When I first moved back to the UK in 2009, back to Leeds, I was meeting with some cool creative types up there. We would exchange ideas and put the world to rights. One of the people in that group was Shang Ting Peng. Quiet and unassuming, she had moved to Leeds a few months before me from Taiwan, via Barcelona. When I got talking to her, I found she’s super into fashion and works on all sorts of cool projects. She told me she had a Facebook page called UK Observing Diary, where she documents Leeds street style and culture. Pretty cool, I thought. Then she said it had over 120,000 likes and gets millions of hits a month. WHOA! I thought. Shang Ting may just be the most popular blogger we’ve never heard of! UK Observing Diary has such a cult following back in Taiwan that Shang Ting got a book deal. She just recently got back from a month long book tour in Taiwan. I caught up with her to get the skinny.
– Give me a bit of background into your life in Taiwan. Were you always into fashion? Did you have a blog there?
I’m from the capital city, Taipei, which is a fantastic booming city. Just full of everything, lots and lots of people, food, venders, smells and colours, it’s a interesting place to be when you’re a kid, I was very much influenced by Chinese, Japanese and Western cultures.
I don’t really remember a point that I fell into fashion. When I was little, I made clothes for Barbies using tissues and some old clothes my mum gave me. I remember I was obsessed with colours. For a period of time I’d only wear red, then pink, and white, black. But I don’t have a dramatic moment when I knew that I was in love with this world, it seems like a natural path for me to go. Before I noticed, I already signed up for a university night class for fashion design and styling when I was around 17. After that, I applied for Instituto Europeo di Design’s fashion marketing course in Barcelona, and everything starts from there.
I started blogging when I was 15, around 2003. My posts was mostly like diaries, sharing what has happened in my life, mostly teenage dramas which is very embarrassing to recall now, and also later on, my study experience in Spain. I just counted that I wrote 1,000 articles in 5 years, and have more than 340,000 clicks including albums. Then I came to the UK, and start on my Facebook fanpage, UK Observing Diary.
– Why did you move to England and what were your first impressions upon arriving in Leeds?
The now director of Hebe Media, Lee Hicken was in my class in Barcelona, we did our graduate thesis together. It was about digital strategy for an online fashion outlet. We got the best result of that year, so we thought we can totally do this in real life. So we did it, in Leeds. Now we’re working with many great brands in the fashion, music and art area, not only digital strategies, just cool, innovative things, like we’re launching the Leeds Digital Fashion Week from the 15th of October.
When I first arrived, I thought the Leeds Train Station is a little scary because I arrived quite late, and you know how train stations attract drunken people. But later on, I spent a more time exploring the City Centre, then going to different towns and museums a bit further out. Even now, I still think there’s more and more things this place can offer, I’m sure many cities and towns in the UK will do the same for me.
– How did you come up with the idea to start UK Observing Diary? Why did you decide Facebook was the best platform for it, over going down the traditional blog route?
Many successful projects have a complicated strategy behind them, and I do believe in strategies. But the truth is, Facebook just introduced the fan page more than 3 years ago, Lee and I got so excited that he started LOL! Leeds Online (now the biggest Leeds online platform), and me and my best friend from Taiwan, Chia-Wen Liu, who lives in London, started UK Observing Diary. I think I did a gamble there without knowing it. I was at the end of doing my personal blog then. The Facebook fan page is completely different, a more visual and interactive way to communicate and it took over most of my attention.
– Why do you think it’s become so popular?
Sometimes being the first is important. Facebook did the work of connecting the world for us, and we had an interesting idea of sharing our first hand UK life and style to people in the Far East. I think people appreciate that they can know what is happening on the other side of the world immediately, and they like our friendly tone, but the most important factor was still because no one was doing the same thing on Facebook then.
– Are there any particular aspects of UK fashion and culture that your audience are particularly interested in? Any that have surprised you?
Anything that has strong British heritage are very welcomed, like Union Jacks, Queen, teas, beautiful buildings. Street style is always popular, everyone is so hungry for trends the moment, it’s great. I love seeing people commenting on my pictures saying they learned new ways of dressing up. Our fans are really into older people’s street style which surprised me.
– UK Observing Diary recently became a book. How did that come about?
Our story first got reported by Guardian Leeds, the Taiwanese press learned that such an important British paper had talked about us and they went crazy about it. I woke up one day, and found my face everywhere in Taiwan’s TV news, newspapers, and websites. I was just so glad it wasn’t because of a scandal or something! The same day, we got the third most likes after Jackie Chan and Jet Li. After that, our fans grew from 6000 to 30 or 40,000, and now we’ve got over 121,000. It was then that we were approached by quite a few publishers in the Far East.
– The scenes from your book tour in Taiwan were amazing – it looked like The Beatles arriving in America! How was the tour? What has the reception been to the book over there?
Haha! Thank you! The tour was really great, it was very surprising because I didn’t know how much attention we would get before we went back. I arrived, and our publisher just hit us with radio, TV, newspaper, magazine interviews, non-stop for a month. I had to delay my flight to get more interviews done. Our book signing events were held by our publisher, Suncolor group and the British Council. Our book brand partner is Cath Kidston, and we were interviewed by Vogue Taiwan. I gotta say signing books and people wanting to take pictures with me were the strangest thing. When they say thank you to me, I just want to shout ‘Don’t thank me, THANK YOU!’ It was definitely my 15 minutes of fame, only it lasted about a month.
– What do you feel are the benefits of documenting style from a local perspective? I’m sure many people would say you should be based in London. How do you think it has given you an edge?
Well it’s a question that any local bloggers would probably thinking about it over and over. Our fans don’t have brand loyalty towards Leeds, not like they do with London. It’s better in a way. You get a great satisfaction introducing a city that Far Easters are not so familiar with. They don’t expect anything, so everything you talked about is all fresh and exotic. Many British people have told me that London is not the whole of Britain, so it’s also cool to have a North and South comparison for people to know more of the UK. But I’ve lived in Leeds for more than 3 years now. I think I’ve done plenty of this city, I wrote half of a book for it, I’m ready to raise more awareness for other cities that need it.
– What are your tips for creating a successful Facebook page?
A fresh, different idea, visually interesting content, and regular posting (but not bombing).
– What’s next for UK Observing Diary?
Like I said before, I’m very interested in doing in depth observation for other cities. Chia-Wen is doing great with what she’s doing down in London. We are talking about having a blog or a website to give more text content. We welcome anyone would would like to work with us – we are a great link if you want to establish to the Far East market!
Check out UK Observing Diary here
Shang Ting works for Hebe Media. Check out their awesomeness here