PAKWAI: Overcoming Domestic Abuse, Being an Asian Designer, and Creating Sustainable Fashion

I love sharing up and coming fashion designers. There is so much innovation out there especially in the sustainability space. Perry Ma shares her story of how she became a designer and goes deep into her own personal story of domestic abuse. Thank you Perry for sharing your story with us. Your designs are simply beautiful and I knew I had to share your story after seeing them. Perry’s designs will give hope to survivors that they are more than what others try to say about them. She discusses overcoming domestic abuse, being an Asian designer, and creating sustainable fashion.

Why did you decide to get into fashion?

I remember the time when I was younger my mom would tell me to write in a diary about my day or how I was feeling, looking back at it, I think it was just an excuse to practice my writing, but if you were to look at my diary it would be full of random drawings of characters wearing different outfits telling a story (almost like a comic book) the colours used would change according to the mood I was in. My diary became my means to express myself through art and design. Over time, it became clear to me that fashion was my passion and beyond simply the colours, designs and clothes, it was a fantastic way to develop themes that would resonate with my audience. Themes that mattered to me deeply.  


How did you start your brand?

As an Asian female, it is already hard enough to voice your opinion, let alone talk about something that is affecting you personally, without being perceived as being dramatic, too emotional or fake. I had lost control over what I wanted for myself for a long time. Using the various women movements that happened in the US over the past year or so, gave me the courage to finally let go of my fears and to some extent break with family tradition and pursue my dreams, which started at LA Fashion Week. LA Fashion Week was my first show, 3 months removed from university graduation and I wanted my show to be more than just about clothes – it needed to have a theme and message. Building on the story line of my collection, I had all my models hold offerings that they would put down on a little shrine at the end of the runway, as a sign of letting go of the negativity from my past and moving on to a brighter future. That’s how it all started.


What would you say is the identity of your brand?

The brand is very much like a journal that tells stories of what is meaningful and important to me, as a woman a lot of the times you feel trapped and unable to talk about the world as you see it and your emotions. I want to create something that people can relate to, raw and honest.


What inspired your latest collection?

My latest collection was inspired by my history of domestic abuse. Growing up not being able to tell anyone about what happened, was very difficult especially hearing comments of me ‘exaggerating’ or ‘making a scene for nothing’ when I finally brought up the courage to speak out. As a teenager at the time, I felt very confused and lost for a very long time, not knowing who to trust or who I could rely on. So, with this collection, I wanted to raise awareness to domestic violence to represent all the other survivors out there, letting them know they are not alone and even if some days seem to take longer, as long as they keep fighting, they would be able to overcome anything. It was also a way for me to let go of the past and start looking forward. 


What is different about your designs? And who is your target market?

With my designs in this collection, each outfit is unique and tells the story of becoming a survivor. Fashion has always been a way of expression for me and I wanted my garments to tell a story. The pieces are quite versatile and can easily be introduced into anyone’s wardrobe, whether you are a young fashionista looking for a statement piece or a more mature professional that is looking for unique and high equality garments.


How do you feel about sustainability?

The fashion industry is experiencing rapid and constant growth, there is a huge amount of waste. As I design my collections, I am always thinking about ways to reduce waste and recycle existing materials, while keeping the designing process interesting and unique. Sustainability is always at the forefront of my designs and material selection. My collections have included a men’s sportswear collection that uses fabrics sourced from broken umbrellas to the current one where I recycle used duvets and end of the line fabrics. Wanting to be sustainable is at the core of all I do and it challenges me to create something unique from unusual things we use on a daily basis.

Also, all my pieces are created in-house, allowing me to have full control over the design and production, making sure all aspects of the work is done to its full potential. I value taking time during the process of designing and production rather than rushing to create collections to fit the fashion seasons. 


What is your own personal style? 

I think it’s very hard to pick one specific style, as fashion is ever-changing my personal style also evolves with it. I’m always experimenting with new trends and fabrics; as it helps me stay creative.


What is your goal for the future?

Running my own fashion brand has always been a huge dream of mine! Expanding, empowering others to speak up and ultimately see my designs being worn and enjoyed by people, would be amazing! The beauty in this is, not knowing what comes around the corner, hopefully through this journey I’ll be able to meet lots of other creators and collaborate on something meaningful.

Where does the name for your brand, PAKWAI, come from?

With the name of the brand, PAKWAI is my first chinese name, I’ve always felt a disconnection with it, as everyone calls me by my English name, I thought it would be perfect as it goes along with the theme of not agreeing on something but excepting that it happened and is a part of me.