3. Chatting with Wesley Kang, Fashion Entrepreneur
Hey there! Welcome to Chatting with Asians. On this episode, I chat with Wesley Kang. He, along with co-founder Tanya Zhang, have created a fashion company called Nimble Made. Nimble Made stemmed from his personal struggle as an Asian man working in corporate America with a slimmer body and not being able to fit any dress shirts. What they really wanted to stress was inclusion in sizing and to finally start talking about body positivity for men. Their brand is about educating men and Asian men that they can find a good fitting dress shirt without having to do a custom fit or tailor and without having to pay a premium for it. We’ll be talking about topics such as Asian masculinity and how he’s been adjusting switching his career from finance into fashion. So here’s my chat with Wesley.
Angie: Great, thank you for being on the show Wesley!
Wesley Kang: Yeah of course! I’m glad to be here.
Well I’m so glad that we connected just because I think your clothing company, Nimble Made, is really onto something. To make dress shirts for slimmer men, especially people of color or Asian American, is such an untapped market in America. What made you decide to go into the fashion business?
Yeah. So actually I’ll start by saying that I actually had — hadn’t really ever planned on going into the fashion business at all. I don’t really have any fashion experience. I don’t have fashion expertise. And so what really, you know, made this idea come about was just my personal experience. You know, having worked in finance for three or so years. Being like an Asian man, someone, you know, who has a slimmer stature, different body type than your typical like kind of average American male that is kind of the mold that’s used to create like sizing in including for men. I found it, like, kind of difficult to find, you know, a dress shirt that I had to wear for work, at a good quality and at the right fit that, you know, is like a piece of clothing that I was looking to really rely on to both be professional and have like a kind of avenue to the kind of expressing myself using like dress shirts. And I wasn’t able to really find anything that satisfied all those things. So, you know, after, you know, a couple years of struggles, I figured I could maybe like grow the business around that and, you know, kind of create something that hasn’t really been served in the market previously. And so channeling my kind of personal frustrations and struggle, I created this brand to really go after, as you said, you know, people who fall outside of the typical body type and helping them find like a great fit.
Yeah it’s amazing. I mean the company is still super young since you guys only just launched like this past August, right?
Yeah. So what’s been the toughest part about switching from finance and to now running your own fashion company?
Yeah I think the — I think the toughest part, and I think this would probably apply to anyone else, you know, out there who is running or wants to think about like starting a new company, I think the hardest thing is always going to be like not being able to do things in line with what you expect in terms of your expectation. So, you know, I think for anyone that wants to start a company or is starting a company, they’re always really excited. They have, you know, a dream. They have a vision. They want everything to go like perfectly. Well, what I will say is that like I’ve discovered that, you know, you’re going to have all these expectations and everything is just going to be like ten times harder than what you would expect. And so like every little thing that I’ve done for this company, you know, everything from like measuring the shirts to figure out kind of like where our measurements align to like working with suppliers into, you know, finding models, doing user interviews, and more recently like digital advertising. All of those things have been like ten times harder than I expected when I was — when I, you know, when the first idea came to my head and I was like, “Oh, this is what we need to do next and it’s going to take me three days to do it.” It always takes me like 10 days to do it. So that’s been the hardest part because I think coming from finance, and I think for a lot of other industries, everything’s very structured, right? Like there — a lot of responsibilities are project based. Right? You’ll finish like this transaction and then you move onto the next one, or you finish this project, you move onto the next one, you deal with this client and then you go to the next client. And like there’s always kind of this like structure and timeline of like when you know things are going to be coming, who you’ll be working with, what you’ll need to do in order to do a good job. And now it’s kind of like none of that is apparent at all. So you’re kind of just in it yourself to figure everything out and do everything.
Yeah totally! It’s something that I’m also facing with just even creating this podcast. Like in my mind, I thought, “Oh, like podcasts! That’s super cool. Like you just record and upload and that’s it, right?” But it turns out, well in order to like have some kind of listener following, you need to do advertising, you need to create like, you know, catchy images for Instagram, right? Or you need to reach out to a lot of people. Yeah. So it’s a lot more work than it seems but I’m sure it’s rewarding though.
Yeah, yeah! You know what it’s like.
What’s been the most rewarding experience so far?
