New York fashion week is almost here, and this year, I wanted to do something a little bit different. I wanted to talk to some of my favorite designers, stylists, and editors, and really give you guys the inside scoop on what it means to participate in this crazy, crucial time of year.Sandy Liang is an incredible young designer. In an industry where brands often feel exclusive and inaccessible, Sandy is both a fresh face and voice. She brings a fun, downtown girl energy to her designs and the way she runs her business. And it’s paying off in a huge way: Sandy has been included on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List, profiled by both Vogue and Elle, and her designs are carried in over 50 stores across the globe.
Oftentimes, fashion can feel almost untouchable and a bit alienating. However, Sandy is such an important part of changing the conversation around fashion, and she is an incredible example that shows that anyone can participate in the industry – no matter what your background may be. Sandy was actually originally an architecture major, but changed her focus to fashion during her freshman year of college. Plus, she was only 23 when she started her eponymous label!
I hope you enjoy our interview, and I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me! We talked about all things food, fashion, what it’s really like during fashion week, and what Sandy wishes she could change about the industry.
Aimee Song: Where do you go for a quick healthy bite when you’re prepping for your show?
Sandy Liang: I feel like I’m a really big snacker! If I’m about to get on a flight, or if I’m prepping for a time where I know I’m not going to have a lot of time, I love fruit. That’s always a good healthy option. And honestly just snacking and eating little bits of anything. And staying hydrated. But I’m not very good at going to places and consciously being healthy.
AS: Wo when you’re working on your collection in the studio, do you bring snacks over?
SL: I always try to be healthier during fashion week, because it’s when you’re supposed to look good and all eyes are on you. But it’s just like you’re working, and working, and working, and you literally forget to eat. And then, you’re like, I’m fricken starving! Let me just shove anything in my face! I think that’s honestly how I feel. And then other times, when things are a little bit slower, I’m more calm, I can be like, “Sandy, what salad are you gonna eat? How many avocados are you gonna eat this week?” But like, during fashion week it’s more just like, Gummy Bears! And whatever else I feel like eating because I need to indulge a little bit.
AS: Yeah I get it. I’m exactly the same way. During fashion week I always try to be healthy, but then I end up eating really awful.
SL: But I think staying hydrated is the most important thing. It makes you feel better.
AS: Where do you go if you don’t want something so healthy, but you want something delicious?
SL: Oh my gosh, I am just so lucky because I live near all of these good places. I never say no to pizza. I love pizza! There’s this place close to me – there are two places! One is called Williamsburg Pizza, and one is called Scarr’s Pizza. I love the vegan Cesar salad at Scarr’s; it’s so good and so easy.
AS: Do you bring your lunch to work? Or do your parents ever stop by?
SL: I wish. I wish for both of those things! I had a phase where I was like, “I’m going to make myself a cute bento box!” But that literally never happened. So, for lunch, I will put in an order. I’ll talk to the girls in the office and be like, “What are we in the mood for?” I don’t know. It’s never a typical thing. Sometimes, I’ll make lunch for everybody, and it’ll be a cool surprise. Sometimes we’ll all get pizza, and sometimes we all do our own thing. I definitely have phases. I had a tuna melt phase for a couple months, where I would need to have a tuna melt every day – which is like, disgusting – but it really just comes and goes. But it really just comes and goes. Sometimes, my friend Danny will bring food over, because he owns this restaurant called Mission Chinese.
AS: I know you’re so young, and you started your own label. Do you manage your own team as well? Or do you have somebody who steps in and does that so you can focus on the creative side?
SL: You know, it’s funny. I feel like a lot of different people probably have different ideas of what happens at the studio. But, it’s really just such a small team. It’s me and two other people, and then it’s interns. That’s pretty much it. For a long time, it was just me and one other girl. So, I do all of the design, but I also handle all of the business elements too. It’s a lot. I definitely wear a lot of different hats all of the time, but I really love it, and I’m sure you can relate. When it’s your own name, and your own brand, you never get tired.
AS: For me, what I notice is, because it’s my own name and my own company, I tend to do everything, but I realize I’m not good at everything. I’m really good at the creatives, but it’s tough for me to manage people.
SL: I hit that point where I realized that I really loved designing, but I can’t be really good at designing and be really good at managing all of the other facets of the business. It’s just not possible. You’re not meant to be good at everything, and you really do need help. And, I definitely realized that, and I’ve definitely taken a step back from the other parts of the business. But, at the end of the day, it’s also your money, it’s your name, it’s you’re thing. you know? So, you will step in when you have to. But yeah, I mean it’s incredibly good to be really honest with yourself and be like, “Well, I’m just not good at that, and I never will be.” Like, I’m not good with numbers for instance, and I will never ever try to be a business manager for anybody else, so I just try to do what I can for myself. And I ask for help when I need it, because I think it’s ok not to understand everything.
