Interview with Thuy Nguyen – CEA’s Fashion Development Manager
With industry experience spanning two decades, Thuy Nguyen, CEA’s resident Fashion Development Manager, is a true renaissance woman when it comes to fashion. Having accumulated a rich mastery of every aspect of the industry, stemming from garment construction and pattern development, to business and production management, Thuy has proven she’s definitely not cut from the same cloth as your average fashionista.
We sat down with Thuy and asked her about her journey, goals for the future and advice for aspiring designers.
Hi Thuy. Could you tell us a bit about your background in fashion?
I pretty much grew up in the industry as my mum had her own fabric store and became a seamstress when she came over to Australia, which was all she could do for a while due to the language barrier. My aunt opened up a manufacturing company so I was surrounded by clothing, garments and fabrics from a very early age. I decided quite quickly that I either wanted to be a fashion designer or a teacher. It’s really funny because my job now is pretty much a combination of the two!
I did a diploma of arts in fashion design which I finished in ‘95. At the time that was the highest qualification you could get in fashion in Queensland. I then went on to work for a lot of different companies, with my first one being ‘Cosi’, a high end smart casual wear sold in David Jones. After that it was a lot of casual jobs which mainly involved a lot of seamstress work. I then went to work for a brand called Addable, which I stayed in for six years doing fabric design, samples and patterns. It was a great experience. It also allowed me to do a bit of travelling sourcing fabrics from overseas.
While I was doing this I also had my own bridal range called ‘Tweecouture’, a venture I had for ten years on the side of my full time job. I then worked for the Daniel Lightfoot Studio for five years before doing teaching. I did my training and assessment and started teaching hobby classes. Within a couple of months I was teaching the diploma courses which I did roughly for two-three years. I also had some part time work at QUT doing more of the technical side of fashion. Then I found out I was pregnant, had my baby and managing my time became a little difficult!
I was working full time as well as freelancing for a series of different brands – lingerie, children’s clothing- just really doing a bit of everything. I got a great perspective on all of the different types of markets which I believe equipped me well for this position. At that point I finished up with my bridal range as a lot of time was spent looking after my child.
Do you miss your Tweecouture?
Honestly, yes, I do, as I really loved it. It was wonderful to be able to be creative in your own space. With other jobs I always had to keep in mind the client’s briefs and adhere to what the brand was perceived to be and whoever their market was. Having my own company meant I was able to pick and choose my customers and that allowed for a lot of creative freedom. I loved it as I would meet with my customers, do up several designs to suit their body type and they would pick from what they’d like. It was kind of relaxing!
Would you ever go back?
It is something I would most probably do again. I do have other ideas of what I’d love to do, like my own label that’s very bespoke, very limited edition…but combine it with food! Food and fashion!
Like dresses made out of food? Can that be a thing!?
(Laughs) No! It would be a food and fashion outlet, so very boutique with limited edition fashion ranges that are unique in their designs. It’s something I can see manifesting within the next 10 years. I’m very happy here, I love my job (hence being here five years!) – as I’ve gotten a very in-depth perspective of the industry and it was here that I learnt more about the business side of fashion. It’s been monumental for my own personal growth as instead of working solely for income I’m actually being paid well to do something I love.
Do you have a favourite role?
I actually love doing a bit of everything as I’m one to get a little bit bored doing just one thing. I love being able to pass on information as I’m so pedantic and particular about quality and ensuring that everything is perfected. The fit is very important to me, like how a garment hangs on a person, so I try to transfer all of that information. It’s a dying industry as everyone wants to be a fashion designer but nobody wants to understand the technical aspects of it which is where the difficulty lies. It’s like engineering for clothing!
How do you believe QUT-CEA helps aspiring fashion designers?
I’d definitely say the business aspect as most fashion designers are a little ‘airy fairy.’ There’s very few that come in organised. A lot of them aren’t organised as they’re creatives, and true creatives tend to be really lacking in the organisational department.
The people who do succeed are the ones who have a background that isn’t solely creative – like marketing, or lawyers…lawyers are creative in different ways! They have an idea, and they’ve got that creative mind and though they might not be ‘true creatives’ they have an idea they need assistance with and that’s where I come in. They’re the ones who actually scale quicker.
I think this program really gets designers to the point where all the information in their head can be retrieved and sort of placed in columns. We break it all down for them by giving them an actual tangible process. It both forces them to think about the business aspect of fashion and understand themselves more – which makes them achieve a lot faster.
Lastly, what would your tips be for aspiring fashion designers who would be interested in a program like this? What would be the bits involved most people wouldn’t realise?
Understand your market, what it is you’re resolving, what is and isn’t saturated in the industry …and save up! So that when they can put the whole perspective together they’re ready to go. Otherwise what happens is they lose momentum, from the moment of conception to when the product is tangible. They need to get it to market before they lose that momentum. We’ve found in the past that a lot of designers get to the stage where they’ve got the product, they’re ready to launch but when they sell there’s no money to produce. It’s very important to get finances in place.
I also encourage people to work, (especially in something that isn’t related to their passion) so that when they come to design here, they can purely focus on their projects.That, and I think it incentivises people to work even harder to get the career they want.
For more information about our Fashion Accelerator Program visit QUT Creative Enterprise Australia.