Weather the journey
Jessie Wong of leather goods label Yu Mei on her boutique label’s expansion and the road to New Zealand Fashion Week.
What are you working on at the moment?
We’re putting something special together for New Zealand Fashion Week with an Auckland-based artist, and we’re in the depths of spring summer 2017/18 production.
You started the label in 2015 after studying fashion at Otago Polytechnic. What made you want to work with leather goods?
Bags are unlike other areas of fashion in the sense that you usually use the same bag daily – especially in New Zealand. They really do play a role in how you experience every day. I liked the idea that I could make the art of carrying just a little bit easier for some. For example, I couldn’t find a well-designed, simple bag that could carry all the things I’d need for a day at uni, and my friend Laura Braid had the same issue, so that’s how the Braidy bag was born.
How has the company evolved since then?
We have a much wider range of products that reflect diverse personalities and lifestyles, our team has grown and with each new season we refine and evolve our design and construction.
Can you give us a snapshot of what your Wellington studio looks like?
It’s open-plan, loft vibes with concrete floors and big sliding doors. It houses our production team, offices, and a photography studio. At the moment, we have a beautiful dried floral arrangement hanging over our lunch table.
Why is your new collection (featuring the Hazel backpack, $555, pictured above) called ‘Based on a True Story’?
It’s a reflection of Yu Mei’s growth. We’d moved into our sunny studio and the team had grown three-fold. The colours and styles are an interpretation of the autumnal leaves surrounding the windows – the space is a bit like a tree house. The styles are named after people [Hannah, Rita, Becca] who were new to the Yu Mei story – it was purely inspired by our everyday surroundings and community.
You work with deer nappa; what is special about that material?
It’s unique to New Zealand. We’re lucky to have access to premium South Island-farmed and tanned skins that are of world-class quality. The deer skins are buttery soft and lend themselves beautifully to our bag silhouettes.
Where are your bags made?
They’re all made by hand in-house at our studio by our production team.
What can we expect from you at NZFW?
We’re going to show with [New Zealand designer] Wynn Hamlyn. It makes sense to show the bags in context with clothing on a runway. I think our brands complement each other and it’s nice to be able to support each other’s work – I feel collaboration always serves to make a body of work stronger.