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Taking time off to follow your passion

by Fatima Dia November 6, 2018
Taking time off to follow your passion

Michel Zhao opted out of cell biology to expand interior design business

It all started with boredom and a timeless desire to make money. Concordia student Michael Zhao realized that, despite his love for cell biology, he wanted to do more than study.

“I was really bored, and looking for a job didn’t seem fun for me,” said Zhao. “I think it’s very important to have fun doing something.”

Last March, Zhao began a project he thought would be a good step toward a lifestyle he felt comfortable with—interior design supply. Zhao is now the middleman in the world of interior design, the link between supply and demand, dealing with furniture, textiles and decorations.

“Right now, we’re doing a lot of old French styles, like châteaus,” said Zhao. “People see this hundred-of-years-old chandelier and say ‘I want that,’ and I find someone who can replicate or create it with whatever changes they want.”

Zhao’s fascination with symbolism, paired with a bit of Versace influence led him to name his company Arachne. The name is taken from a Greek myth in which a talented weaver is turned into a spider after losing to Athena in a weaving contest.

“A lot of things we do are textiles, and Arachne, as in spiders, they weave, right?” Zhao explained with a smile. “And I chose the logo based on that.”

The black and gold logo is a spider shaped like Spider-Man, sharp-edged with long legs and a small body. Two olive leaves symbolizing Athena surround the spider. “The inspiration came from Versace and their black and gold Medusa,” said Zhao. “The idea is I want to make something so beautiful that it will stun everyone that sees it.”

Right now, Zhao is the company’s only employee. But, when addressing his customers, he believes it’s important to use the pronoun “we,” to establish a form of trust and wholeness for both the customers and suppliers he works with. “I’m the guy who finds all the manufacturers and gets them to work together,” Zhao said. “It’s basically a distribution and collection thing, and there’s more than one party involved.”

When it comes to marketing himself, Zhao targets smaller companies that would not necessarily have the means to hire a full-time middleman. “For them, it’s better to work with an outsider than to hire someone because I take the risk,” said Zhao. “If I’m an employee at their company, even if it’s my fault, the company is still held responsible. By outsourcing it to me, it’s never the company’s fault.”

One of his most notable projects this year was a Quebec City home, which the owner wanted to emulate a “princess castle.” “Crystals [were] everywhere,” Zhao said with a smile. “She wanted her visitors to have their heels click to crystal on the floors.”

Zhao makes money from each project and, according to him, he has made about $50,000 since his first.

Although he has yet to establish an online presence, Zhao has been on the road meeting with people and companies at interior design expos, cocktail parties and networking events.

Sticking to business cards with an email and a phone number, Zhao continues to strengthen his business locally and internationally. His latest project is in Los Angeles. “It makes me happy that I can sleep in,” Zhao said with a laugh.

Feature image by Fatima Dia

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