By Nadine Kam
Fashion blogger Wendy Nguyen of Wendy's Lookbook talks about her work at Hawai'i Fashion Month's OUTFIT trade show. — Nadine Kam photo
Whether talking about food or fashion, a lot of people tell me that mine is the job they want, and while I never wanted to trade places with anyone else before, I'd be willing to slip into Wendy Nguyen's Christian Louboutin's any day.
The fashion blogger behind Wendy's Lookbook has it made, jetting to fashion weeks around the globe and collaborating with brands, while wearing the best clothes and working with her "mystery man" boyfriend and film director James (who-shall-not-be-photographed), to produce the short films and beautiful photos that fuel her blog.
Nguyen was among the speakers during Hawai'i Fashion Month's OUTFIT trade show yesterday, which continues through 5 p.m. today in the industrial space below TJ Maxx. The speaker lineup also includes Benni Leigh of Maker Studios, a next generation, talent-first media company; Emmy award-winning costume designer Giovanna Ottobre-Melton ("Mob City," "Numb3rs," "The Mist," "My Name is Earl"); Michelle Moder,costume supervisor for "Hawaii Five-O," who also worked on "The Descendants"; and film costumer and "Hawaii Five-0 costume supervisor Anthony Scarano.
For her part, Nguyen shared her insight with retailers and designers hoping to engage with bloggers in promoting their brands, as well as aspiring bloggers.
Wendy's Lookbook photo
Fashion blogger Wendy Nguyen in the Ramy Brook silk crepe dress and Jimmy Choo heels she wore at the launch of Hawai'i Fashion Month.
Her main point is to avoid the one-size-fits-all syndrome and work only with brands with a point-of-view and aesthetic similar to your own. Basically, if a situation doesn't feel right to you, don't do it.
The diminutive blogger said every designer has a girl or muse, and tells their story through that girl. She said it's important to visualize that girl and ask, over 24 hours, what is she doing at each moment.
With her own work, she envisions "the city girl" and even if she is promoting an article she received from a vendor, she said, "It's my curation, so it's authentic."
She said Instagram and other social media campaigns can help brands to engage with fans by sharing the story of that girl, where she goes, what she's wearing, etc. She especially loves the photo-sharing app Instagram, saying it's "easy to consume because its so visual."
She said many in the industry joined Instagram after designer Rebecca Minkoff reported that her sales increased because of Instagram. Smaller brands benefit by being able to show a personal style, integrating product and personality.
Although Nguyen is approached by many brands, she said she is selective in her partnerships. Before working with Tacori, for example, she said "bridal jewelry was not really in my realm," but she said the company was interested in collaborating on a designer jewelry line, which made sense for her brand.
She talked about designers without the funds for a full PR campaign or social media staff, being able to wear their own clothes while out getting coffee or walking the dog. "Seeing those photos help you to identify with the brand, like, if you're wearing my vest you'll look great walking your dog. It's a reflection of the girl you want to be."
That is part of the proactive nature of the business today. For young designers, she said, it's important to become empowered content creators and "be the voice, the personality promoting the brand."
After her talk, I had the opportunity to sit down with Wendy and learn her story.
She didn't grow up with a fashion past, having grown up in foster care toting her belongings from place to place in a trash bag and worrying about being homeless at 18.
"I didn't care about fashion, I didn't care about having friends. I was too busy trying to figure out how to survive," she said. "In foster care, I had an amazing advocate who always wore amazing tweed suits that could have been from Chanel or The Gap. I didn't know. I only cared that she had a conversation with me and made me feel like a human being while others treated me like I was just a number on their roster. My opinion of them wasn't based on what they wore. It was their attitude and their love (or lack of it) for what they were doing."
To this day, she is passionate about juvenile justice, working with marginalized communities, including incarcerated youths.
She worked three jobs in high school to save enough money to go to attend the University of California, Berkeley, and after graduating, went to work as a business banker, until three years ago, when she quit her job at Wells Fargo out of a desire to do something more creative. At the same time, her boyfriend quit his job as a software developer to pursue film directing.
"It was a huge risk because we didn't know what was going to happen."
She initially tried her hand at acting, but was disappointed by a lack of callbacks without any feedback as to how to improve. That's when James started making videos as a calling card for both of them.
Their timing could not have been better. At the time, she said there were no fashion tutorials on YouTube, so after showing how to do clothing pairings three ways, they followed with a 4-1/2 minute video showing 25 ways to wear a scarf. That video has gained nearly 20 million views.
Her blog grew out of interest in the videos, and the desire to share fashion insights visually. "At the beginning, it was experimental, but we had a clear vision of how we wanted to structure the blog and use video."
Working in finance enabled her to forge ahead even after the couple hit rock bottom, realizing that many enterprises do not find success in less than three years. "It taught me not to give up."