I recently had the wonderful opportunity to interview Tanya Zhang, co-founder of Nimble Made. The fashion brand is known for its actually slim dress shirts, catering to the professional AAPI man with unique sizing issues. Inspired by the slimmer Asian American men in her circles, Tanya saw even the “Slim Fit” at most fashion retailers useless to them. By targeting this niche market and providing a solution to a common problem, Tanya Zhang (along with co-founder Wesley Kang) is prioritizing representation of AAPIs while building a mindful, conscious brand.
- Tell us a bit about who you are and what you’re about.
Hello! I’m Tanya, born and raised in Los Angeles. I graduated from UC San Diego with STEM education and a degree in Interdisciplinary Computing & the Arts. I left sunny California and moved to New York City where I started in my career as an art director in advertising, working on creative integrated campaigns at an advertising agency, TBWA\CHIAT\DAY. From there, I’ve worked in the start-up financial tech space and then went on to advise as a UX/UI design consultant, specializing in user-centric interaction design and experience at Ernst & Young LLP.
In Fall 2018, I left my corporate career behind and founded Nimble Made, an actually-slim dress shirt brand, inspired by and created for slim Asian men.
- You co-founded the fashion brand, Nimble Made, which aims to be more inclusive with sizing especially in regards to Asian and other men of color. How did you get this idea? How did you come up with your sizing method?
This idea came from my co-founder Wesley’s struggle of not being able to find a dress shirt that fit him for his finance job. As a smaller Taiwanese-American who weighs 130 lbs at 5’5” in height, he still couldn’t wear the “Slim Fit” at big retailers like Brooks Brothers or J. Crew. I grew up in a predominantly Asian community in LA and saw this happen within my circles as well, including my own father. He immigrated here to the US to build a better future for his family and whenever he and I would go shopping for some new clothes for him (he always wears the same clothes), he’d say right off the bat “American shirts don’t fit me.” This was so strange to me because there are petite lines and brands for women but nothing of that similar parallel for men.
We came up with our actually slim dress shirt sizes from measuring other leaner men, starting with Wesley. He currently wears our smallest size, the N1. Once we got our first round of samples, we conducted user testing and reiterated to get the sizing down! Our dress shirts have a trimmed shirt length, sleeve length, and back/shoulder measurements.
- Did you always have an interest in fashion? Where do you get your inspiration from?
I was Editor-in-Chief for a fashion publication in college but, outside of that, I didn’t have too big of an interest in fashion. I’m more passionate about building brands. As a visual designer, I’ve worked with brands my whole career and am inspired by the ones that innovate and push the envelope in leveraging their platform for the greater good.
- Where did the name of your brand come from? What is your goal with Nimble Made?
I was looking for a word that was synonymous to “lean” or “slim”, without the negative connotations of being small or petite. “Nimble” means being quick on your feet or agile and is a unique word so we settled on that!
My goal with Nimble Made is to change the dynamic clothing landscape to include men of all body types, starting with a slim fit that actually fits and create open dialogue around representation and inclusion. As Asian-American founders, we strive to create a brand inspired by our identities and talk about topics of Asian masculinity, vulnerability, redefining success for Asian Americans, etc.
- Why is it important to fuse a fashion brand’s mission with the representation of AAPIs?
As there’s been an increase in AAPI representation this previous year in entertainment and media with Crazy Rich Asians, Searching, Kim’s Convenience, it’s just as important to bring representation to other industries like fashion. We make a big effort to collaborate with PoC models, photographers, writers, stylists, makeup artists to create a brand for AAPIs by AAPIs.
- How do you go about ensuring a “safe working environment and fair treatment of workers”?
As a co-founder of a brand that works with suppliers to create our products, it’s our responsibility to know they’re created in a safe environment with high ethical standards for its employees. We work with manufacturers that have been inspected and verified by certification companies. We also go the extra mile by talking to their employees, requesting photos and videos of the workflow from managers, etc. It’s hard to ensure that the entire supply chain adheres to ethical standards. For example, one level down from us, our manufacturers might not have full transparency into how the raw materials like cotton are farmed. But it’s an ongoing process that we choose to be mindful of and partake in.
- What are some wins that you’ve experienced since founding your brand? What have been some challenges?
We’ve had some really great conversations and collaborations to date. We had a successful launch party in NYC in August 2018. In our community outreach, we’ve talked to colleges and universities about how we started Nimble Made. We’ve co-hosted podcast episodes and were featured as Sprezzabox’s Brand of the Month for March.
The challenges are…aplenty, ha. We’re constantly waiting for our big break and seeking overnight success but the truth is that everything takes much longer than we expect. For example, we run ads and expect to get sales right away but it just doesn’t work that way. It’s all the incremental efforts that gradually, and hopefully, add up to an overall effect for our audience.
- What’s next for Nimble Made and where can everyone find you?
For Nimble Made, we’re really tapping into our Asian American community by reaching out to similar mission-driven organizations for collaborations like seminars, workshops, talks, personal fittings, guest blogs, podcasts, features, etc. We love chatting and getting to know like-minded individuals, organizations or even people who have questions about starting their own businesses. You can always follow us on Instagram @nimblemade or reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Use code YLWRNGR15 to get 15% off our actually slim dress shirts–they’re great gifts for family & friends!