A much-needed solution to a gap in the market

Chinese-American Tanya Zhang grew up in a predominantly Asian community in the United States of America, and when she ventured out to New York to pursue work opportunities, she came to a realization.

Despite the diversity of the American workforce, the power of Asian-American spending power, men like her father could not find American dress shirts that fit well. Taking a leap, Tanya quit her steady corporate job for a path of entrepreneurship with her co-founder, Wesley Kang, to found Nimble Made, to fill this void in the market.

Tanya felt that the way in which we present ourselves in the workplace can help with confidence and impact impressions of colleagues and others, yet Asian-American men’s experience of finding clothing suited to corporate life remained difficult.

Having been featured on platforms such as Huffington Post, Nimble Made is an exciting game changer and is diversifying to meet the challenges posed by Covid19. Yinsey Wang interviews Tanya Zhang on the brand, her approach to business and her aspirations moving forward.

YW: You quit your jobs to start a brand that catered to the needs to Asian American men, as well as other men who find slim fit shirts hard to find in America. Why do you think it is so important to be inclusive in clothing and at an affordable price range?

TZ: I remember my immigrant father telling me, “American dress shirts don’t fit me”. My co-founder Wesley Kang had the same issue as a slimmer and shorter Taiwanese-American working at his finance job where he had to settle for baggy dress shirts on a daily basis. They both couldn’t find a good quality dress shirt that fit well without needing a tailor, shopping in the junior’s section, or paying a premium for it. I created Nimble Made, a new Actually Slim dress shirt brand, for guys like my dad and Wesley.

It is important to be inclusive in clothing, specifically dress shirts, because the dress shirt is a staple item that holds importance in professional settings and needs to be well-fitted. Wearing an ill-fitting dress shirt and feeling self-conscious about it all day can affect one’s confidence at the workplace.

Because large retailers cater to the mass market, their sizes are made to fit the “average” U.S. male who, on average, is 5’9” in height and weighs 200 lbs. Our average customers at the same height can be as slim as 140 lb. This creates a gap in menswear for guys who are shorter, smaller framed, or just slim in general.

Our Actually Slim fit is slimmer than the industry’s “Slim” because we realize there is a sizing gap to fill. Our sizes are created through height and weight, in contrast to the industry’s “neck and sleeve”, which provides a more proportional approach to fit.

It was important to create accessibility for good fitting and affordable shirts because having a good fit should not have to  come with a premium price tag. We really wanted to create dress shirtsthat fit off-the-rack for slim guys. Being one of the only shirt brands with a bold Asian American narrative, we are excited to cater to this niche with a better slim fit and strive for more Asian representation in the clothing industry.

YW: You are passionate about Asian American representation. Tell us about your own story growing up and how that impacted your world view.

TZ: I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, California which is a predominantly Asian community. Going off to college and then moving to New York City for work really opened up my eyes and mind to what diversity truly was. Navigating my career path, I did not think of entrepreneurship as a viable career path.

I was an art director and designer that worked in advertising, tech, consulting and was climbing the corporate ladder, much to my parent’s approval, but sought something more fulfilling. As I grew a better understanding of how the world worked, I knew I wanted to pave my own path for what success looked like and create a brand with impact.

I realized how little attention Asian/API consumers were getting across almost all industries even though Asian American buying power grew 68% from 2010 to 2018, surpassing $1 trillion. As an Asian woman founder working in a predominantly male industry of menswear, I really wanted to understand the pain points of my customers to create a better fit for them.

YW: With Nimble Made, you not only specialise in dress shirts but also other types of products as well. Tell us about a few of your favourite products.

TZ: We primarily sell dress shirts for workplace setting which are great for white-collar professionals that work in finance, law, business, etc. Our bestsellers are The Crescent white dress shirt and The Waterbend blue dress shirt! Outside of those professional shirts, we also have casual dress shirts that are darker in color with patterns that are fun and great for less formal events or gatherings. We are also coming out with flannels in the fall which will be even more casual and perfect for daily wear or weekends.

