No Fast Fashion and Fast Food: A Story of 3.1 Phillip Lim’s CEO’s Rise to Success

I had the wonderful opportunity to see the CEO of 3.1 Phillip Lim, Wen Zhou, speak. When I read her bio about how she was an immigrant from China who had built herself from the ground up – I could understand her story was one of a strong women who had defied the odds. I didn’t realize though how charming and inspiring she was going to be. She uses her humor and light heartedness to get her through the hard times.  My grandfather is an immigrant from China, so I could already relate to her story.

Hearing stories of other success, helps us to realize there is no straight line or path to follow. You must build a clearing where there is no path if you want to accomplish something truly unique. Something that has never been done before.

I got to soho house early for her talk, and sat in the front of course. She came in with a lovely red blouse of 3.1 Phillips Lim’s own design of course, and boyfriend style jeans with zippers on the sides. She wore a white jacket over her shoulders as well.

Early life

Wen Zhou then spoke of her life and how she got to where she was today, while also discussing her opinions of the current fashion marketplace. Wen grew up in a small village in China. Food like eggs were an extravagance not available in her village. It was something that was had on ones birthday as they were a rarity. When her parents wanted to move to the US for a better life, they were able to convince her when they told her she would be able to have eggs everyday for breakfast. An idea she couldn’t imagine.

Moving to the US

Her family then moved the US. Wen talks about how she worked in the factories sewing in her early teens. She then moved on to work at McDonalds. She was such an efficient mathematician at the register that she was able to speed through customers at such a pace that increased their sales tremendously. Due to this skill, she was  promoted to assistant manager and then manager quickly. She then wound up hiring all of her Chinese friends from the sewing factories that she knew were good at math. She put the quick people in the front to man the registers and the slower people in the back to man other things like cleaning up. Their McDonalds then became the most profitable in NYC. This just shows her ingenuity from a young age. She then went into working at a private company selling materials to fashion brands. She again became the best, had the most sales, but then when a male new hire came into the company- she realized she was being paid half of what he was making. When she asked the mangers, they said it was because “he had a family to support.” Wen, decided to leave and start her own business due to the connections she had made, and the fashion brands who trusted her exclusively. She was able to leave and start her own company with the support of her customers because of the trust they had in her.

"Never work with people who are assholes" 

Wen’s advice is to never work with people who are assholes. She said the most important thing is to create good relationships. She then went on to meet Phillip Lim, they wound up partnering together and the rest is history. When trying to name the brand, they started throwing around different ideas. They were both 31 at the time, but they decided to add a dot in the middle due to the internet boom at the time. There was the creation of 3.1 Phillip Lim.

"Their motto is 'no fast fashion and no fast food' in order to create a more sustainable world."

3.1 Phillip Lim was built off of the idea of craftsmanship fashion that was affordable. Their moto is “no fast fashion and no fast food” in order to create a more sustainable world. Phillip and Wen have also gone back to their roots in China to create jobs in nice factories that pay well. They have supported a whole village by opening a factory. The people in this town put love and care into the clothes. They take pride in their work because Wen and team take care of them. Wen and Phillip go back to China to visit the factory often. They do this to help the economy of China, and gives them joy to give back to where they have come from.

“Think of your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder, because otherwise you’ll always be starting at someone’s ass.”

Wen had great advice for daily life as well. She said her family has eliminated talk of first world problems. For example, they don’t spend time complaining to each other about how their uber was late that day or they had to wait in line at the grocery store. Life is too short to focus on these small inconveniences. People always ask her how she makes time for family, career (being CEO) and life in general. She said you can fit it all in. Don’t try to be perfect or a helicopter parent. Also, to take 15 mins a day to your self. She will lay down in a quite space for 15 minutes of peace to rejuvenate each day. Her final piece of advice was how we should think of our career as a jungle gym, not a ladder, because otherwise you’ll always be staring at someones ass. 

That quote shows her sense of humor and joyous attitude she takes in her everyday life. You can tell she doesn’t take life or herself too seriously, which seems to be the secret.

We were able to attend a trunk show afterwards where I was able to pick up some great pieces. 3.1 Phillip Lim has become a new favorite brand of mine. The heart and intent of their company is very pure. They are looking to make better fashion, bring back craftsmanship, and add unique details to the everyday essentials. They believe great fashion should still be affordable and they are proving it through their brand.