: It is my vision that more people will be wearing my leotards. I also want to produce products not just for dance. I've started noticing folks wearing my leotards for other purposes such as yoga. I would also like to design ballet-inspired dresses that can be worn outside dance too.
To learn more about Ms. Cao and Xiaoxiao Designs, please visit her website at www.xiaoxiaonyc.com.
Photo credit: Min Wu