London, Milan, New York, Los Angeles … Seattle? — Designers aims to put the Emerald City on the map

By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly

The Pacific Northwest isn’t really the first place that comes to the mind when people think of high-class fashion.

“I want to say that Seattle’s still lacking in the fashion industry,” said designer Karen Wu laughingly. But Wu intends to change the way that Seattle is looked at by the rest of the fashion industry.

Taipei-born Wu is debuting her first line at this year’s Seattle Fashion Week in October. “It is exciting,” said Wu. “I’ve sold online before, but it’s been one or two pieces, here and there. This is the first collection.”

Displaying a classic, simple and sensible style with her women’s wear, Wu uses elegant fabric and recalls a look that is a staggering difference from the loud designs (such as clothing with all-over print) that are currently clinging to peoples’ bodies on the Seattle streets.

Wu’s background and its relation to fashion is an all-encompassing one. She spent years (and still does to this day) as a flight attendant and travels the world seeing the various fashion capitals. “I would say Europe, maybe London or Paris (are my favorite cities right now),” she said.

Additionally, Wu owned a boutique in Los Angeles called Ice, which allowed her to build a rapport with both clothing companies and customers.

“Since I’ve been on the other side, I know how the process goes,” she said.

Photo provided by Karen Wu

Using her connections Wu slowly started her business, and her experience as both a buyer and a designer has allowed her to budget properly, a problem that newer fashion designers have.

“I think for some people, they don’t have the budget, the money to get them started,” she said. “I have the connections to the manufacturing aspect of it … and I have manufacturers where I don’t have to produce large quantities.”

When Wu decided to follow through with her dream of starting a full-fledged clothing line, she and her husband packed up their lives and relocated to Seattle. Despite her feelings that the Emerald City is lacking in fashion, she finds untapped opportunities here.

“I see there’s a potential here, and I think that’s why we moved up here,” Wu explained. “All of our friends thought we were crazy to move from the sunny California weather to Seattle, but I see a huge potential here, whether it’s in restaurants, fashion, housing market or the job market.”

Seattle’s potential is something that is ready to be shaped, unlike Wu’s former home in Los Angeles. “L.A. is too trendy and it’s not really fashion; it’s basically what celebrities are wearing,” laughed Wu. “You could be going down to L.A. right now with 90 degree weather and people could be wearing Ugg boots — it’s all about trends.”

Though she’s beginning with somewhat of a fresh start here in Washington, the stars have already aligned for Wu. Following her line’s debut at Seattle Fashion Week, she will make her clothing available on her Web site, Karenwu.net.

Inspired by her younger family members, she also has a separate line, independent of the Karen Wu tag, for young girls called My Petite Belle.
For budding Asian American designers, Wu’s experience in building her business and turning her name into a brand from meager beginnings makes her qualified to offer up some advice.

“Follow your passions to do what you believe,” Wu said. “I mean, I started with $20. Little by little over the years, it grew. So I think there’s hope.”
Still, with all eyes on her site and her line now, Wu’s ultimate goal is a simple one: “I want to see people wearing my clothes, basically.” ♦

For more information about Karen Wu and her work, visit www.karenwu.net.

Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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