Ludi Wang founded HAUS VON M three years ago when she had enough. Lost, broken, stolen and left behind–she lost six umbrellas to New York City. For Ludi, they weren’t a reliable answer to the city’s unpredictable and unforgiving weather. She needed a solution that could handle the weather and her on-the-go business career. Met with few choices she founded HAUS VON M, a luxury, functional outerwear brand built for the people like her–who have had enough.
Learn how growing up in the snowy mountains of Manchuria and being told she should ‘wait for a prince to save her’ shaped Ludi’s perspective and equipped her with the persistence and tenacity to create HAUS VON M.
Q: You’re headed to Italy for a sourcing trip tomorrow, is that where most of your production is done?
Ludi Wang: Yes! Italy is always so much fun for me. We do a small production here in New York and then we source from Parma, Italy and Bulgaria, where my business partner is based and originally from.
Q: What does HAUS VON M create?
Ludi Wang: We are primarily an outerwear brand with limited edition, seasonal collections. HAUS VON M focuses on creating nice, quality pieces that can be worn different ways for multiple occasions.
As someone who lives out of a suitcase, I prefer taking as little as possible–one small suitcase rather than a huge one. My collections help me do that. I turned my problem into a company! Also, nobody travels like an influencer…taking three and four suitcases along. Most people take one suitcase if possible.
Q: Definitely – I don’t know anyone that’s trying to add more hassle to their airport experience.
Ludi Wang: Exactly. We focus on creating garments for people living in big cities too busy to handle hassle. Unpredictable weather conditions like rain, running around the city for work or too busy to go home and change. For work, for life, for all of it, you know? I try to create a wardrobe that doesn’t go wrong.
Q: HAUS VON M, handling hassle. I like that. Why did you launch the brand?
Ludi Wang: Well, it’s a funny story. I was traveling too much and at some point I lost six umbrellas. I counted. And I was screaming inside. It was not a sustainable solution. And as someone with careers in business and fashion I’m not the customer for North Face or Patagonia. They are great for a backpacking trip but not a business function or restaurant. So after I went through six umbrellas I was done. I looked for something beautiful but functional. But I just couldn’t find anything.
At the time I was freshly graduated with another degree from Parsons and I asked around my network–no one wanted to do anything about it. You know, as The Devil Wears Prada states,
“Fashion is not about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography used to express individual identity.”
There’s this resistance from the industry. Patagonia is all about function and on the other end there are Chanel jackets that can’t be dry cleaned.
It suggests that if we emphasize function then it’s not a luxury anymore.
And then when I spoke to designers working at famous brands, their response was, “Well technically you want women to buy season after season. And if you make the garment very functional then people won’t need to buy anymore.” So it was a commercial strategy versus the culture. From a sustainability point of view then that’s how we end up with so much waste. It’s like everything has an internal clock.
I wanted to make a difference. So I sat down with traditional Italian mills and a lot of mill owners are guys. When I wanted to use waterproof fabric for a women’s trench coat they told me it was for menswear, and that water resistant fabric was for womenswear. They just didn’t take me seriously. They said there wasn’t a womenswear market for functional fabric. Even today, many try to persuade me to use a different fabric.
When I go to Italy for sourcing trips I have to really convince the owner on the other side of the table that women will appreciate and need this. You know it’s like a century old, traditional industry filled with sexism and everything. So I have to say no I don’t want water resistant options. Show me the waterproof ones. They’re more expensive. But I believe women will buy it. I had to overcome this resistance and show there was demand. I guess it didn’t exist before my brand for a reason–it took a female perspective and you have to be persistent about it. It’s so crazy.
Q: So when you said you wanted water-proof fabric, not water-resistant, you were met with resistance? Sounds like they didn’t hear you. With all that, what keeps you going?
Ludi Wang: It is a very difficult journey as a founder and a female founder and with all the labels and obstacles…but there are moments when I’m out in the rain and I think about how I used to get drenched wet. Now I don’t. And I’m wearing my coat and I’m like, “I need to be more persistent. Let me try to send that email one more time. Let me text that person one more time.” I feel like every New Yorker needs something like this.
That’s what keeps me going. Our business is almost three years old now. We used to get rejected a lot, and I’m not saying today there’s no more rejection, it’s just a different kind. Yeah. But if people ask me what keeps me going it‘s those horrible rainy days in New York.
Q: HAUS VON M sounds like the name of a persistent detective from a mystery series and this episode features six broken, lost and forgotten umbrellas. Where’d the name come from?
