Fierce Females in Taipei: Meet Ingrid Chang of IMWIM
It’s time for another installment of Fierce Females in Taipei, and today we’re bringing you the fashionista and brains behind international online clothing store IMWIM, Ingrid Chang.
The fashion gods brought us together two years ago, when Ingrid invited us to the pop-up of her store here in Taipei (Right before the launch of A Style Alike!) and the three of us instantly hit it off. She’s brains, beauty, and style, and travels the world while running her successful online business, which brings us exclusive it-brands to shop right here in Taipei, such as By Far, For Love & Lemons, LoveShackFancy, and MORE!
Well, I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer, so scroll down and enjoy our interview with the lovely Ingrid, and find out what goes on behind the scenes of running your own online fashion company.
Hi Ingrid! Tell us a little bit more about yourself, who you are and where you come from?
I am the founder of IMWIM, an online fashion company based in Taipei and New York, that sells women’s apparel, shoes, bags and unisex sunglasses from emerging designers. I was born and grew up in a not-so-traditional family in Taipei, Taiwan. My love for art and fashion started when I was a kid. I learned piano, painting, calligraphy, and English since I was in kindergarten. None of my parents worked in art or fashion related fields, but they influenced me to appreciate the beautiful things in life.
Where did you go to university/college, and what did you study?
What I majored in in university was not related to fashion or marketing. I studied law for a year and then switched to accounting. After I graduated, I was an auditor at PWC and then did marketing for Miniwiz, a sustainable design and architecture company, before I moved to New York and studied Fashion Marketing at Parsons. After that, I went to Columbia University for some business management courses.
When did you first discover your love for fashion, and how did you end up in the fashion industry?
I am always drawn to fashion because it is an artistic way to express creativity. You are what you wear - you could reflect your mood or personality in whatever outfit you wore that day.
I started selling my clothes, shoes and accessories online when I was in university. It was about the time when e-commerce started to bloom. When I was still at school, I would save my allowance and the money that I earned from selling online to buy fashion magazines like US Vogue or UK Harper’s Bazaar at Eslite Bookstore, the only place to buy foreign books in Taiwan at the time. Working in the fashion industry was a dream for me, but I never got a chance to actually work in one until I went to New York. They do not call New York City the fashion capital for nothing. There were so many opportunities in different aspects of the fashion industry. I was blessed to be a part of Ralph Lauren, where I learned so much and met a lot of inspirational people while working there.
How would you best describe your job to someone else?
I have dreamed about starting my own online shop since I was at Parsons, and finally launched an official one in early 2017. It was just my partner and I when we started. We worked side by side at a coffee shop before we had a studio. She handled the finances and I did everything else at the beginning, from trend forecasting, gathering inspiration, budget planning, buying, merchandising, marketing (events, communication, and social media), casting, styling, directing the photoshoot, logistics, organizing the inventory, to customer service (yes, it is also part of my job!). This is the reality of starting a business when you do not have a big budget and you know what you want for your brand better than anyone else! The company is about to be two years old and I still need to do most of the work myself to be honest. I also learned how to build, design and maintain the website. The most important of all is analyzing data, which I am thankful for that I have business background so I am familiar with numbers and reports.
How did you decide on the name for your online shop, IMWIM?
IMWIM is the abbreviation of I Am What I Am, which also means - be yourself. I believe that every woman has a different style. It also changes from time to time, and for different occasion. We are here to empower every woman to follow her instinct and dress comfortably for herself that shows truly who she is as a woman confidently. We hope everyone can find her own style here, have fun with us, and grow with us.
She can be sophisticated yet playful, chic yet down to earth, eclectic yet sleek – this best describes an IMWIM woman.
Tell us a bit more about your shop, and what goes on behind the scenes.
IMWIM is a platform to express my passion for fashion. I want IMWIM to grow naturally without defining what type of store it is. As I always said, “IMWIM is like a woman – it is living and always evolving.” There are so many amazing brands and emerging designers out there. I am constantly looking for interesting pieces and brands that catch my attention. We are still new and with a tight budget, so it's not easy for us to work with every brand we like. It takes time to build up relationships with them and make them believe that it there are mutual benefits. Every season, we will introduce some new brands to customers. I hope they can find items they like at IMWIM that make them feel content and confident as being a woman. Isn’t the whole idea of shopping making you feel happy and pretty? Although it is an online shop, maybe we will open a store someday in the near future!
What was the hardest part of starting up your own business?
A lot of people think that fashion business looks so glamorous because they only see the result, not the process. They never know how much effort it takes to present a work unless they are inside a business. First of all, I need to learn everything from scratch and had to do everything by myself at the beginning, and still sometimes. Second, dealing with time difference and time pressure. The company is based in Taipei and New York, and we work with brands and designers in Asia, USA, Europe and we have customers all over the world. When there's something urgent that I need to deal with immediately, I have to do it no matter how late or early it is. I am based in Taiwan, so whenever I travel, I only have a certain amount of time and budget, but I have to make sure that everything is done before I leave. Last but not least, money and people. We constantly need people to help and wish we had more funds to run the business!
