Heads up! We may have found you one of the best holiday gifts for the Asian men in your life — a slim-fit dress shirt that actually fits!
Introducing Nimble Made, a New York City-based men’s slim-fit dress shirt designed specifically for the Asian man’s body. Their signature designs feature a smaller sleeve width; shorter shirt length; trimmed chest, back, and shoulder measurements; and shorter sleeve lengths — all attributes that would allow a dress shirt to fit smaller bodies better.
Their entrance into the dress shirt market represents the inclusion of a body type that is often marginalized and not perceived as ideal in high-end fashion. In celebrating the Asian male image, Nimble Made aims to bring comfort, style and pride to their consumers.
Nimble Made’s origin story
Nimble Made’s founders Wesley Kang and Tanya Zhang come from unlikely and humble backgrounds in light of the success of their dress shirt company. Neither Kang nor Zhang are fashion designers by training, and their company began completely self-funded. However, the creation of Nimble Made came naturally to them; their personal stories and desire to serve the Asian community formed the impetus to build their company.
Kang worked in finance and encountered challenges finding a dress shirt that fit him well. Zhang heard comment after comment from her friends and her own father about how “standard size” male dress shirts didn’t work for them and how they would have to spend additional money for tailoring, or try the junior section for better fitting professional clothes. After seeing this dilemma affect many working Asian professionals, Kang and Zhang set to work.
“Wesley was trying to make a shirt that fits him, and we wanted to make a shirt that we were proud of,” Zhang explains. She adds that co-founder Kang himself served as one of their primary male models when they were first establishing their design proportions.
Yes, Kang and Zhang’s story is of two entrepreneurs, with no fashion background, who successfully entered the very saturated fashion market, and yes, their story is one that inspires building brave ideas from the ground up and not giving up — however, at its core, Kang and Zhang are two Asian Americans who seek to uplift the Asian American identity through clothing.
The stories behind the shirts
Unique to Nimble Made is how their clothing designs not only bring size representation for Asians to fashion, but also highlight their Asian backgrounds. For example, one of the first shirts in their line is titled “The New Year” — a pink shirt inspired by the tradition of wearing red on Lunar New Year for luck and fortune.
In fact, all of the shirts in the Nimble Made line present brief descriptions of cultural significance behind their designs. “The Plum” has a purple and blue, textured weave inspired by the fruit itself, often used medicinally or in cooking, as well as a symbol of fertility and perseverance in Chinese custom. “The Sudoku” is a gray dress shirt with white, square patterns reminiscent of the 9×9 puzzle in newspapers today, first popularized by Japanese puzzle company Nikoli.
“We put our Asian American story and narrative to the foreground,” Zhang explains. “Our design and inspiration come from our heritage.”
Over 15 shirts are available in the Nimble Made line, each of them carrying a different story. And this is incredibly industrious, especially for two people with minimal, if any, fashion background whatsoever. Granted, as a consumer of dress shirts, Kang is familiar with the feel of fabrics and thread counts, and as an art director, Zhang brings her experience in design thinking to help establish their brand. The two are largely self-taught, however, with regard to creating a fashion line and building the marketing strategy behind it.
For a fashion line and self-run business, Nimble Made has risen quickly to success. Kang and Zhang first came across the idea for Nimble Made in March 2018 before fully investing their time into their company, leaving their full-time jobs in November that same year. The two are barely a year into working full-time for their brand, but they’ve already made a splash in the fashion industry, maintaining a strong online following and earning the attention of many media outlets, most recently Money magazine.
In the future, Nimble Made plans to stay focused on dress shirts, as it was their initial focus. They aren’t simply trying to design clothes — they’re aiming to expand the dress shirt market to include Asian male bodies. Dress shirts brought Wang and Zhang to the fashion industry in the first place, and dress shirts continue to represent what they want to contribute to the market.
“This is the right angle for us — our customer base is Asian American and we want to serve other Asian Americans,” Zhang affirms.
Paving the path for rising Asian American entrepreneurs
Although the rise of their business has given them pride, what Kang and Zhang value even more is the satisfaction of building their company from scratch and inspiring other young Asian American entrepreneurs to do the same.
Their business not only markets towards Asian Americans but ensures employing Asian Americans in industries where we are not adequately represented. Their fashion is inspired by Asian American men, their models feature a diversity of Asian American men, and even their source photographers and freelancers are Asian American.
“We started this business for us,” Zhang says. “We wanted to give opportunities to other aspiring Asian Americans.”
Kang and Zhang are also actively involved in teaching and mentorship, often speaking at panels for business fraternities or organizations on college campuses. Zhang explains that one of her goals and dreams is to go beyond clothing and help other aspiring creatives succeed.
“I’d love to be able to set up some kind of creative warehouse where we can develop a space or a platform for other creators and designers,” Zhang states. “We want to be able to support, inspire and motivate other Asian American entrepreneurs and creatives to start their own thing.”
While they cast their company’s future vision, Nimble Made is making a difference even now— coming right back to their own homes and the very roots of their inspirations.
“When the website went live, the first customer was Wesley’s mom, and the second was my dad,” Zhang says, laughing.
Catherine Zaw, staff writer for Mochi magazine, is a dual medical and public health student at the University of Miami. She aims to utilize creative writing and storytelling to advocate for and empower communities, focusing on LGBTQ+ population healthcare needs. She loves emdashes, cats and mangoes, and perpetually has at least five tabs open on her browser. You can find her on Instagram or Twitter.
Last modified: February 22, 2020