WHAT do you do if you have typical Asian parents who want you to study something conventional like medicine, law, engineering et al instead of something artistic like fashion design?
You could dutifully do what they expect of you or you could just rebel and insist on what you want. Or you could find a middle ground and pursue your dreams after you’ve fulfilled their expectations. And that’s exactly what Jiuan Ng did.
WHAT DID YOU STUDY AND WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?
Growing up, I wanted to be a fashion designer but as it wasn’t considered a mainstream profession my parents discouraged me from pursuing that line. My SPM results were good and I got accepted into a local university. I was offered my first choice which was computer engineering. I worked as a software engineer in a multinational semiconductor company for several years while simultaneously studying part-time for my Masters degree in Computer Engineering, which I completed in 2009.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN FASHION DESIGN?
In 2007, there was a fashion design competition organised by Digi and I joined the competition just for fun. I had great ideas but my sketches were poorly done. To my surprise, I was shortlisted among thousands of applicants. With no prior experience of garment construction, I finished four runway looks with the help of my seamstress aunt. She helped with the more complicated dress design while I hand-stitched most of the pieces. Looking back, I’m just glad that there was no wardrobe malfunction on the runway! I was so nervous but so happy to see my creations on the stage. I think that was my turning point; I realised then that I had to pursue fashion design.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT FASHION DESIGNING THAT APPEALED TO YOU SO MUCH?
My father worked in toy manufacturing company Mattel and I was always surrounded by Barbie dolls with beautiful dresses. I don’t know for sure if that was what influenced me growing up but I’ve always wanted to design beautiful clothes for as long as I can remember.
DO YOU THINK YOU’RE RIGHT BRAINED OR LEFT BRAINED?
I’m a bit of both but I think my right brain is more dominant now.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO STUDY FASHION DESIGN IN NEW YORK?
This was the time when Project Runway became a hit on TV. Tim Gunn, the on-air mentor for the designers was the dean of the fashion design faculty at Parsons School of Design. I applied to different fashion schools in USA and Milan but Parsons’ acceptance letter came first so I took that as a sign.
YOU ALSO INTERNED WITH ZANG TOI. HOW WAS THAT LIKE?
I had a great time at House of Toi. Zang is a wonderful mentor and friend and I’ve gotten very close with his staff as well. It all started when I e-mailed to enquire about internship with his company. NaNa, Zang’s capable assistant, asked me to help them during New York Fashion Week in Spring 2010 and I stayed on after that. House of Toi was like my second home in New York!
DID YOU TAKE PART IN ANY COMPETITIONS IN THE US?
In 2013, I’d already left New York and moved to Florida to be with my husband. While looking for a fashion job, I submitted my sketches to the 2013 Made for Peroni Young Designer’s Award. They were looking for finalists in three fashion cities, New York, Los Angeles and Miami and I was picked to represent Miami. I was flown to New York to present my collection in front of an esteemed panel of judges and Coco Rocha, the Canadian supermodel, was one of them. Other finalists were way more established so I knew my chances were low. As expected, I didn’t win but I was grateful enough to be in the same room with these fashion heavy weights. It was indeed a life-changing experience for me.
YOU ESTABLISHED YOUR OWN BRAND IN 2016. WHAT DID YOU DO FROM 2014 TO 2016?
I took a break from fashion design in 2014 to focus on being a first-time mother. In 2015, I began working on starting my own line JN by Jiuan Ng and it was finally launched in January 2016.
WHAT WERE THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LED TO YOU TO STARTING YOUR OWN COMPANY?
Fashion design jobs are scarce in Malaysia. I also wanted flexible working hours so I could still take care of my infant full time while I work. Starting an online fashion business gave me a space to be creative and yet have a fulfilling motherhood. Best of both worlds! I’m lucky to have a supportive husband and family.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE?
My personal style is simple and functional. I like men’s accessories so maybe a little androgynous too?
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATIONS?
From nature, mostly. Also from visuals as a result of events that happened organically, for example spilled beverage or rain droplets on a window. I like to play with lines and shapes when I design.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO CREATE A DESIGN?
When I have my creative juices flowing, I can whip up a good design within minutes. I usually draw freehand first before moving on to computer for technical flat drawings.
DOES YOUR COMPUTER SCIENCE BACKGROUND HELP IN ANY WAY?
Yes. My engineering background helps a lot in the technical parts of garment construction. Pattern-making requires analytical thinking and precise measurements so every piece will fit together nicely.
WHY DID YOU MAKE THE MOVE TO SINGAPORE?
My husband relocated to Singapore for work so I moved there to be together as a family. It’s a personal move, not a professional one.
HOW’S THE DESIGN SCENE DIFFERENT IN SINGAPORE?
There are more independent fashion labels with minimalist designs. Singaporean consumers are more appreciative of minimalist fashion too.
HOW DOES ONE MAKE AN IMPACT IN THE FASHION WORLD?
Authenticity and integrity. Fashion designers are artists too. Not every design is profitable but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad piece of art. Stay true to yourself.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO MAKE A DRASTIC CAREER CHANGE LIKE YOU DID?
If you have the means and support to do it now, take that leap of faith. If not, don’t give up. Just work your way towards it. There’ll always be obstacles and naysayers in your journey but if you let them win, you lose big time.