By Jose Morales & Luis De Jesus. Photography by Jose Morales. From our fourth print issue.
"The Jeff Wan collection is designed with the maturing Millennial in mind who is not only conscious of fashion trends but is also budget-conscious." - Jeff Wan
New York City – Jeff Wan is a luxury handbag and accessories designer, and the creative director behind his eponymous brand, Jeff Wan. Based in New York City, the young designer (who is originally from the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean) already had an impressive trajectory under his belt before launching his brand in 2018. While studying Industrial Design at Pratt Institute, Wan was working for major brands such as Michael Kors, Kenneth Cole, DKNY, and Diesel. Upon his graduation in 2014, Wan landed within the offices of Coach. While working for Coach, he quickly made a name for himself with his creative vision, leading to the revamping of their accessories lines and turning Rexy, the Coach Dino, into a must-have bag charm and a puzzle. With just a few years in business, Jeff Wan has already become an award-winning brand, has graced the pages of multiple fashion publications (including Guild Magazine), and has gained much notoriety with the consumers of luxury handbags and accessories.
1 – Jeff, can you share with our readers how you got started in the industry of leather goods?
As a child, I always wanted to be an architect. Later on, I changed my mind and wanted to be an interior designer. However, when I entered Pratt Institute, I switched my mind and signed up for the Industrial Design program. I felt that it would provide me with more design opportunities. Since then, I have gone from being an intern, apprentice, or assistant to holding associate positions in different fashion houses.
2 – Since launching your brand in 2018, you have won multiple awards for your designs and been featured in over a dozen publications of prestige. Did you ever imagine Jeff Wan would become successful so quickly?
I never imagined winning any awards in the first year of operations. I worked hard on the brand, and it paid off. When I won my first award, and they announced the winner, I was shocked because I come from a tiny island that most people have never heard of, and I was competing against very talented designers from well-known countries. It was of great encouragement for me to win, and a great achievement as I had just launched the Jeff Wan label after leaving my full-time career with Coach. I felt it was a sign that I was on the right track and motivated me to keep pushing.
3- What makes Jeff Wan leather goods unique from other brands?
The Jeff Wan Collection comes from my background and experience as a designer, entrepreneur, and as a consumer of fashion. Every decision I make goes through layers of consideration, from design and functionality to quality and end-use. The collection is designed with the maturing Millennial in mind who is not only conscious of fashion trends but is also budget-conscious — people who are looking for something that can be worn with multiple outfits found in their wardrobes. As a designer and business-owner in 2019, I feel it is my duty to produce a product that the customer will not only be proud to wear, but that will offer them a New York City brand experience that will satisfy them for years to come. Every piece from the Jeff Wan collection is Made in New York City, Italy, or Vietnam.
4 – How does your cultural background influence your designs?
Though I live now in New York City, I travel to Mauritius at least twice a year to visit my family. When I look for inspiration, I look around New York and the Island of Mauritius. To me, Manhattan and Mauritius have a lot in common. The Flag Colorblock collection is a direct tribute to my home country of Mauritius, with its brilliant colors and energy. New York serves as the inspiration for the shape of our bags. The Empire collection is my idea of night-life in the Big Apple: edgy and sexy, yet refined and composed. The Coco collection is classic, minimalistic, and timeless, mixing the western and eastern landscapes from my birth and chosen homes. Though each collection has its own style, they all share my attention to premium design detail and the use of animated colors.
5 – When putting a collection together, what is the process like for you?
Ironically, I am usually more creative when I am at the gym. I often brainstorm and design things in my head. Once I get to the studio, I sketch everything on paper. I then do my research based on my designs. After my research, I put a mood board together with the rough sketches and inspirations and look for materials and add them to the board. From there, I continue to refine the design until production.
"I love the freedom of expression you get in this industry. There is an abundance of creativity where everyone brings their backgrounds and cultures together to create something new that hasn't been done before." - Jeff Wan
6 – Thinking of your entire collection to this day, what is your favorite piece, and why?
It has to be the Le Morne Lunch Box. It is both familiar and novel in that it functions as a Chinese take-out box and has the minimalist yet vibrant design details that are unique to the Jeff Wan brand. Each of those bags is handcrafted in New York City for me to oversee because it requires special attention to quality and detail. The color block represents the flag of Mauritius: red, blue, yellow, and green. The hardware keeps it glamorous, and the multifunctional top-handle and detachable crossbody strap make it versatile for the fashionista who goes straight from work to play mode.
7 – What is your favorite aspect of this industry?
I love the freedom of expression you get in this industry. There is an abundance of creativity where everyone brings their backgrounds and cultures together to create something new that hasn’t been done before. The ability to collaborate with other brands and designers sometimes brings a fresh perspective and exciting product. The fashion industry is also doing a great job of promoting social responsibility. I believe if we have a platform, we should all use it for the greater good.
8 – As a business owner at such a young age, what do you feel was the biggest challenge you faced on your way to success, and how do you think others can overcome similar problems?
In New York, there is adversity and competition everywhere. You will most likely be working in a team in a corporate environment. Sometimes you will be assigned the same projects as other team members, and it will bring out a competitive mindset. You will see another side of people that you haven’t seen before. It is also human nature to play favorites, and unfortunately, there is a lot of that in the corporate world. You can work your hardest and try your best, and there will always be someone right behind you coming for what you have.
No matter what the environment and challenges, you should always stay true to yourself. Be open-minded to change, and if it is not for you, have the courage to move on. Know what is best for you and what the team needs. Also, always put your health first. You will know when is the right time to move on to the next thing. That’s why I also wanted to move out of a corporate job. I felt stuck in an environment that I didn’t see growth for me, and it was unhealthy. That doesn’t mean that you should burn any bridges. I am glad I keep in touch with all the people I got to work with.
9 – Your brand has a very strong presence in the world of social media. How important has social media been in the success of your brand? What have been the pros and cons?
Being a self-starter and self-funded brand, I had to rely on social media to get the brand out there. Through my network of friends and family, I was able to grow an online presence. Social media helped us to create brand awareness and drive sales. Most of our sales are web-driven, and we have a few stores across the country that sell our Jeff Wan Bags. A con to this has been the main feedback we have received: online, the customer can not touch and feel the quality of the leather and the craftsmanship of the product. Something not unique just to us but all online businesses.
10 – What do you feel is the most important thing for a young designer and entrepreneur to succeed in today’s fast-changing world of fashion?
Spend some time working for established companies and learn as much as you can. Talk to your cross-functional partners from product development to merchandising. It will help to build relationships with suppliers and factories. It will also help you learn how to mark up your product and how to have a strong assortment. Keep working and refining your own ideas and aesthetic while working for someone else. Be patient.
11 – What is next for Jeff Wan, the brand, and Jeff Wan, the designer?
I had been working on a project for a couple of months and was so excited to launch it this past October. It is an idea that came to me when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. I realized that I have a platform and could use it to create awareness and help others in need. I was proud to introduce #JWcares. Each month, I will pick a cause that is close to me, and 10% of the sales from the Manhattan Bracelet in a specific color will go towards a foundation or charity. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, 10 % of the sales were donated to Link to Life in Mauritius, an organization that helps provide information, counseling, and support to anyone affected by cancer, irrespective of sex, ethnicity, or religious belief. – GM
GUILD MAGAZINE - THE FASHION ISSUE