Fashion designer (and mega cyber babe) Wendy Ma talks with us about her clothing/accessories label PHT, how she rules the digital world and her passion to help protect independent designers against copycats.
For this issue we really wanted to explore how women use the digital world to fabricate their online identity. As a mega internet babe, what has your personal journey to cyber stardom been like?
I don’t know if I am a mega internet babe! I just like to use it to share little bits of my life and it feels good to connect with people who do the same. It’s interesting because you can get on a close, personal level with some of these people who you would never get to know IRL. I don’t think I have too much of an online persona that I’ve invented, although it allows me to express myself.
When you were a teenager you started your blog Panache Halloweentown. How has your experience expressing yourself via the internet changed since your teen years? Has your identity transformed with the introduction of current social media platforms?
For me, it has become more visual. I find that more people want to consume content faster and more conveniently, so a lot of time words are overlooked. I’ve kind of accommodated that and Instagram is the perfect platform. My identity hasn’t changed too much apart from evolving as a person, getting older, my style has changed—it’s now more than just about showing off your outfit that day or posting about materialistic things that you want. I want to show my work, share what I believe in and use social media to support those who need to be heard.
As a ceramist and the creator of your own kawaii clothing/accessories label PHT, what fuels your creativity and inspires your designs?
I create out of boredom. Sometimes I find it really hard to just completely vege out in front of Netflix. I feel the need to be productive, otherwise I feel like I’m wasting time!
You describe “the PHT girl” as one who dresses to “tell a story.” What narratives do your furry creations tell?
It’s your escape from the real world to a fluffy, furry heaven! It’s where you can float around on clouds all day with your best friends, play with unicorns and puppies, where all the trees are fairy floss, all the lakes are ice cream sundaes.
The PHT girl dresses for herself and doesn’t need validation. She invests in quality and handmade for the long run and also supports the little guy rather than one that buys fast fashion and tosses after a few wears—she knows who she is.
Are your fashion designs perceived differently in Brisbane (Australia) than in Hong Kong? Do customs or ideas from either culture have an influence on your work?
Brisbane is still growing and coming around to more adventurous ideas about dressing; it’s exciting because most people find my clothing different and refreshing. Hong Kong is where I do most of my creative work and incubate my ideas. I also have a group of friends who are in fashion and take me fabric shopping and to fun parties, so I am always inspired and we learn so much from each other! The most positive thing about the internet and fashion is it allows you to draw inspiration and in turn express yourself in a global context.
Does being famous online affect you everyday IRL, such as at work as a full time banker?
I have only ever been approached in Japan where people recognize me from the internet and want a photo or just stop for a chat. It would be so rare for someone to come into the bank and recognize me. I think I’ve kept my work and my hobbies so separate they seem like completely different worlds.
In what ways has the internet helped you connect with other artists, designers, and social media celebrities? Has networking with other famous people online boosted your business?
It has definitely given me a leg up in the biz and I have met some great friends through Instagram! I am a pretty shy person meeting new people so it really helps to connect with someone online first. I’ve connected with most photographers and other labels who I end up working with through it. I’ve also been able to connect to several online stores because they have found me through Instagram and end up stocking [my designs] too. It’s such a great platform and really gets your things out there with minimal effort.
I rarely give people free clothes; I do like swapping though! Most Instagram famous babes that you see wearing my stuff actually bought it, made some kind of investment or supported me in some way or another. That’s why it would be unfair to just give free things to random girls who ask for them, as it deems it less valuable. I want my precious handmade things to go to the right homes.
You’ve also filmed DIY tutorials that are posted on your blog! Tell us about your motivations behind showing your followers how to make their own outfits and bags.
I have been formally trained in Fashion Theory at university, but I’ve been solely self taught when it comes to sewing and garment construction. I used to spend hours investigating— cutting up existing clothes, etc. I had never thought I’d have my own label so my DIY videos came before PHT. I thought it would be a fun new facet to my blog but then Dolls Kill approached me (they found me on Instagram) and wanted to stock a huge order of bags, so had to take the vid down. Also because some girls started to make the bags using my video and sell them before I did!
Something else you are passionate about is protecting the designs of self–reliant artists from being stolen, including your own. Have you ever run into trouble with copycats and is this a big concern for up-and–coming artists online?
It used to happen a lot! I’d be so heartbroken and super anxious seeing pictures on Instagram. Most people I approached about the issue were really apologetic and ended up taking things down. I would just get upset about how unfair it was that someone could take credit for your ideas. This industry is notorious for copycats—it can be completely money driven for some. Recently I dealt with a REALLY BIG online store that stocked a popular label which had my exact furry bag design. I contacted them and they weren’t very sympathetic so I had to post about it on my Instagram. I had so much support from my Instagram girls, and with their voices the store and label took me seriously and ended up making a positive change in the industry by taking it down. It doesn’t always work out this way though, especially if they are overseas and there are language barriers. Unfortunately patenting is not very effective globally, however I have the support within the amazing DIY community, and I’m sure any other up-and-comers will too.