I have been a fan of Minan Wong’s work from the moment I saw her beautiful Spring/Summer 2017 collection. So you can imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to interview Minan and get a sneak peak of her 2020 collection.
Mimi Wong founded Minan (mi-non) Wong in 2015, because she was inspired by women that emulate strength, confidence, and integrity.
Hi Minan, Can you tell me about how you got started in the fashion industry? Have you always had an interest in fashion ?
I have known that I wanted to be a Fashion Designer, since I was nine years old. Growing up, I used to play with paper dolls and sew dresses for my Barbie doll. Upon my high school graduation, I applied for only one fashion school, FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology. Luckily I was accepted, and towards the end of my last year, I was selected by my professor to represent the USA in UNESCO’s eco-fashion competition ‘Design 21’ world international competition. All Art & Design schools across the country chose five students from their school, and I was the only USA contestant sent over to Paris from over 1,000 students within the US, and I had my collection shown at the Louvre. For an 18-year-old, it was a huge experience for me. (Looking back, I’m surprised my parents would let their 18 years old go on a trip to Paris all by herself! We laugh about it now.)
When did you launch your first collection and what was the inspiration behind it ?
I launched my brand four years ago when I identified a gap in the market. While all the brands were chasing the millennial customers, Gen X was left behind by the marketeers. Gen X inspired the Minan Wong Collection, as this generation desires well made, purposeful, meaningful, and well-priced products. They want practically along with beauty, and Gen X is looking for value for money for the parents and for their children.
Can you describe what you mean by sustainable fashion, and what does this mean for your brand?
Sustainable fashion has many meanings and angles to different brands and consumers. I want to be transparent that while I want a fully sustainable collection, it is not always possible. Sustainability needs to be a holistic process from the grower to fabric spinners to dyers to cutters, and then to the garment sewers. If you use organic cotton, then you also need to look at the dyestuff used as well as water consumption regardless of whether the material is organic. While recycled fabrics are great to avoid stripping the earth’s natural resources, the recycling process is sometimes harsh. You also need to look at where the material is purchased and whether it will require air or boat shipping which will emit CO2 into the environment. For my brand, sustainability is a design for longevity & purpose with fabrics that will hold up for over 13 wears and which are manufactured locally.
Where do you source most of your materials from and what is your favourite fabric?
I source fabrics from all over the world, depending on the needs of each category or market needs. My absolute favorite material is “Yak” because it helps sustain the livelihood of the Tibetan Nomads. The Tibetan Nomads live without electricity and sewerage. The yak animal hair sheds in the Spring when it’s warmer in the Plateau, then the Tibetans collect it by combing and then take it to a collection point in exchange for money. Yak is the cousin of cashmere and its earth-friendly!
What are ethical practices and how does the company achieve ethical manufacturing?
Ethical practices are the human factor, which is important. All my designs are locally made in the heart of NYC’s Garment District, paying fair wages, which are regulated by NYC’s Dept of Labor, and providing safe working conditions. The crafters are paid $15/hour minimum or more depending on their experience. I look for local factories that are well lit, with enough windows for ventilation and which are clean. Based on the law, they can work up to 40 hours a week. In the future, I would want to see factories achieve two different groups of working shifts to choose from 8 am-2 pm to give mothers flexibility for school pick-ups, then 2 pm – 8 pm as another flexibility option.
Do you think we will eventually change the way we buy to look at more timeless and well-made pieces as opposed to so much fast fashion?
I think the disruption in fast fashion is already happening, with consumers being smarter about their choices and demanding transparency from companies. Consumers are already identifying the need for well made and timeless pieces, but they also have to understand that it comes with higher prices. It will take a few more years for the consumers to become conditioned to pay higher costs for longevity vs. cheap disposable fashion.
Where do you sell your pieces? Are we able to purchase them from somewhere other than your website?
Aside from my website, Minan Wong is in approximately 30 stores across the US. The tab is at the very bottom as “Where to Buy” but I see now that I need to move it up to the top. Thank you!
What kind of woman is a Minan Wong customer?
A Minan Wong woman is affluent and discerning, and includes working professionals such as Journalists, Lawyers, Doctors, philanthropists, and business executives that need to look polished and need clothing that moves with them. As a company it is our goal to empower women in a responsible fashion.
How do you want women to feel when they are wearing one of your pieces?
Each piece is created to support women in their everyday challenges by highlighting their strength and confidence. I want women to feel supported and confident in my designs that show off the women herself, and not the clothing.
Do current fashion trends or color forecasting influence you when designing a new collection?
I don’t follow trends and nor am I influenced by forecasting because that’s part of the fast-fashion problem. I will partly watch the trends to be updated on what’s going on in the market but will use it for reference and not necessarily follow it. Part of my design process is to look at the women themselves and study their lifestyle and ask what she would want to wear or add to her wardrobe? I build the collection around practically and it is made up of elegant dresses, and separates that effortlessly transitions from day to night.
Can you tell me a bit more about the 2020 collection? What was the inspiration behind it?
The 2020 collection is about blossoming and happiness. People are wanting to be happy and cheerful so when I look at the collection it makes me smile because it’s very colorful with abstract floral patterns.
What is your favourite piece and why ?
My favorite piece in the SS2020 collection is the shirt dress style that is buttoned down. It’s a very versatile piece that you can wear as a coat or a dress as well as dress up or down. It’s all I find myself wearing nowadays.
What do you think sets you apart from other fashion brands?
I want to emphasise practical longevity design, workmanship for the mid-range price, transparency and limited exclusive editions.
I noticed you offer a personal styling service. Can you tell me a little more about this?
I have built a customer base now who desire to come in to try on my collection before purchasing. Unless they know my brand already, they are unlikely to buy straight off the website. When clients come in, I will have a bottle of prosecco ready, and we chat fashion then play dress up. It’s fun and easy.
What has been the biggest challenge/ hurdle you have faced so far?
There are many challenges, but the two main ones are financing and fit. It took me a while to understand, study, and to perfect a fit for all body types. Financing is always a challenge being self-funded, but every season I seem to make it happen!
What has been your biggest milestone / achievement so far ?
There are also many achievements but the main one was for my brand to be accepted as one of the 24 brands to the 2018 FIT Design Entrepreneurs program which allowed me to have a partially sponsored office space in the heart of NYC’s garment district. It has been a long journey from only 3 stores to now 30 stores and growing.
What are your aspirations for the future? Where would you like to see your brand 5 years from now and are there any imminent plans for the company that you’d like to share?
In the next five years, I hope to reach a more diverse group in the US and internationally but still keep it on a small scale to maintain exclusivity.
What words of advice do you have for any designers trying to make it in the fashion industry?
My advice to all the aspiring designers out there is to go into this with passion first because money may or may not come, so you need to love what you do. And secondly, know your customers and who you are designing for. Any designers can design, but to design for a specific market is very challenging if you want to profitable.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?
Although the sustainable design is my journey now, I hope to work towards a holistically sustainable future from the ground up. However, the only way to do this is to make the business profitable first.
Thank you, Minan, for sharing this with us today.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Minan Wong and I can’t wait to share some more tips from France with you soon. I’m Julia Rees and I’m a French-based Style Coach and the founder and owner of the ‘Style with Julia’ Styling Agency. I offer a one to one Style Mentoring Service to help women develop their confidence and their style, so don’t hesitate to contact me for more details.
All Images are courtesy of Minan Wong