What’s your most exciting collaboration/achievement so far?
The first collaboration is always the most exciting. We just started a few months ago and one of our favorite bloggers, @lesparisiennesdumonde, reached out to us for collaboration. And of course, the dress that she posted sold out immediately! Influencers are the key to reach out to customers directly and we are constantly looking for influencers whom can represent IMWIM. One of the biggest achievements so far is featuring in British Vogue, Vanity Fair and ELLE. I still remember when I saw the first email from British Vogue. I almost deleted it because I thought it was spam, which happens quite often after I've started the company! It was the most exciting thing that could happen to us as a young brand. Never thought I would see my name and my brand appear in these esteemed magazines one day. Because of the magazine exposure, we have got more and more customers in UK, Australia and New Zealand. We have done a few pop-ups and they were pretty successful. I hope that we have the chance to do more, and I would like to meet our customers in person.
Do you have any tips and advice for those looking to follow you in your footsteps?
I am still most definitely a rookie entrepreneur, but experimenting can teach you so many things about launching a business. Just doing something with passion and an open mind is the first step to being successful. There is no such thing as good timing. You create the timing yourself. If you have a dream or idea, put it into action. I think a lot of people feel that there must be some secret handbook or you must have a lot of connections to start your own business, but it's really just guts, believing in yourself, and having perseverance. Do not overthink, and learn as you grow, is my best advice. Launching a business is a non-stop learning process. You've got to love what you do and that’s how you can bring the best to the table. It's about hard work, trusting your instincts, staying positive, and doing it yourself. You should never give up no matter how challenging it is and how many obstacles you might encounter.
What is your main source of inspiration when it comes to staying up to date in the fashion industry?
Basically everything in life; a store, a piece of art, food or just having a nice cup of coffee at a coffee shop! Also, my friends or someone who dresses distinctively on the street, inspires me. Pay attention to detail – you will be surprised what you will learn and be inspired from appreciating the little things. To stay up to date in fashion, I go to Instagram, Pinterest and magazines, which are the main channels that fashion industries communicate with their audience nowadays. Traveling is also my favorite way to explore new ideas and recharge.
What is one thing about your job no one would expect?
Do not believe everything you see on social media! I do love my job, but it is not as fancy as you think, and I only share a very small part of my life. Everyone thinks it must be fun that I could travel a lot as an entrepreneur instead of having a nine to five office life, but the truth is I also have to work five days a week like everyone else. Sometimes overtime, over the weekend, and while traveling. Just because I barely share my work life does not mean that I am not working! Have you seen The Devil Wears Prada and The Intern? I would say ninety percent of the stories are true! There are lots of blood, sweat and tears for sure to run a startup fashion company as a woman. My job is flexible most of the time but it could be inflexible sometimes because I also have deadlines for some of the work. For example, I need to plan, organize, style, and direct every photoshoot when in NYC. We always try to start shooting from 6AM when it's not so crowded in the streets. We shoot Spring/Summer when it is still below 10 Celsius and Fall/Winter when it is above 28 Celsius. After the photoshoot is done, I still have a lot of work to do in other areas and most importantly of all, I need to make sure those photos that we shoot are presented properly and launched with all the products together on the website on time. The company is still at the growing phase, so I believe when it is on track, I can take some weight off my mind.
"You cannot always follow the plan. If the plan does not work, change the plan, but
never the goal."
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
I think it is the time pressure that makes everything harder and requires more energy and efficiency to get it done within a certain time frame. Working in fashion might not be the most difficult job, but it is time-consuming and need to be fast, sharp, detail-oriented, energetic, and can handle the pressure all the time. You also need to be independent, know what you are doing, and be adaptable case by case. For example, IMWIM has four seasons. In order to fulfill what customers need nowadays, we launch new products every week to keep them interested. Photos are the best way to communicate with them so we do a lot of photoshoots. I need to make sure that all the orders or samples arrive on time so we can schedule the photoshoot with the photographer, model, and makeup artist. We also need to put weather into consideration, because we do location shoots. It is teamwork and everyone has his or her schedule. If something goes wrong, we might need to reschedule everything and start all over again. Planning a pop-up or event is also stressful and need a lot of help. The biggest lesson I've learnt is - You cannot always follow the plan. If the plan does not work, change the plan, but never the goal.
What other hobbies do you have, and what do you like to do in your free time?