Yeah I think to the point that we were both just talking about, I think, you know, all of that is not to say that it’s like I kind of regret it or anything like I’m actually like more excited because I find that it just challenges me in like so many new ways. And so what’s been rewarding for me is that like I’ve learned essentially like a piece of every single business function that you see when you work for a company. Like when you don’t start your own company, you work for a company. You kind of understand that there’s different, you know, pieces of the business. Like there’s people in product, there’s people in marketing, there’s people in like finance and everybody kind of like works together to try and like create the best like whether that’s a product or service. But here, like, you’re all of those things. And so you get to like really learn about all those different business functions. And I think lastly, on a personal level, what’s been really rewarding for me is, honestly, when I like bring my shirt to like someone who had never seen our shirts before or like try them on. And just like being there for their first like experience of trying it on, like feeling the fabric, telling me about how they feel about the quality, and then ultimately like how they how differently they feel about the fit. And, you know, what a difference it makes compared to what they currently wear, I think that’s been really really rewarding for me.
Yeah that’s something I wouldn’t have considered. But it makes sense, right? Because like fashion does play a part in just self-confidence and self-image, right?
Yeah, I think what you’re also doing with Nimble Made is just giving an opportunity for Asian American men to talk about fashion. How’s the response been so far to your clothing line?
Yeah and I think I think it’s a really great question because part of our mission is not just to create like, you know, a great fit, a great quality for people who haven’t traditionally been able to find that but also to like create this community and like open dialogue around like talking about fashion, how it’s been like a little bit exclusive, and like how I feel like as Asian men or as men of color, it’s really hard for us to talk about it because we’re kind of like callous. We’re like, “Oh like there’s just isn’t clothes out there that like really fit me properly.” And so I just we just settle like for a tailor or we just settle for like very specific brands that, you know, tend to have a different fit. So I think the response has been really positive. I think, you know, myself and my co-founder Tanya and I have been, you know, talking to a lot of like models, photographers, actual customers, we’ve spoken at a few like events to kind of just like talk about our brand to a general audience. And there’s always been like, I very much felt like the audience like agrees with us that you know there’s this need out in the market and that they haven’t really been able to find anything that fits. And I think with the most — the most interesting response that I got, and I feel is just such a strong indication of like one of the higher level issues that we’re trying to solve, is that we hear from a lot of men that they don’t feel like that — they don’t feel like their body type is like flattering enough or like slim enough or fits a certain profile in order to like wear our shirts like they don’t feel very confident like that. And I think it comes from a place of like not ever having been served in the right way. And I think you know a lot of something that we talk about a lot is, you know, Tanya will tell her story which is that, you know, she was born in the States but her parents, you know, our parents’ generations are very different and they’ve had to like work really hard for like everything, you know, just to get by. And we have the luxury of like going to college and like, you know, doing job interviews and college. That’s something that like they never had the opportunity to do. And so — but I will share one story from Tanya’s story which is that whenever her dad came to visit from China, you know, being like you know an Asian man, he was always like conditioned to think that like he could never go shopping here because even if he did, he would never be able to find anything that like fit him. And so I think to Tanya and to Tanya’s father, like it’s very much been about like their Asian identity and like not — and that identity not being like represented in, you know, we can talk about things way beyond fashion and you can talk about like media and entertainment. Like the Crazy Rich Asians and stuff like that like — this is only just beginning. And I think, you know, part of this has a lot been — has been about kind of representing Asian Americans and other people of color like in the fashion industry as well.
Yeah totally. Like it’s such an exciting time right now. And I think it’s really good that you and I are kind of trying to keep this momentum going even after Crazy Rich Asians, right?
Kind of moving away from fashion for a little bit. I would love to shift the conversation to something about like Asian masculinity. I mean this can mean so many things to a lot of people but what does it mean for you?
