Being Black in a homogenous society like China, one does not fall into the entertainment and modeling world. It requires hard work, a network of people and being talented—all of which is helping Holle Williams rise on her own terms in Shanghai.

Holle has spent the last five years living in Shanghai working as an English teacher, while also pursuing a career as a singer and a model. Her journey is quite unique. Holle began learning Mandarin in high school because she had many Asian friends, which led her to major in the language in college. During that time, Holle had the opportunity to study abroad in China, which was the catalyst to her decision to move. “I loved the people I had met, and the environment,” she says. “I felt free, independent and I was eager to experience the culture and language on an even more personal level, so I decided to move there.”

Holle did not initially expect her hobbies to grow into her career in China. While she was studying at Fudan University in Shanghai, she made a friend, who was white, and modeled professionally for an agency in China. She mentioned to Holle that her agency was looking for a Black model and thought Holle would be a perfect fit. Holle did a commercial about slurping noodles, and they liked her so much, they hired her and ran the commercial, which allowed Holle to begin slowly building her profile. “It opened a lot of further projects,” she says. “Later, I started taking pictures for fun with my photographer and posting them on various medias.” This sometimes led to those designers either using the photo or asking her to model for them. Now, Holle works as a model for ME skincare line, run by a Black woman who also moved China to begin her business, and she continues to do other freelance work to build her profile.

Black Woman on Stairs

Image Courtesy of Holle Williams

In a similar way that Holle got into modeling unexpectedly, her singing career also had an unexpected start. Looking to delve further into her faith, Holle joined a multicultural church in China. She sang a few times during service, with a bass player from Ghana. They ended up becoming close friends and doing jazz gigs together for some time. As they began doing more gigs,  Holle met her current mentor, who helps to manage the business side of her career: drawing up contracts, booking gigs, negotiating, booking studio time, overseeing the mix, as well as acting as the master of her music. With the help of her mentor, Holle has performed at a number of venues in China, and she is currently working on recording some songs. She is currently co-signed as an independent artist under the name Harii with B.O.O.K, an LA-China based brand, and 5tar, a music label based in Chengdu, China. 

Despite these successes, her journey was not without obstacles. “We were going to perform at a venue, and when they saw we were Black, they said they didn’t want us to perform,” she mentions. “They preferred white people because they thought Chinese people would want to see white people.” When I asked what her takeaway from that experience was she said, “I’ve learned to not let it faze me and to go where we’re wanted, and not go where we aren’t wanted.”

Outside her career, she found a good community at church made up of Africans, Europeans and people from a plethora of other places, who have supported her throughout her time in China. She doesn’t see herself moving back to the United States soon. Holle says, “I feel as though God has called me to be in China, and I don’t see that changing for some time.”

Holle put in a lot of personal work and although she has heard a lot of no’s, she has persevered to get to where she is today. Her advice to others who want to follow her same path: “Be willing to work hard, make connections and build yourself from the ground up. So many people have made it in China starting from zero and working until those one or two people learned about them and spread the word around until they made their business big. Don’t expect to become an overnight sensation; you have to put in the work, but don’t be afraid to move. If a relationship is holding you back, you don’t need it. Do what makes you happy!”

Holle can be found on Instagram @koreanbbq_luv_, where you can learn more about her music and follow her modeling journey.

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