How did this Rising Star finalist and Econ Major go from growing up in St. Louis, Missouri to creating a fashion line in NYC?
As a child growing up in St. Louis, Emily was always interested in fashion. “I watched as many shows as I could find, including Fashion File on CBS when I was growing up,” explains Emily recalling her childhood.
She started drawing as a child and received her first sewing machine from her mother at the age of 10. She spent a lot of her time drawing as a child. Although she would go on to obtain a degree in Economics from Boston University, she ultimately knew she had to follow her true passion of fashion design, which led her to earning a degree from Parsons School of Design.
While studying Econ, Emily used every chance to learn and gain exposure to the fashion industry. She worked as an intern, and even worked her way into classes that seemed impossible to get into to, including a class in Costume Production & Design.
Emily continued to follow her dream by gaining experience at Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Tam, Aeropostale and May Department Stores (acquired by Macy’s). This laid the groundwork to start her own line, Wai Ming, which launched in stores in 2012.
Wai Ming is actually Emily’s middle name, which means “gift of light” in Chinese.
Emily now divides her time between St. Louis and New York. She explained how important it is for Wai Ming to be produced domestically by stating, “I’ve worked with oversees manufacturers on previous collections, but there’s lots of uncertainty in manufacturing oversees”. She continues, “Domestic manufacturing makes it easier to oversee production, and I think it all balances out with the costs of overseas shipping”. Although she sources her fabrics from around the world, Wai Ming is made right here in NYC.
How can you best describe your current collection?
Emily explains, “My aesthetic is honed by clean graphic lines and interesting details”. The designer spends time traveling and visiting art museums and galleries and says she finds inspiration everywhere, but especially through art and architecture. She sketches all of her designs, and loves exploring textures, color combinations and shapes through these explorations.
Emily says, “My current line feels more special with more design details. It’s more architecturally feminine”. When asked how her line differs from others in the market, she explains that Wai Ming is super versatile, and can be worn from a plane to meetings or from work to drinks after work. Adding that she includes a lot of pockets in her designs. The Wai Ming customer gets a lot of wear for the price point.
Emily describes her customer as “a warrior princess, who’s not afraid to embrace her femininity”.
The spring ’17 collection includes dresses, ranging in price from $300 to $500, separates, ranging from $150 to $350, and gowns, ranging from $750-1500.
Where do you see the future of the industry?
Emily explained that although the online retail business is growing, and many customers want the ease of online shopping, she feels people still want to have an emotional connection to their clothing, and an aspect of shopping is definitely a part of that.
As for sustainability, she says she’s been thinking about it for a while, and is exploring the integration of sustainable & eco-friendly fabric into her line. However, she explains, “It’s hard to switch everything overnight with a small company”. She says she tries to have very little waste by not over ordering and using as much fabric as possible.
What’s next with Wai Ming?
For the next two years Emily will be one of six of the inaugural class of the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator, which provides six emerging designers with a unique opportunity to build their brands and grow their businesses with a two-year residency program. It provides the designers with tools, education, and mentorship, and includes free studio space and designer offices in a 7,500sq. building in St. Louis’ historic garment district.
Emily’s road to the Incubator included undergoing a couple of rounds of vetting designers based on long-term business goals, a business plan and presenting samples to a panel in NYC. The panel included Lisa Smilor, Executive VP of CFDA, Gary Wassner, CEO, Hilldun Corp and Chairman, Interluxe Holdings, LLC, and Fern Mallis, Founder New York Fashion Work.
What is your dream collaboration?
Emily says she would like to explore expanding to accessories in the future, and she would love to collaborate with Lizzie Fortunato in jewelry and Mansur Gavriel for handbags. She thinks it would be fun to collaborate first and see the response.
Best advise for new designers?
Be persistent. Make as many connections as you can. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Keep pushing until you find someone who can help you.
By: Theresa Majeed
Source: Fashion Mannuscript, April 2017