Behind The Seams At JustFab: Interview with Yuchin Mao, VP of Design

12th Oct 2017 / By Guest Contributor

We’re introducing a new interview series on the JustFab blog—Behind The Seams At JustFab! We’ll be bringing you an inside look at some of the people who are responsible for making the JustFab brand so amazing, day in and day out. Ever wonder who actually designs every JustFab collection? Well, we’re kicking the series off with our very own VP of Design, Yuchin Mao. Read on to find out how she got her start in fashion, what a typical day looks like for her and so much more.

Let’s start with the basics!

I was born in Asia, grew up in New York, and I moved to LA about 12 years ago. I went to LaGuardia High School of Music and Art in New York. It’s important to me because I majored in art and that’s how I started exploring different formats of art. Then I went to Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris. That’s where I learned fashion design!

How did you first become interested in fashion, and what led you to become a fashion designer?

I didn’t know I wanted to be in fashion design until high school. I started to make my own clothes in high school and people were commenting on them. I learned that I liked to sketch clothing—I could make a round neck into a V-neck, I could sketch in different shapes and forms of skirts, different lengths. That really interested me. That led to a push from teachers who really helped shape who I am. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to various art forms. I took a fashion illustration class and totally fell in love, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

And then I got into Parsons. Tim Gunn actually admitted me to the school! He was very instrumental in me going there. I thought I wanted a campus, and if I went to Parsons I would be living at home—who wants to do that, right? You’re in college, you should be out and about and living in a campus with a roommate or something! He was such an inspiration, and he encouraged me. He was right—he knew I really wanted to do this.

Let’s talk a little about your background before coming to JustFab. What were some of the highlights of your career to this point?

I’ve had great opportunities working alongside really amazing people in my life. That’s how I built my experiences. I cut my teeth in New York—from Calvin Klein back in the 90s to TSE Cashmere to Helmut Lang. He’s still one of my most inspired mentors when it comes to art, fashion and design.

Then I moved to LA to be immersed in the entrepreneurial world and the new age of internet shopping. I was always interested in what’s to come in fashion. It’s beyond what shape pockets, what skirt length. I was more interested in how people shop, how culture can inspire and drive how people shop. TechStyle is all about that. A new way of thinking, creating, developing, buying, shopping.

What does a typical day look like in the world for the VP of Design?

I start my day answering urgent emails, because I do believe on-time communication is a responsibility. People need my answer to carry on with their work. I think it’s important to come in with a fresh mind, reading and answering these emails. Then I go into a lot of meetings. One of my goals in life is to see how I can reduce that! Meetings can be: meeting with the internal team to come up with the direction of the month or season, meeting with cross functional teams, looking at samples, looking at production, looking at execution. Then there’s always the data—looking at selling, planning, assortment, prices, costing, sourcing, factories. Lots of meetings!

How does your inspiration for each season come about?

My main source of inspiration really comes from three areas.

  • Runway shows.
  • Retail landscape across the world. It’s very important especially for TechStyle and JustFab because we’re an international company. We really need to know what’s going on and be exposed to that. Being in a store lets you touch fabric, you can see construction—and you can’t do that on a computer screen. That’s a very important process for any designer and anyone who’s creative to go through.
  • I’m also very interested in what’s happening culturally, in the news. Anything that’s making people happy or unhappy. A lot of the news is inspiring new ways of designing and presenting fashion, and that’s quite exciting to me.

I’m currently very inspired by what’s going on in the world of Dior and YSL. The exhibition that’s happening in Paris, the new museum happening in Marrakech for YSL. That piques a whole new interest in these types of brands and in the influence from the brands themselves. It sometimes gives you that little bit of push and inspiration, especially in the messaging from these brands. A lot of it is about empowering femininity, which I think is fantastic. It’s a combination of that, plus the 80s and 90s. it’s an exciting time. But it’s still feminine, not about hard feminine power—it’s really the soft power.

What is your typical timeline when you’re designing a new season?

I’m now working on Fall 2018 concept. But I’m still designing injections and capsules for Spring 2018. So that’s how broad it is! I think it’s important because it’s a continuing process. We’re always going to try and be as fast as possible. But we’re also developing things to give the team enough time to develop and source. We’re building the foundation for a year out, but for Spring 2018, we’re doing capsule collections right now.

Speaking of the capsule collections, we now have them each season within the regular collection. What is your process for creating these capsule collections and how do you find inspiration for each one?

Ultimately the capsule is about telling a compelling story. I see what I do as telling compelling stories. For example, a shirtdress can be told various ways depending on how you style it. It’s about telling the story, and hopefully the story can drive excitement. There will be pieces that connect with our members. It’s the emotional connection—at the end, it’s fashion, and fashion is about emotion. It’s about how you feel. Do you want to buy it, wear it? How does that make you feel?

Our two reasons for creating these capsule collections are to capture anything we haven’t already that’s important, and to drive excitement. Inspiration for them came from the fashion shows—we watched them live, religiously, as they came out. We looked to see what the biggest message was from these shows that we hadn’t covered and that our customers would get excited for. What would she find to be a must have?

Our first capsule collection, Romantic Renaissance, is inspired by the world of very French brands that are very feminine, romantic in a luxe and rich way. It’s very feminine and girly but mature at the same time.

What are your tips for aspiring fashion designers?

  • Integrity, grit and think outside the box.
  • It’s never possible with just one person. Anyone can tell you it’s one designer making it happen—never, ever! It’s always a team. I have an amazing team who come and contribute. I look at myself as the conductor and I’m putting it together to make the music happen—but they’re the ones who are actually the musicians.

What do you love most about working for JustFab?

Anything is possible! There’s never a dull day. We continue to evolve, never fast enough, we have to do things yesterday! That’s what makes it exciting. There’s always something going on. That’s how fashion is and that’s how it should be.

It’s fashion! A lot of times we appreciate the tech and data-driven part of the business, but at the end of the day it’s about connecting. We want to be aspired to. She already knows what she wants—but fashion is about telling her something she doesn’t know she wanted. That’s when you can hit that magic. It’s that emotional connection, whether it’s through influencers or personal stylists. At the end of the day it’s a beautiful thing. Everyone wants to feel empowered and feminine, and fashion can give you that power. People take that for granted but it’s a pretty powerful thing.

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