Yeah, I really love that question because I think it’s something that like Asian men don’t talk about. I think — I think, you know, tying this back to the previous question a little bit, which is like talking about the current — the current kind of stage for how Asian Americans, and in particular Asian American like men, are viewed in the U.S., we’re very much like considered the kind of, you know, high-achieving, like quiet, you know, like we’re not super social. We’re very confident but not in like an outward way. And I think that that’s not — that’s not like an image that represents all of Asian Americans and not all Asian American men and I think that — that’s very much been shaped by the lack of representation is one part of it. And then the lack of like I want to say the innate culture of Asian Americans like kind of like conditions us to like not want to speak out. And like kind of just like go with the status quo. So how I want to answer this question really is like I think historically, kind of traditionally, Asian masculinity in our own culture has been very much viewed as like head of household able to provide for your family being extremely stoic, strong, resistant to emotions, being able to like make all the decisions and like just being strong. And I don’t think that that’s fair because I think there’s a lot to us. There’s, you know, there’s — there are many instances where like we do feel a lot of emotion. There are many instances where like we do want to speak about our feelings and many instances where we may want to pursue our dreams outside of like just a steady job so that we can provide for our family and I think that dialogue is very much missing from the current stage. So I think that’s what it has meant traditionally and historically and I think that’s what it still means and I think people feel differently but they don’t feel like they’re empowered enough to speak about it. And I want to open that dialogue. So to me, what it means is just like being vulnerable. I think — I think being an Asian male, masculinity means like being vulnerable. So being able to talk about like, “Oh like I actually like don’t feel 100 percent like confident that, you know, I can provide for my family,” or like talking about your feelings like showing — showing like what people — some people consider like weakness, which is kind of like correlated with emotions. And then finally just like being able to talk about like things that are outside of the mold of what Asian American families or Asian immigrants consider as like success. And I think there’s a lot of pressure for us as Asian Americans to — to achieve success in a very traditional sense which is like, you know, becoming like a successful like corporate professional, whether that’s like a lawyer or like a banker or like a doctor. And I think that there needs to be more of us out there that like tries different things and then like actively talking about it, a lot like what we’re doing now, because that will encourage people to like try different things. Right? And so that the image of the Asian male isn’t just like someone who, you know, went to an Ivy League college, got a really great job, and makes a lot of money, provides for their family. And instead, an Asian — Asian male can be like someone who created Nimble Made and created success that way. And I’m just — I’m just saddened to hear. I remember last time we talked, you spoke about like, you know, how you met this really talented individual at a convention and even though he was pursuing like his dream, he was like really great at it, you know, playing video games. His parents just like shut him down. I just think there needs to be less of that and more of like open-mindedness.
Oh yeah, for sure. I mean — so I was writing out my newsletter that I’m going to be sending out soon and that was really the first time I kind of like sat down on my laptop and really thoughtfully wrote out my feelings about the model minority myth, right? Because everything that you had just mentioned really talks about the model minority myth and like how harmful it really is for us. I think trying to define success in like such limiting terms sets us up actually more so for failure than anything else because it just puts so much pressure on us to achieve something that might not be within like our own strengths and weaknesses. Right?
Yeah, I know sometimes like even within my circle of friends, you know, being open and vulnerable helps us to deal with issues at least for our generation because our parents’ generation has dealt with, you know, such a different world situation. So I know for my girlfriends and I, some specific issues we’ve always talked about once in a while is, you know, guys who have yellow fever or anything that’s kind of like very specific for Asian American women. Yeah, has the topic of Asian masculinity ever come up within your circle of friends or maybe with male models that you’ve worked with?
Yeah I think it actually like — to be honest, it doesn’t come up a lot. And I think that that’s kind of part of the issue, which is that like Asian men don’t feel like we should like talk about our feelings. That we shouldn’t like talk about like issues that we’re facing or like, you know, negative feelings we may have at any moment because, again, I think we are like conditioned to kind of feel like we’ve got to be like strong. We’ve got to show our best face to the public. And so, you know, we’re kind of like force that down our throats like from the moment we’re born from our fathers, from our other like male figures in our lives. And so I actually think it doesn’t get talked a lot among my friends. But what I will say is like, you know, as I mentioned before, Tanya and I have spoken at like a couple of events and I think we’re trying our best to like just be as casual, as open, and vulnerable as possible. And like we’ve been receiving a lot of like positive responses from like very young Asian American males. Like just last night, we were at Baruch. We were talking about basically our brand. Like Tanya was talking about her career path but it kind of tied into the whole story of Nimble Made. And I think that, you know, for a lot of like young Asian American males, they were really interested. They came up asking me questions afterwards. I think a lot of them were thinking about being entrepreneurs on their own, and I just like thinking about like that atmosphere and that environment of like — imagine being like an Asian immigrant and then like making up — and then like you know achieving success in a traditional sense and going to college, going to Baruch, great college, like, you know, being a business major like on the cusp of making it in every sense of like the corporate world, which is like going into finance or going into law or something like that. Right? And then like having these thoughts of like, “Oh like maybe I could actually just like create my own company. Right. Like I’ve always been into fashion. Like I want to create my own streetwear brand.” But then like always — having those thoughts always being like suppressed by like what you know and what you think is best because that’s what you’ve been told like is. So what I want to do is like be at these events and like talk about my story, and then have Tanya and I talk about our stories and inspire these people to like come up, ask us questions and be like, “Oh like, how did you go about finding a supplier?” Like I love hearing that because I know that that means that they’re thinking about getting their own supplier and that means that I’ve made them one step closer to like wanting to actually take that leap. And I think that means that we’ll get more representation as like Asians in the industry. Asians as entrepreneurs. Asians as anyone outside of just like go into college and getting a job. And so that will change the definition of success for us and really mold the next generation so that when we become parents and our generation isn’t just about like going to Wharton and then becoming an investment banker.