AS: Is there one thing that you learned you through your business that you didn’t learn at Parsons that you wish the school had taught you beforehand?
SL: Oh my god, like literally everything! I mean at school, you’re learning how to design and that’s great. I actually went to RISD when I was a freshman, and I transferred midyear freshman year, because I was like, “I want to do fashion! And, if I want to do fashion and have my own brand one day, I want to intern while I’m in school.” I didn’t only want to intern during the summer. And I have to say that most of what I learned about having my own brand and about the industry in general was from internships while I was in college. In school you learn how to design and how to make patterns and all that stuff. But to some extent that’s already inside of you. If you have a vision, and you have the energy to carry it out – or, if you want to work for someone else (and that’s amazing too; it just depends on what you want) – it’s so necessary to work for other people and see how other offices are. Designing is such a small part of having your own label. It’s only like ten percent of having it. You need to learn about sales and communications and all this other stuff.
AS: That the school didn’t teach you!
SL: Yeah. They definitely encouraged internships, but I wish I interned more. That’s where I learned so much.
AS: Does the surreal feeling of being a part of fashion week ever wear off? Does it ever start to feel stale, or does it always feel like it’s the first time you’re participating in it?
SL: It feels like this whole routine, like now I have to do this, this, and this to prepare for the show, and casting, and all this stuff. But, it’s always worth it. The process never gets funner and funner and funner; if anything, it’s always more work because I have such a small team. I do one hundred percent of my own casting; it’s a very small production that I do, so there’s a lot of work put on me. But I always leave the presentation super happy. It’s only two times a year that I get to see all these people.
AS: That’s so awesome. Are you the kind of person who likes to hit the parties after the shows, or are you the kind of person who likes to throw on sweats and get an early night after all the work that goes into fashion week?
SL: I literally cannot put on my t-shirt and underwear fast enough and just sleep and watch TV with my boyfriend. You have no idea [laughs]. It’s not that I’m exhausted or jaded or hate other people, it’s just that I don’t know, I just feel like fashion week is such a thing, and I don’t even like being on social media too much during fashion week, because I feel like the whole industry is vying for which brand is getting the most attention, and this and that. It’s always cool because there’re celebrities and like, whatever, but I’m not trying to do that. I’m just trying to like, make clothes and have my little show, and enjoy it. And not hype – not be part of the hype.
AS: That makes sense; I feel like that really comes off in your designs too. I love how you do your look books. The cool downtown vibe of your voice really comes across. In regards to what you were saying about how you feel about fashion week, is there one thing about fashion week or the industry that you wish you could change?
SL: From a designer standpoint, market week can be pretty brutal because all of these buyers are seeing you, and they have to cram [all of the presentations] into one or two weeks. I don’t think making fashion week longer would be a good thing…but I think it would [be great] to have more platforms for younger designers too. Not necessarily younger designers, but for smaller brands. Putting on a show is so expensive. I don’t think a lot of people realize that, because every [big] brand does it. So, you kind of expect it at the end of the day. From the perspective of a smaller brand, that’s so much money that [you] would rather not be spending. If there were some sort of platform where smaller brands could show and get the job done, but without having to do the like – I don’t want to put on the crazy show with all the famous models and doing all that. You know what I mean?
SL: If there were just a chiller way of doing these things, that would be cool.
AS: I think that’s really cool too. It’s interesting, because I do like the people you select for your campaigns, because it feels really authentic. And it’s also like, I can see myself actually wearing the clothes. But, I also want to know: is there anything you feel like you can’t live without during fashion week that you always carry in your bag?
SL: Probably my dog! Which is such a cheesy answer. I just love him so much. Honestly, snuggling with my dog and like, smelling him, calms me down. Like, I think anybody who has a dog would understand. Even if he doesn’t smell good necessarily, it just calms [me down]. He brings me from like a ten to a zero.
AS: I love that! What kind of dog is he?
SL: He’s a mini Australian Shepard.
SL: His paws smell like Tostitos. They are the smartest dogs ever!
AS: So cute! I also wanted to know, if you need to get an emergency facial during fashion week, where would be the best place to go?
SL: Christine Chin! I live across from her which is amazing, because you know how you look terrible after you get a facial?
SL: You just want to run right home [afterwards], so it’s actually perfect for me. I like going there. She makes me feel good. She gets all the nasty stuff out of my face. But I don’t go too often. I only go when I need it badly. I don’t know if I would go during fashion week. I would go like a month before fashion week. I [also] do this thing called Shape House! It’s like an infared sauna. My friend actually runs it! I do that like, all the time, and it makes my skin look so good! I feel great afterwards, which is really important. I feel like you’re sweating out all of the negative energy from like, anything. It’s so good.
AS: I go to the one in L.A.! It’s so great.
SL: Shut up! My friend owns it! She expanded it to New York, so now I feel like it should totally be a part of New York fashion week.