Who says you need to be on “Project Runway” to be the next Alexander Wang? Zao—the Mandarin word for “early,” “discover,” and “make”—inspired Ling Cai and Vicky Wu to launch ZAOZAO, a Kickstarter-like platform for fashion designers and tastemakers.
Cai and Wu met in 2009 when a friend introduced the pair. Cai, a Hong Kong-native, had just returned from New York to continue working in fashion, and Vicky, a New Yorker, had relocated to Hong Kong for a job in investment banking. The two clicked instantly, sharing an appreciation for emerging fashion talent.
It turned out that Cai’s younger sister, an aspiring fashion designer at the time, helped shaped a lot of what ZAOZAO became about, becoming an ad hoc focus group for the platform. “She shared obstacles they anticipated to encounter when the time came to launch their own brands (both online and offline), ranging from having limited access to financial aid to not knowing how to handle production, including handling marketing, PR, and sales through a one-person team,” Cai explains.
And in a nutshell, that’s everything that ZAOZAO aims to provide their designers and what makes it stand out from other similar sites—beyond an outlet to showcase work, it gives emerging talent a voice and the opportunity to raise money to produce their designs, increase their sales, and gain exposure in new markets. On ZAOZAO, consumers and potential funders can view the work of hundreds of up-and-coming fashion designers and fund their collections. So far, Cai and Wu have worked with Jennifer Mak, Carmen Chan, CnCnl, Edge of Ember, Saught, Terracotta New York, and Mandy Wu.
What’s ahead? Cai and Wu have been working feverishly on redesigning their site over the last few months. It is expected to launch in late September with a new look and feel, followed shortly by partnerships and collaborations. Wu says they also hope to tap into the Western market for more designers, expanding beyond their currently largely Asian talent.
Like the fashion designers they help sponsor, Cai and Wu understand the challenges of launching their own business. Their advice is to do as many internships as you can if you’re trying to break into fashion. “This will give you a sense of what the job entails—it’s never as glamorous as it seems!—and also provide you with an opportunity to network,” says Cai. “I landed my job at Gucci because of the relationships I built when I was an intern.”