Yeah, no. I think what you and Tanya are doing, it’s — it’s kind of like a version of a podcast in a way, right? You guys are helping to just open up conversations. Right? All it really takes is just for someone to like come up to you or you to go to someone and just like ask a question about your business, right? And that’s all it really takes, really, for someone to just be inspired to do something that feels more fulfilling for themselves.
Yeah, well kind of going back into your company, Nimble Made, any future plans to expand into other categories like coats or casual wear or are you guys kind of just strictly business right now?
No I think — I think we are very open and I think what’s key for every business is like being really open minded and being open to like pivoting as well as like just adding things to your core business. So for us, it’s not really about like staying true to like dress shirts or anything like that. This is — this is just — this is just what we started with because I happen to have like kind of a decent amount of base foundation in terms of knowledge of like what’s a good quality dress shirt, what to look for, what fabric to use. Because I like did a lot of research on that when I was looking for my own dress shirts that I couldn’t find. So no, I think — I think future plans for expanding in other categories like we’re already working on our next product line right now, which is going to be featuring a little bit of a more casual category including. So we’re thinking about like — still like kind of like long sleeve collared shirts but introducing maybe like darker colors and like patterns. And then I think from there, really like everything is fair game. Like we’ve had customers tell us that like, “Oh you guys should do like pants too. Because, you know, for a lot of us like the pants are too, like, way too long. Like even the smallest size is way too long.” So like we’re really open to anything. We could definitely like do coats, we could definitely do like anything else. I know Tanya like wants to do like a little cute little slim wallets. So we might like do that too. Yeah everything is open. Like I’m really excited for kind of the prospects of what we could do.
You guys are just going to put tailors out of business at this point.
And one final question: if you could be a personal stylist to anyone, who would it be?
Yeah I think that’s a great question because I think it could — it’s one of those things that could be like super simple like a celebrity like even an idol. Or like you could like really think about and I think — I put some thought into it and I would like to be a personal stylist to my dad. And I think this really ties all of the entire conversation together very well because, you know, my dad is someone who has been the quintessential like Asian male, which is like, you know: head of family, making the hard decisions, providing for the family, working hard but like never complaining, always just working hard because that’s what he has to do. And like — and like while that has created like a beautiful great life for me and I’m so thankful that he has still like preserved his sense of like modernness and progressiveness, that like he is very accepting of me like going on this journey, I know that for a lot — a lot of others like it would not nearly be as easy to like take this easily because they would feel that pressure of like opposition and like disapproval from their parents. So I’m very thankful for him to have, you know, be okay with this. And then I think I want to be a person of solace to him because I feel like he’s never ever had the opportunity to like even like contemplate fashion. Like that’s not — and you can see this. You can literally see this in the streets. Like what Asian dad do you know that is like super stylish? Like none! Like zero!
So — and it’s because like they’ve had to work so hard all their lives, like how could they possibly even like care about fashion? Like fashion to them is like wearing accepted — acceptable clothes that’s like durable so that they can like work more. So I would love to be a personal stylist to him because then it would just like give him, provide to him like a life that’s just outside of like working. And like helping him like look good and feel confident in in a different way that’s just related to like being the model Asian male. And I think that’s a message that like I would like to deliver. So that’s kind of my response.
Aw, that’s a super sweet response! Well I’m so excited for you and Tanya and the future of Nimble Made. It looks very bright.
Yeah, thank you so much!
Thank you for being on the show!
Yeah I’m happy to be back!