I love to discover and learn new things constantly from people or places I go. Traveling, for instance, is the best way to recharge. In my free time, I like to take time for myself and clear my mind out of busy work so I like to freely wander around at museums, galleries, any new places, or go to events and document them with photos, which will be my inspiration whenever needed. Self-care is important for me. When I need to release stress and wind down, I love listening to the music, going to a concert, going to the gym, doing yoga, or meditation, which help me concentrate and prepare to get back to work full of positive energy. Because our life is about multi-tasking, we have to be able to create space in our minds. One of my to-do lists this year is to learn boxing! Outdoor activities and cooking are also something that I love and I really need to do more! I have been following Athena Calderone of @eyeswoon for a while and she inspires me to cook beautifully.
At the moment, are there any trends you’re loving/hating?
For spring/summer, I always like the soft and muted tones that you see on clothes made from linen and tencel, which are also sustainable materials. Also, an oversized trench coat is essential for this season. If you like colorful prints, floral is a spring/summer wardrobe staple. Acetate, pearl hair clips, and gold jewelry with seashells are also trendy this season.
I do not think there is anything that I hate, because some items and styles can look very cool when you put them on the right person and style them creatively. For example, I do not think I can pull off "ugly dad sneakers", neon and tie-dye trends, but they can look really cool on some people. My suggestion is not to follow the trend blindly and put everything on you. Just be yourself and find the style that works best for you and do not be afraid to try new things!
Name one piece of clothing you cannot live without.
One is difficult! Can I choose more? Black leather jacket, camel coat, black/ white t-shirt/ shirt, a pair of jeans, little black/white dress, comfortable boots and heels. Adding a nice piece of jewelry and a classic bag are also necessary.
What is your go-to brand, and why?
I like contemporary brands or emerging designer brands. My current obsession for shoes and bags is By FAR and I am glad to work with such an aesthetic brand founded by three talented women. For dresses and jumpsuits, I like Reformation because they fit like a glove and they are sustainable! For Love & Lemons, one of the brands that we carry, also has a lot of fun pieces for occasions and I am amazed by how creative the designer is every season. I finally bought a skirt from Réalisation Par and I love how comfortable it is and how easy it is to style. Mango and Zara are my go-to brands when I need fashionable and affordable pieces. Recently, I've also been into Scandinavian fashion like Ganni and Stine Goya. Other interesting brands I love are Anine Bing, Rixo, Nanushka, and Staud and I hope we can add them into our list soon!
How would you describe your personal style?
Unconventional, versatile, but never over the top! Most of the time, I am a simple t-shirt and jeans kind of girl, but I love to play with texture, color and proportion. There is a fashion and design rule that I always follow - never put on more than 3 colors. I dress according to my mood. It literally depends on whom I want to be that day.
What is your favorite city you’ve traveled to, and why?
It is hard to name just one. I have been to many countries and every place holds its precious memory. New York, for instance, has always had a special place in my heart like my hometown, Taipei. I used to live there for almost three and half years and the city taught me a lot. Although there were many ups and downs every time I went back for work, this was the most valuable experience I had. New York is extremely stimulating. You either hate it or you love it! There is literally always something to do, something to see, and someone to meet. Everything about this city inspires me – the energy, the people, and the creativity. Another thing I love about New York is if I miss Asian food, it is easy to find in the city! For art and fashion lovers and foodies, it is hard not to love Paris. The whole city is a history of art. At the end of 2017, I finally visited London and I have been dying to go back again ever since. I love Japanese and Italian food and I can keep going back just for food. For enjoying a luxurious vacation at an affordable price, Bali, Philippines, and Greece are on the top of my list. I went to Cape Town once when I was young, and it was such a magical city with its unique culture and scenery.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years, and what do you hope to achieve?
For work, I hope that IMWIM can grow into a brand that will make some contribution to the society and support and inspire more women and small businesses. In addition, I would like to do more pop-ups or even open a store that's not only for shopping but also for people to hang out and participate in some activities. The goal for IMWIM is to keep inspiring people!
Personally, I need to improve work-life balance. I do love traveling a lot and I hope I can keep traveling, but since I started my career, it has been hard for me to constantly stay connected with friends or boyfriends (If I had one!). I always try to set priorities and make time for things and people that are important to me, especially those who lift me up and motivate me. However, I get caught up with work sometimes and forget to care about the people I love. Long distance or time difference is not as hard as it used to be because of all the technology. The hardest part is to find someone who understands your job, your situation, shares the same goal, and is truly supportive (in action). I believe that a woman can do anything as long as she is persistent and has curiosity to learn about things that intrigue her, don’t you think so? I hope after this interview people will see me as a woman who has passion and courage pursuing what she loves, not as a workaholic!
We hope you enjoyed our interview with the lovely Ingrid! If you have any other questions or would like to contact IMWIM directly, you can send them a message here. If you'd like to nominate a fierce lady for our next installment of Fierce Females in Taipei, please feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to visit IMWIM online shop
Click here to follow IMWIM on Instagram
Click here to follow Ingrid on Instagram