Waymakers: Tiffany Ouyang

When Tiffany Ouyang was growing up in Plano, Texas, she pored over glamour magazines and studied red-carpet wardrobes, dreaming of one day influencing the fashion world. And she has succeeded—but not the way she ever imagined. Instead of influencing people around the world with new clothing designs, Tiffany’s greatest success has been watching Jesus cultivate the Christian faith in the people who work in the fashion industry across the globe.

Tiffany wears the scarf she created with text from the Psalms.

That kind of success was not in Tiffany’s game plan when she graduated from the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan, one of the top fashion colleges in the world, in 2011. Excited to be hired as a “trend forecaster” for a renowned nationwide retailer, Tiffany was looking forward to helping set the tone for what people would buy and wear and was eager to be fully immersed in the glamorous world of fashion.

But as she settled into her new office, she quickly noticed that the life of a fashion employee wasn’t that glamorous after all.  The office was filled with strife and tension. Disagreements flared quickly among co-workers,  suspicious that everyone around them was acting only in self-interest.

Tiffany began to wonder if there was any way to bring her newfound Christian faith into this toxic environment. Although she had grown up in the Bible Belt, Tiffany was not a Christian when she arrived in New York City for college, but her search for a new social circle had led her to Jesus.

During her first years in New York City, Tiffany found herself alone when her best friend and FIT classmate left to study abroad. Her friend advised her to start attending church to meet new people, so Tiffany stumbled across a small congregation in the Union Square district where she made new friends and learned about Jesus every week.

In her dorm room one night, Tiffany realized she couldn’t reconcile her past sins while continuing to call herself a “good person” any longer. She didn’t like the sin she saw in her life and realized she needed a Savior. She closed her eyes and prayed and felt the Holy Spirit speak to her, assuring her that Jesus was real, and she dedicated her life to Christ.

Tiffany had been a Christian for only a short time when she started working in the fashion industry, but it wasn’t long before God put it on her heart to look for ways to heal the brokenness she saw around her every day. Not knowing what kind of reception she would get, she began to nervously approach her co-workers and say, “Hey, I’m starting a faith in fashion group. Would you like to join?”

Tiffany worried that she would be considered freakish in an industry that has long held a reputation for being secular, so she was pleasantly surprised when one co-worker after another joined her group. The goal of the group was to try to apply the gospel lens to their work environment. Meetings were well-received, and the group grew in size each week.

Within a few weeks, Tiffany could see a change in how co-workers treated each other. Two feuding co-workers were surprised to see each other at the group meetings, but they were then able to let down their guard and repair their relationship. As group members began to bond, their walls of self-protection began to crumble.

“It felt like God was stepping in and healing relationships and bringing people closer together,” Tiffany said, still marveling at the process. As the group continued to meet and grow, the work atmosphere became more positive and respectful, fostering a safer space for employees to collaborate and cooperate.

The conversations at the workplace meetings would often focus on how God might want them to carry out their jobs. How should buyers, product developers, designers, account managers, and others all conduct their work in light of the gospel? How could they be a light where God had sent them?

A buyer by then, Tiffany was also pondering how her faith could influence her role. “The questions I began asking focused on, ‘How do we serve our customers better?’ I started going into the stores and talking with customers, asking what products they like and don’t like. I started seeing the buying aspect as serving the customer through God’s eyes.”

Her new way of thinking took tangible forms, such as when the company was deciding on what kinds of leggings to carry. Tiffany sought to bless buyers by providing products that would keep their legs warm through cold months, rather than make choices based only on how a product would impact the company’s bottom line.

As employees in Tiffany’s group, which came to be known as the Faith in Fashion group, shared ideas about empathizing with customers, they began concentrating more and more on how to use their careers to bless others. Tiffany said they began using God’s language versus retail language, which changed how they processed their decisions.

“People really took the ball and ran with it,” she said.

The Faith in Fashion members also frequently discussed how God might think of fashion and beauty. Clothing is mentioned from the earliest chapters of the Bible, and Genesis 3:21 tells us how God clothed Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. Tiffany’s co-workers pulled together all the Bible verses dealing with beauty and clothing and talked about how God wants us to consider beauty, which is oftentimes at odds with how the world sees beauty.

The group Tiffany had hesitantly brought together eventually grew from two to three regular members to more than 100. They began inviting others in the fashion industry to join, and the expanding interest level prompted Tiffany to think on a bigger scale.

“I thought, If God can do something incredible, such as turn my contentious office around to a place of love, I would like this to blossom into a larger thing,” she said. So Tiffany began attending the popular Faith and Work events at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City to gather more ideas about how to steer her group.

There she learned of a Redeemer mission trip to Tokyo, which inspired another exciting idea. “Maybe I can bring a Faith in Fashion group to that international fashion hub!”

New York fashion professionals meet with their counterparts in Tokyo to share how God has moved in their lives and in the fashion industry.

In 2016, Tiffany joined a mission trip to Japan, where she opened a discussion with a Japanese designer who expressed his concern about how to mix fashion and faith. Despite his doubts, Tiffany was inspired to open the conversation with other Japanese industry insiders, and she planned her next trip to Japan more strategically, bringing more fashion industry employees from New York City with her. They planned several events that were advertised in local churches, hosting “testimony nights” where people would discuss their work challenges; a networking night for fashion professionals; and a “highs and lows” small-group event, featuring personal discussions.

She even created events in local schools and colleges, where students loved hearing from a “New York City industry professional.” Tiffany started a Facebook group to allow an international community of professionals to encourage one another and formally launched a Faith in Fashion group at Grace City Church in Tokyo and other churches. Traveling to Japan for six years in a row, she created a week-long series of events that grew increasingly more sophisticated and attracted more industry professionals each year.

Tiffany giving a talk about the intersection of faith and fashion at a church in Krakow, Poland.

Loosely following the formula she had created in Japan, Tiffany expanded her efforts to other countries, including Poland. In Krakow, Tiffany discovered that interest in faith and fashion was just as high as it was in Japan and New York, so she started another Facebook group and launched a Faith in Fashion group at Christ The Saviour Church.

Tiffany had plans to take her faith and fashion efforts to Dubai and South Africa before COVID-19 interrupted. She hopes to restart those efforts soon. And she’s also preparing for a new chapter in her life—planning a 2023 wedding!

Tiffany is awed by the unexpected ways God has used her childhood love of fashion and her tentative invitations to a workplace discussion group to influence people all over the world. “My overall goal for starting these groups was to see how God moved in the fashion industry—simple and clear,” she said recently. “And I think God has worked through them and will continue to do so.”

Because she is certain that God can work in similar ways in other places, she advises others to start faith and career discussion groups in their workplaces and industries. “Start small,” Tiffany advises. “Industry-specific groups can be so powerful and a way to build a safe place within the industry you work. No matter where you work, we can all ask the question of how we can be a light within our jobs.”

Christina Ray Stanton is founder of the nonprofit Loving All Nations and an award-winning author.

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