Jessie Wong - Yu Mei #createdunedin

by Insiders Dunedin

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jessie Wong and I run Yu Mei, a leather label that produces luxe leather bags and accessories from locally sourced, premium deer nappa. Yu Mei (you-may) is my Chinese middle name, and was given to me by my grandfather on my dad's side of the family. It (roughly) translates to "young and beautiful". 

Are you from Dunedin? If not when and why did you move here?

I'm from Wellington! But I moved to Dunedin for a change of scenery and for the degree at Otago Polytechnic. Also I have a lot of family here in Dunedin, so it made it a nice transition. 

Did you study? If so what?

Yes- Bachelor of Design in Fashion at Otago Polytechnic

When did you start your brand and why?

I started Yu Mei in the summer break post first year of my fashion degree at Otago Polytechnic. At that time I was making small ranges of dresses etc that I would sell to Slick Willy's and a boutique in Wellington called Harry's. Since then Yu Mei has evolved into a leather label and now we focus all our design into bags and accessories. I'd always wanted to have my own label, it was a natural process building up the brand to where it is now. I was fortunate enough to be awarded an AMP National scholarship, which really provided a solid foundation for me to begin Yu Mei right out of my degree. 

Can you tell me a bit about what you create and the inspo behind your latest collection?

My latest collection 'Make Noise' is a celebration of collaboration, each bag a distillation of an inspiring human close to Yu Mei. Designs are born from a base level of utility and serve the needs of the wearer, built for purpose to carry with ease. The people we collaborate with have unique perspectives, big ideas and interesting stories to tell. Their personalities infuse a point of difference in a Yu Mei bag. They’re the ones who make noise.

For example, our most popular bag- 'The Braidy Bag' was based on the needs of my friend Laura

Braid, who at the time was a final year Law student. She was constantly at the library (like most law students are) and wanted to carry everything with her- laptop, oversized sunnies case, 3x jerseys to combat Dunedin winters, the kitchen sink etc. We all know a Braidy who needs that bag, so I designed something simple- sans bells and whistles to effortlessly fit her life in. Another favourite was the Maxwell Duffle, inspired by one of my best friends and photographer Max Cole. Quite simply, this bag was for the man who is perpetually on a 'weekend away'.

What's the most exciting thing that's happened for your brand in the past year?

New Zealand Fashion Week 2015 was a definite highlight! We got stocked in all our favourite NZ boutiques and we had such a rad team at RAW PR in Auckland that made the week such a great experience. However looking back on the year probably most exciting thing was sharing a studio with The Print Room out in Andersons' Bay. I couldn't have asked to work alongside a more exceptional crew. 

What do you enjoy most about living and working in Dunedin?

The people! Dunedin locals are some of the best people you'll find, I'm yet to meet a person who has said 'no' to any idea or collaboration. Everyone is willing to lend a hand and that sense of community and support is definitely special. There are so many great businesses here- Slick Willy's, The Perc, The Print Room, Drakes Leather and Zaibatsu, have all been so awesome to Yu Mei. 

Instagram: @yumeibrand

Post submitted by Amy Parsons-King

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