Interviewing Fashion Designer Shui Chen

By Jessica Laiter of Chinese Graffiti

At long last, I am able to release this interview with Shui Chen from her launch party on October 7th in New York City! After a short time away from her work, Chen is back from Taiwan to hit the ground running! Made to fit the “sculpture” of a woman, these items are perfect for that fall weather, and can take you from daytime to evening in an instant. But don’t let me speak on her behalf. Keep reading for the real deal from Shui Chen herself!

CG: What inspired you start your brand? Did you always work in ready to wear?

SC: I went to school for fashion design in Chicago and, well, let me go a while back. In Taiwan, I studied fine arts, and specialized in sculpture. After school I started thinking, what can I do with sculpture? Then I thought, maybe fashion, fashion is a sculpture, to me as a person.

So I went to Chicago (I’m from Taiwan originally) for fashion school. From there I studied fashion design. From fashion design, I just start to think about where I wanted to go, and New York is right there next to Chicago, so I went! From there I felt like I wanted to start something brand new. That’s where I also started to work for other companies. I started from the basics, the foundation of fashion, from production to sales to design. I began having a dilemma with this job because I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. So I had an opportunity to start my own label. And from there, I thought ok; I want to make wearable sculpture. As you can tell I have a lot of cowl necks, the silhouette is very wearable. It’s very important to have that idea surrounding my collection.

CG: You took a brief hiatus from design, and returned back to Taiwan. Do you feel like you’ve returned with a fresh perspective? If so, how did this inspire you?

SC: I took a pause because of family issues, but now I’m good, I want to start what I created, which is my DNA, the Shui Chen DNA. I start from there, and then make it more focused. It’s everywhere. I’ve tried to be more serious about e-commerce, more direct to consumer at shuichen.com; much more shopper-friendly and also very direct to consumer and wholesale.

CG: Why did you decide to base your manufacturing in New York, rather than to source and base everything in Asia?

SC: Yes because it’s easier for me to supervise. It’s very important to have good quality in the early stages, for me to see everything. For example, the factory is just five minutes away; if there are any issues, they can just call me and say when something is not right or seems off. Even though I am paying more in New York, I want control over the quality more efficiently. I’m from Taiwan but I feel like at this stage I need something local. For the future, of course, I‘ll consider going back.

CG: Do you think its possible to eventually turn the Made in China stigma on its head, and return to manufacturing in China?

SC: Of course! But the thing is that China’s infrastructure requires higher volume. When I produce in New York, I have very select minimums. I don’t need to make 1K piece orders. As a businesswoman, I can make things more limited edition, tailored to my specific clientele.

CG: Did you have a mentor from whom you learned a lot? Did you take any risks in areas you were advised against?

SC: Yes and I wish I had that advice early on, but it’s really developed in the long term. I mean everybody in the industry is my mentor. Along the way people come up and I am open minded for new direction. I always try to make the company better.

CG: Do you have an ideal consumer?

SC: Vera! She is a smart, beautiful woman who knows who she is. She just carries Shui Chen with confidence. That’s why we have her here today!

CG: What is your favorite piece from the collection?

SC: My signature. I have it every season. People find it special, and comfortable. That’s the Shi Chen brand. I pick wearable sculpture and people feel cozy when they wear it.

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