We also expanded our accessories this year to include ties, tie clips, dress socks, and more. Ties are probably the more popular items since they pair so well with our dress shirts. My favorite pairing is The Blue Skies dress shirt with Classic Navy tie and a Matte Black tie clip.

YW: In what ways has COVID19 impacted your business model and strategy? Are there any particular lessons you have drawn during such challenging times?

TZ: We saw our sales drop significantly when work-at-home was implemented in mid-March. Since then, we have seen improving month over month with July being an all-time high in sales. It is surprising but goes to show that people are still looking for clothes to wear even when working from home and want those clothes to fit well.

When we started the business selling dress shirts, we knew there was a trend towards casualwear in the workforce. Goldman Sachs last year announced a transition to a casual dress code. With these larger trends in mind, we are diversifying our shirt collection by introducing casual collared shirts like flannels and chambray materials later this fall.

It will be exciting to see how our customers like those! During these challenging times, I have learned how to stay resilient and the importance of letting data inform business decisions. When seeing a lessened demand in the market, it does not mean to try harder and work more to compensate. I think it means to be smarter in managing expenses, setting realistic goals, and weathering the storm.

YW: Wesley Kang notes he does not regret his decision to leave corporate America and in starting one’s own business, there will be times you get “burned”. What are your tips about how to stay resilient and keep the faith in one’s vision? 

TZ: Keeping in mind why we started Nimble Made helps us stay motivated and resilient in hard times. In entrepreneurship, there are highs and lows on the journey and I have learned to really enjoy those “highs” and celebrate our wins. It is a great feeling to get feedback from customers saying they have been searching for 10 years and finally have found a shirt brand that fits their body type. It’s also great to get press features like Huffington Post naming us a “slim fit that lives up to its name.”

There is definitely a momentum that builds that motivates us and keeping us going. With the lows and getting “burned”, I learned to focus on the bigger picture and our mission of more size inclusion and representation in fashion.

It is easy to let the day-to-day obstacles and all the bumps in the road drag us down mentally and emotionally but keeping the bigger picture in mind helps us stay resilient. It is really empathizing with the pain points of our customers and guys like my dad who’ve felt excluded by the clothing industry because of their slimmer stature and wanting to create something better for them.

YW: What are your plans for the future?

TZ: We are excited to expand our dress shirt collection to more casual collared shirts and then eventually to basics like t-shirts and into pants/trousers. We hear that pants/trousers are just as big of an issue as shirts are from our customers. Though pants/trousers may be further down the road, we hope that in the short term our business can weather the pandemic and continue to expand our shirt collection and gain the support of our fellow Asian Americans!

YW: How would you like Nimble Made to be remembered?

TZ: I would like Nimble Made to be remembered as a brand that fought for more Asian representation and size inclusion in fashion. I hope that people come to our website and are able to see themselves in our clothes or can relate our mission. We make a big effort to use Asian models and hire people of color to do our photography, videos, and more.

Our dress shirts are all named after symbols of various Asian cultures; for example, our pink dress shirt is called The New Year after the tradition of wearing red clothing during Lunar New Year.

Wesley and I also give talks at colleges and universities to talk about our entrepreneurial journey and in taking that leap of faith leaving a conventional corporate career. Overall we are really proud of our product, our fit, and the brand we’ve been able to build together. We hope others can resonate with what we’re creating and support!

YW: What difficulties have you encountered in catering to the needs of Asian men as opposed to a wider spectrum of clients? What styles have you found have been popular with Asian men?

TZ: Not many difficulties at all! Our customers are actually very excited when they find us and are eager to support an Asian American founded brand. Often times they will tell us we’re the only shirt brand that actually fits them well off-the-rack without a tailor. We also don not specifically target Asians as we know Asians come in all different body types and are not all slim. However, because we do have such a bold Asian narrative, we do attract a majority Asian customer base, which is awesome!

Two of the initial dress shirts that we launched the brand with, The Crescent (solid white) The Waterbend (sold blue), have been by far the most popular with our customers, both Asian and not. They are the standard workplace shirts perfect for Monday through Friday and for meetings with clients or stakeholders. For the most part, our clients have been really eager to see us come out with new dress shirts and can’t wait for the next collection.

Visit the Nimble Made website here.