Ludi Wang: While I was developing the brand I went on a trip to Germany and really connected with the culture. I don’t even speak that much German, but when I interacted with the German women I realized we don’t sugarcoat a lot of things. So I wanted to incorporate German into the brand name. And then the “M” relates to the ancient and intricate Japanese art of origami, which fosters precision, concealment of its functionality. In our garments I want to hide the functionality behind a beautiful design and that’s like a hidden secret shared between the people who actually wear a piece. The whole point is I don’t want to wear a raincoat raincoat. If I go for a raincoat raincoat I wear North Face or Patagonia and it will look functional. I want a beautiful coat and where the functionality is hidden–like a secret love letter.
Q: I love the concept and how it relates to your experience. How have these experiences informed your perspective and the brand?
Ludi Wang: I’m like a third culture kid. I was born in Manchuria which is a snowy town in the mountains. Like covered in snow for six months kind of snow. Then my mom moved us to Akita, Japan which is another snowy small town and then I went to school in upstate New York, in another snowy mountain town.
I believe that women who grow up with harsh winters are super committed, persistent and tenacious. I mean in those conditions just to get from point A to point B is an endeavor.
And I was actually the tallest girl in my class, and I was really badly bullied because you know in a very hierarchical, traditional and paternal society my height and personality was perceived more like a threat. When I graduated from high school the boys came up to me and said, “We have discussed it and we recommend you go abroad because your future is outside of China. You will never find a Chinese husband or boyfriend that is taller than you.”
And then my mother also thought traditionally. When I was a kid I was always trying to save the princess. And she told me, “You’re not supposed to save the princess. You need to wait for someone else to save you. That’s how the fairytale goes. You don’t go and save your prince or another girl.”
Then we moved to Japan and it really blew my mind. Back then Japan had the number two economy and had a really close relationship with the United States. It was very westernized versus China, a very closed and traditional culture. I think that changed my world view at a very young age, it got me thinking that things could be very very different.
The new collection is actually inspired by Japan’s Empress Masako. She was courted by the Prince but his family didn’t accept her at first. She was taller than the Prince, she was educated, she spoke four different languages and she even won a poetry award for German poetry. She had a tough time breaking through. I did a collection inspired by her because she was someone I could relate to, she represented a different path.
Q: You pivoted into being a fashion designer after having degrees in political science, journalism and English literature and an e-commerce business. What was it like changing your career?
Ludi Wang: When I was in sales and marketing I was living for someone else’s dream. So I went back to school to study fashion and switch to the creative side because I wanted to live my own version of the world. I want to make a difference in the market living my dream.
My first collection was very commercial. It was something that you could wear straight from the runway. That hindered my career because the fashion world wants to see creativity. My mentor told me to stop thinking like a buyer and more like a designer. It really took me a couple of collections to think that way–to combine how I create things from a business perspective but also a creative one. Now I have both perspectives and it’s really valuable.
Q: What advice do you have on breaking into the fashion industry?
Ludi Wang: This industry requires persistency. You need to keep producing new work and prove your worthiness. A lot of people just come out for one or two seasons and then just disappear. People aren’t sure if they’ll see you next season.
Q: How do you think the fashion industry perceives gender and how would you like to see it evolve?
Ludi Wang: There’s a lot of resistance against evolving gender from the retail industry. In general, buyers don’t know where to put unisex or genderless brands.
A couple of years ago women were wearing the ‘boyfriend’ look. Then more recently we saw womenswear doing menswear. These trends coincide with our female empowerment movement and more women achieving management positions. So I’m thinking, maybe the boyfriends will begin to steal our wardrobe. For this collection I made this super oversized blouse, it looks great on the guys (image below). It has a broad shoulder so I can really see the boyfriends wanting to steal it. Society should be OK about it. I find it really cute.
Q: Do you subscribe a gender to your clothes?
Ludi Wang: I call it unisex, as our waterproof trench coats and waterproof capes use fabric tradtionally reserved for menswear, but have cuts similar to tradtional womenswear. The language I use on my website shares both the men’s fit and women’s fit. So you have a sizing reference, but it doesn’t say who it’s for. I found the reference helps the traditional sector understand what I’m talking about.
Q: What’s next on your sustainability journey?
Ludi Wang: I recently connected with a really good Japanese factory in New York that have the special skills to fix damaged fabric and garments. And I really want to be a brand that is able to provide a way to fix damaged garments. I don’t want people to throw out their stuff just because there’s one hole or something. I want to be able to give garments a new life. For our waterproof trench coats and waterproof capes, the technical fabric we use is quite luxury, meaning that it isn’t immune to abrasion–it’s not Gore tex. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t technology or a way to revive a garment. There are!
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