“You have to be commercially successful to be successful,” states CFDA award-winning designer Wenlan Chia of Twinkle. Over a cup of tea in her studio in the Garment Center, Wenlan passionately expounds her teaching mantra for Praxes, her incubation program where she trains students from Shihchien University in Taipei, her native country.
Started in January 2013, Praxes came about organically while she was a mentor there. “I was bored of repeating myself in the classroom, “ says Wenlan referring to the first sessions where she was asked to provide design input. “You have to have a brand, you have to have customers and see how they respond to your products. “
So Wenlan convinced the university to let her create a program that simulates a company, where the students could experience designing, selling, marketing for a real label, with real problems and decision-making needs, and real products they can sell.
“We started ideally with three labels. Each label targeting a different product category or market place. But as it turned out, the funding for 3 labels was too much. Reality. After the first season, we sat down and decided that Cynical Cheri [one of the three clothing labels] could create more of a following, more of a niche.”
Cynical Cheri is a contemporary label with multiple deliveries and price point targeting women who have been working for a couple of years. At this price point level, Wenlan wants the students to think critically and strategically about how they create the products, and asks them to incorporate fashion trends, design details and withhold craftsmanship that justify the price of the garment.
Cynical Cheri’s Fall 2014 collection was featured at Coterie and sold to a number of stores. It will soon launch an ecommerce site all built by the students.
Often Asian designers want to build or show their brands in New York or Paris. But Wenlan believes it’s time to start where the young designers are from.
“Build yourself in Asia first,” she advises her students. “Become credible then let them come to you. Think strategically and position yourself. There are always disadvantages. But there are a lot of advantages too. It’s how you position yourself. “
Wenlan’s can-do and “don’t limit yourself” attitude have certainly helped her grow her label Twinkle from cozy knits to a lifestyle brand. Her proven approach not only empowers the students but gives them ammunition for life, wherever their journey may take them after Praxes.