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Jelena Salai has been working as design director of Adidas Neo for more than 2,5 years in Shanghai, China where she has been based for the last 8 years.
A personal & close friend of Estefanía for many years, the TNS founder and owner, she tells us about her life in China since she moved there and created her own family.
Tell us…
Professionally, how did you become a designer for the well-known brand Adidas? It probably have not been easy... albeit you have an impressive experience that supports you as a great professional.

     My life has been quite a ride until now, and I was fortunate enough to have lived in many different places and gained a lot of experience across different cultures & companies. I started pretty traditionally, after studying fashion (at IED in Madrid), I worked in many fashion companies, from Zara in Spain, LC Waikiki in Turkey, to Adidas in China. I worked across different sectors: in fast fashion, slow fashion, startup, e-commerce, sportswear… 

 If I'm not mistaken, you have lived in Spain, India, Turkey and now in China. 
Besides languages, what was the most important thing you learned from each experience in these countries?
I consider myself extremely lucky to have lived in so many countries, it is also part of my nature that always keep me going! I learned so many valuable life lessons, among them it is definitely to be open minded, less biased, try to walk in someone else’s shoes and understand & accept different perspectives.

How is an ordinary day in Jelena's life?
Very ordinary, just like for many mamas: home-work-home hahaha! I wake up, I spend time with Angelina (my 2 year old daughter) playing before I run off to work. Work is pretty much meetings with my team and working on new collections. After work, I rush back home to spend as much time as possible with Angie. I would do occasional dinners with friends, as I also need to catch up and maintain friendships. It is very hard to keep work-life balance, but luckily my company is really supportive in that sense. 

How has Chinese culture influenced your work and personal life?
I learned to be more patient and to go more with the flow, not always pre-plan everything. Life in China is very volatile, intense and exciting, it does take a lot of energy to absorb it all. You are simulated with so much newness on a daily level, it is important to keep yourself calm and grounded.

Frustrations may arise due to language barriers, and I learned to take some ‘short cuts’ or simply prepared myself that some things might take longer, and I consider this very valuable in today’s world where things move so fast. It is ok for things to take time.

I also learned to appreciate gatherings with friends and enjoying this community spirit which is so strong in China, across generations. You can see old ladies dancing on the street, youngsters hanging out, new subculture communities popping up on every corner. Even myself, I initiated small perfume community here! I really appreciate that China evokes and maintains this togetherness aspect in daily life throughout generations, it makes everything feel more human and embracing.

You have created a family in a cultural environment very different from the one you grew up in. Tell us how is your life there? Was it difficult for you to adapt to life in Asia?
First year was tough, of course. Every time you change countries, you have to reset and start from zero, which requires a lot of energy. First, you definitely need to create your group of friends, your community. However, since Shanghai is cultural melting pot, it is quite easy to make friends. Having them as support is extremely valuable.

It does take time to switch your mindset and open up to new ways of thinking. But new generations in China value and aspire to same things as everywhere else: do what you love, be surrounded with loved ones, nurture personal growth and embrace what life throws at you as new experience.