A new face to New Zealand’s fashion scene, this leather goods label is definitely shaping up to be a crowd favourite. Having established her brand in 2014; receiving an award at Wellington Fashion Week, showing at Shanghai and the last NZ Fashion Week–Jessie Wong’s vision for Yu Mei is taking the spotlight in modern women’s accessories. Get to know the young designer as we talk fashion, career and goals.
How did you start your career?
I’ve always wanted to create things; I started sewing lessons when I was 11, and it was a hobby I never got sick of. I went on to study fashion at Otago Polytech where I was introduced to Bill Drake, Dunedin’s leather guru and discovered beautiful New Zealand deer nappa. I made a bag–it all grew organically from there!
Why the name Yu Mei?
Yu Mei is my Chinese middle name given to me by my Guang Guang. It means something along the lines of ‘pretty jade, little sister’, which I’ve loosely interpreted as ‘Young and Beautiful”.
Do you have a style icon, who?
Phoebe Philo, she’s got a good thing going on.
Do you have favourite piece from the newest collection?
I am really into the ‘Jane’ bag this season, so simple and really easy to use. I’ve got it in the ‘buttermilk’ colourway, and have been thrashing it all summer!
What’s the best thing about what you do?
I really like that my job changes every few weeks, I never get bored and I have the opportunity every six months to wipe the slate clean and change up my ideas for collections. Also getting to work with my team is a bonus, they are great, we have a lot of fun in our studio.
Album or song on repeat?
Hungry Planet by The Shambles, a new band from Dunedin that are killing it at the moment.
Dream collaboration or celebrity wearing your brand?
Leandra Medine. I admire her entire Man Repeller ethos, that humour, fashion and intelligence are not mutually exclusive.
After last NZFW, we were inundated with orders and had to scale up quick. We hired about 10 people, which was a big step for us. Seeing the team working together and support each other is not something I take for granted. For example, a birthday never gets forgotten, they all look after each other and are genuinely proud of the work they do.
Aside from running your fashion biz, what’re your hobbies?
I live on the beach so I am down there whenever the weather permits, which is not often recently! I get into a bit of yoga, and love making the most of the food Welly has on offer.
What makes Yu Mei different from other labels?
Our design ethos is ‘simplicity is complexity resolved’ so when designing I never put in a detail for the sake of it. If a design isn’t working I take a few steps back and redesign the entire piece, it’s so important to consider proportions carefully–that’s what makes it for me. Also, each piece is inspired by a personality of someone close, so each bag takes on a personality and has a story to tell.
Biggest piece of advice for aspiring designers/fashion industry entrepreneurs?
No one knows what they’re doing until they’re doing it. That’s probably the most reassuring thing I’ve realised along the way.
What’s next for Yu Mei?
I’ve got a few things up my sleeve, you’ll just have to wait and see!