Deskside

Deskside: Wen Zhou

CEO, 3.1 Phillip Lim. New York

By: Noah Lehava
Photography:

Welcome to Desksides, The Coveteur's brand-spanking-new series in which we sit down with leaders in various creative fields and figure out how they got there. We guess we could've also named this, "how the hell do I get your cool job," accompanied with a "help me I'm poor" GIF from Bridesmaids, but then realized going the mononymous route was a little more succinct.

You know how the saying goes: a first impression happens within the first 30 seconds. Well guys, that isn’t always the case. To be honest, nothing really hammers it home more than meeting someone like Wen Zhou, whose kind and soft demeanor eclipse her badassness. We’re not kidding. At 21, Zhou was already the CEO of her own fabric-sourcing agency — which just so happens to be how she met Phillip… Lim, that is. And in the most serendipitous way, Zhou’s business savvy-mentality and Lim’s sartorial creativity, synthesized into the behemoth 3.1 Phillip Lim is today. We mean, she invested $750,000 and told Lim to create a collection within two months. If she doesn't perfectly fit the #girlboss mould, we don't know who does.

ON HOW SHE STARTED OFF IN FASHION…
"Growing up, I used to always hear the humming sound of my mother's old sewing machine in our apartment, as she would make clothes for my sister and I. This was my very first taste of fashion—which I didn't really even understand at that time—and how I eventually wound up where I am today, running a global fashion brand."

ON LIFE BEFORE PHILLIP LIM…
"I owned a successful fabric-sourcing agency, with offices in NYC and L.A. I serviced a large portion of the American designer fashion community… this is actually how I met Phillip, he was one of my clients."

 

ON HOW SHE STARTED WORKING WITH PHILLIP LIM… 
"When Phillip was my client, he had his own brand called ‘Development.’ I took notice of his discerning taste in textiles, his sensitivity to design, and to his resourcefulness. I admired Phillip as an individual creative and was so in love with his product. We had been working together long distance and eventually met in person during a trip to Paris. I had brought along a very precious dress to wear to an evening event, the beading came loose and I was in desperate need of help. Phillip came to my rescue and was there for me to mend my dress. We instantly became friends and years later, we became business partners and started our brand '3.1 Phillip Lim.' 31 was the age of Phillip and I when we started our business together so it is very meaningful to both of us."

 

ON THE FIRST DAYS OF PHILIP LIM…
"Our first days were incredible—we worked with a very small and tight team—most of whom had followed Phillip to NYC from his prior company, ‘Development’, which was based in L.A. We took up a small office in the Garment District and together made what would be our first collection. Barneys and other specialty boutiques, from 24 different countries, instantly picked up the collection. From there, it has been a nonstop adventure."

 

ON THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX… 
"Being both young and ambitious helped us to think outside the box and allowed us to really explore, while getting to know the brand we wanted to build. Looking back, the success seemed instant and it was incredibly exciting! The struggles we have dealt with along the way go hand in hand with owning your own business, having limited amount of resources, growing at a fast pace, and keeping up with the demands of a very competitive market."

 

ON LEARNING THE HARMONY BETWEEN ART AND COMMERCE… 
"We learned that sometimes it was okay to make mistakes. We also learned that this is a serious business—both art and commerce have to sit at the same table in order to have harmony."

ON HOW BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE KEY TO SUCCESS…
"I think that our 'magic' formula is that both Phillip and I handle separate parts of the business operation, while still speaking each other's language. It is about having trust in your partner, but also being aware of each other, and supporting each other. Like in any relationship, you need to have constant communication."

 

ON AN AVERAGE DAY FOR A CEO… 
"My days at home start very early, as I am a working mom with two active kids. When I get to the office, I review my schedule and begin for the day. I prefer to have face-to-face meetings rather than phone meetings or conference calls. Part of my role is to engage with all of the different teams in the company: Financial, Human Resources, Design, Production, Social media, Retail, Online. A big part of my role is to listen to and stay present and connected. The other part of my time is dedicated to working with our product offering; making sure that we are on the same page from a commercial merchandising standpoint. Today, more than ever, you really have to get the product right. The customer is the ultimate judge! Once I finish my day job, I get to go home and have dinner with my kids and hear about their day. Once the kids go to sleep, it’s back to work on strategies, business planning or brainstorming ideas… I love my work so it never really feels like ‘work’! Instead, I feel like I am playing a competitive chess game and learning to become a better player every day"

 

ON THE BIGGEST PERK OF THE JOB…
"Besides an amazing closet full of beautiful clothes, shoes, and accessories that I love, owning a business has allowed me to handpick people to work alongside that I admire and respect. I am able to walk out of my office everyday feeling smarter than when I walked in."

 

ON HOW TO STAY INNOVATIVE…
"By staying curious and never accepting the status quo."

 

ON HOW DIGITAL IS CHANGING THE FASHION INDUSTRY…
"Today, there is more innovation in fashion than ever. Social media and digital has allowed us to share and communicate our brand directly to our customer base. It's beyond incredible and it is vital to participate. Again, it's about connecting!"

ON THE BEST CAREER ADVICE SHE HAS EVER RECEIVED… 
"First and foremost, learn how to seek advice! Then find, build and sharpen your skill set that meets your passion. Follow your path, listen to your gut and deliver it all the way. ‘Mediocre’ should never be part of your vocabulary."

Part of the series:

Deskside

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