Before I was galavanting around the globe I was a fashionista in NYC and before that, I was a creative child always knee deep in sequins, feathers, clothing scraps, and a hot glue gun. I’ve always be drawn towards textiles, adornments, and the shapes of clothing. In high school, I convinced my principal to have not one but two fashion classes that focused on silhouettes and costume history. I took the home economic classes to try to learn how to sew but could never master the sewing machine. I started a fashion club, worked in retail, and made endless inspiration boards with tear-outs from magazines. Much to my parent’s dismay when I was about 15 I decided I wanted to pursue a career in fashion–this seemed far-fetched for a girl from Kansas.
I was awarded the Marketing Executive of Tomorrow full-ride scholarship from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising when I was 17 and studied Visual Communications at their Los Angeles campus. I worked retail on Rodeo Drive, volunteered at my first fashion show for Chloé, and then later went on to intern in their LA campus. After about 15-months in LA, I transferred to NYC–a city I’d always dreamed of living in but had never visited. There, I finished my degree in Marketing at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, the first fashion business school in the US. For the next 5 years, I led a robust career as a strategic branding expert working with a variety of brands from adidas Originals to Nanette Lepore. I loved every minute of it, but along the way lost my passion for the details that make each item of clothing unique.
Fast forward to present day and I’m slowly starting to fall back in love with fashion–but this time I don’t have my nose stuck in a woman’s magazine or books as we used to call them. I don’t keep up with fashion week or the who’s who of the scene anymore. Instead, I find myself at the root of inspiration, getting to know the cultures and communities around the globe that have brought the world some of the most exquisite design details on Earth such as Ikat from Indonesia, block printing from India, and lotus silk from Myanmar.
I’d always wanted to design my own items–beyond altering things here and there I’d never gotten the chance to create a bespoke item from start to finish. When Be Be Tailor in Hoi An invited me to create a piece with them I could barely contain my excitement. I was overwhelmed with the zillion of things I could create but settled on a jumpsuit and some dresses as they’re both practical and stylish for travel.
Tailors are literally a dime a dozen in Hoi An and have been for ages as Hoi An was along the silk trade route. There are at least 200 tailors in Hoi An–meaning more tailors than Banh Mih stalls! Most can be traced back for several generations but several have hoped on to the trend of tourist ordering custom clothing in Hoi An and offer subpar services.
Be Be is the most trusted tailor in Hoi An, although they’re relatively new to the scene. The family-owned establishment has been stitching up custom-made garments for just 15 years for over 70,000 customers. They’ve already launched an empire and now operate three shops. Design aside Be Be is also deeply committed to their local community and have ongoing financial aid projects with The Kianh Foundation and Sapa Kids.
As I walked into the flagship location on Hoang Dieu Street it was as if the chaos outside of Banh Mi vendors, motorcycles driving every which way, and pushy salesmen melted away as I entered a textile haven. Stacks upon stacks of luxurious fabrics in every color and pattern line the walls as smartly dressed mannequins prompt you to consider whether you could rock their look. Be Be’s one of the only tailors in Hoi An that has access to international luxurious fabrics–they have over 1,000 fabrics just for suits.
Many who get hand-tailored clothes bring in a photo of exactly what they want to recreate but I wasn’t interested in knocking anything off. Instead, I brought in tears of different styles I liked to combine together to create the perfect jumpsuit. This isn’t an advisable way to go about creating a piece in Hoi An, which I learned the hard way.
I sat down with Chung, who sweetly explains to me that her name means together in Vietnamese. She listens attentively to my vision for the jumpsuits and dresses I want to create as she begins to sketch out the design details in her notebook. Seeing my ideas come to life through her pen was mesmerizing.
Within seconds she’d drawn my dream jumpsuit with a deep V-neck, open square back that frames my tattoos, secured with a tie string across the shoulders and a trim fit with a zipper up the back. She agrees with everything I suggest without protest, which we will find to be a bit problematic later. Once the basics were down on paper she got to work on my measurements. I’ve never had so many nooks and cranny of my body measured before! From my neck to my armpits to my ankles–every inch was measured. Because of this, I was so surprised when later on in the process it was so complex to get the fit right. She gazed me up and down and looked a little puzzled–my body is the polar opposite of the average Vietnamese woman. We designed a few dresses, but they didn’t work out, so let’s not focus on those failed garments.
Onwards, we started to select fabrics. For the linen dress, I’d designed I head to a linen wall and am greeted by unlimited options. Chung pulls rolls and rolls down of fabric until I settled on a beige checkered pattern that had a lavender line running through it. It’s seasonless and perfect, but I’ll never get to wear it. For the jumpsuit and the dress, I go through stacks of binders full of swatches of various cotton, silk, and linen blends looking for a fabric that is breathable in a color that suits me. Much to my own surprise, I select a silky smooth coral silk and cotton blend for the jumpsuit and a milk coffee ultra-light cotton for the button-up dress.
Behind the table where we sat and sketched my designs is the on-site factory where tailors and seamstresses are hard at work whipping up unique one-of-a-kind creations for their global clientele. If you, like me, are fascinated by the way clothes are made just ask if you can go in and visit. Don’t expect a detailed guided tour but you’ll be allowed to be a fly on the wall as you stand in amazement at how quickly and precisely the artisans at Be Be work. It’s a rare opportunity to have a behind-the-scenes look at the clothing industry and actually be able to answer the question, who made my clothes?
Chung asks me to return for a fitting the following day. I leave feeling giddy and that I may be able to wear my designs the very next day. Most people only have 2 fittings within a 24-hour time span. However, I was in Hoi An for 3 weeks at that point so I’d return to Be Be over 10 times trying to get the items just right through major alterations and tiny adjustments.
The quality of the textiles, stitching, and customer service at Be Be is second to none but I really struggled with the fit. When making a tailored piece of clothing you expect the fit to be absolutely perfect. I think the seamstresses I worked with were eager to appease me and didn’t push back when I presented silhouettes or chose textiles that didn’t work well together or with my figure. Throughout the design process and fittings, I kept asking them if it all made sense and they never suggested any changes.
Unfortunately, after quite a few fittings, we ultimately gave up on the two dresses I had designed. I was disappointed that we couldn’t make the plaid linen dress I’d imagined work out. No matter what we did they couldn’t figure out how to adjust the dress so that I’d be able to lift my arms up at all without having the sleeves completely fall off and expose my breasts. After we dismissed this dress we moved on to create a mock bamboo fabric was billowing quite unattractively at the upper back and even after several adjustments still hung shapeless and loose at my bust and waist. I’m curvy, and I like it. I don’t want to hide behind my clothing, I want to accentuate what I have and celebrate my healthy body. Both dresses reminded me of a modern day Laura Ingle-Wilder but instead of Little House on the Prarie, the woman I envisioned wearing these dresses would be strolling the farmer’s markets in Provence with a basket full of flowers and heirloom tomatoes. I still dream about those dresses.
All that being said, I’d do the whole 10-fittings and two destroyed dresses again just for this dreamy jumpsuit of mine. It’s an item I cherish knowing the love that went into creating this very special garment. It’s without a doubt the fanciest thing in my backpack and when I wear it I feel like a trillion dong. I am so appreciative of the dedication of the Be Be creative team members who worked with me to get the jumpsuit just right. They did major work on the waistline and bust until I was happy with the way it looked. My Be Be jumpsuit is one of my most precious travel souvenirs.