Moyang is the Founder of MOYA London, a luxury handbag brand that was born out of her love for sustainability and craftsmanship. Having navigated through fashion e-commerce for the last 10 years, she chose to start a brand with a mission for unparalleled designs to sustainable fashion, choosing knitted designs as the niche. Alt spoke to Moyang about her journey, inspirations, vision for the fashion industry and representation.
Alt : What made you decide to become a fashion designer, why bags ?
Moyang : I have always loved fashion since a young age. My father is a film director and I had definitely inherited his passion for visual arts and storytelling. However, art or fashion in the 80s-90s China was hard business and growing up with that mindset had made me decide to keep fashion as a hobby. After university I became a psychologist, and later worked in the fashion e-commerce space across marketing, social media and consumer research. My passion for fashion grew stronger and along with business knowledge for the industry. Back in 2020 when I was still working at Net-a-porter, I saw that the platform had nearly 12% garments made sustainable, but only 3% for handbags. That’s when it clicked. I love handbags and I think they are the easiest way to elevate any outfit. Having a perfectly made bag that is good for both me and the earth became a thought that was too amazing to pass. And there went my journey with MOYA London!
Alt : What inspires your designs?
Moyang : I follow my intuitions when it comes to design. Anything can be inspiring, from movies and literature to interiors and music, as long as they help me express the feelings. My first collection was much inspired by fibre arts and explored an unusual combo of yarn and padded leather. While working on this collection, I realized that my brand attracted many Black and Asian women (accounting for over 70% of my first customers!). Through that I got to meet so many of them who not only shared the sustainability values but also showed incredible strengths to make a difference. It was their beauty, strength and courage that then inspired my second collection – some even said that my second collection resembles an afro!
Alt : How Important is representation to you ? Specifically in regards to the fashion industry ?
Moyang : Extremely. The modern lifestyle means that we live in a very visual world. From the internet to media, what we see makes a significant influence on our perception without us realising. One day my then 5-year-old daughter told me that she wanted to be a nurse, not a doctor, because being doctors were for men. I told her that was not true. But the next day she pointed out a poster in the tube featuring 3 doctor figures, and said, “Look mummy, doctors are all men!”. Fashion suffers even more from this problem. I still remember that in 2015 Jordan Dunn became the first Black cover model for UK Vogue in 12 years. I was working on my first business, a social app for fashion fanatics, when I saw the news. I was shocked and saddened on many levels. Because I, with my “teenage”-looking Asian figure, had also been told repeatedly that I didn’t look the part when fundraising for my business. But on the other hand, our visual world is also an opportunity to make things right. We are already seeing better representations across the industry in the past few years, from minority ethnicity to plus-size figures. At MOYA London, we are also acknowledging this by using a wide range of representations as well as referencing culture points in our designs.
Alt : What further changes would you like to see in the fashion industry?
Moyang : In the spirit of a fairer representation, I also hope to see more high-end, well crafted fashion items made in China. Growing up in China, I know how much history and heritage there is. Being one of the oldest cultures in the world, there are so many beautiful, ancient craft techniques that were passed down by generations. None of this was recognised in worldwide fashion, and instead “Made In China” carries so many negative sentiments. I want to bring some of the amazing Chinese techniques to MOYA London, but we are still just a small brand today. I hope that more western brands can also appreciate China for more than its cheap labor, and start bringing its rich culture to their audience.
Alt : Could you take us back to what you studied and what progressed into becoming a professional designer?
It took me a long time to become a designer. I studied psychology in uni and then became a psychologist in my first job. Very soon I realised that I would prefer more creativity in my work. However, due to my Visa status back then, I did not have the opportunity to change jobs. A few years later I received permanent residency in the UK, and on the same day, I quit the job. I did love psychology as a subject, but I preferred to use my knowledge to build products for consumers. With this, I started my first business, a social app that inspired everyone to become a fashion editor, and eventually sold it to an international fashion magazine. I learnt so much about being an entrepreneur through this experience, and it made me realize how much I wanted to work in fashion.
In the next few years I worked with various fashion e-commerce businesses, from big brands such as Net-a-porter to small independent designers. I stayed on the business side of things and worked across a wide range of areas such as marketing and social media. The dream of designing fashion that expresses my own views became stronger. When I stumbled across the data about sustainable handbags in demand, I knew it was my opportunity.Throughout the first half of 2021, I was on maternity leave with my son. I used the time to learn design because I needed to convince myself that I had the talent. In those months I immersed myself in creativity, self-taught leather crafting and crochet from Youtube! My son was just a few months old and sometimes I had to breastfeed with one hand, and draw patterns with the other. But I absolutely loved it. I posted all my work on Instagram, and shared stories about my journey. Soon it built some traction and I even received a few purchase requests. One day I met with an accessories buyer from Harrods through a friend, who gave me a lot of praise with my vision and designs. That conversation gave me so much confidence and MOYA London formed soon after it.One year into the launch of MOYA London, in March 2023 I won the DESIGN-A-BAG award hosted by APLF, one of the rare awards made for handbags specifically. Beating 600+ International designers to win was another confidence boost. I’m now more determined than ever to explore the design path, and I have MOYA London to show it to the world.
Alt : Who are your customers?
Moyang : My customers are fashion-forward, confident and independent women. Many of them work in fashion or media, so they are very aware of what’s on the market and how to style themselves. Last year, one of my customers bought a large Keira tote for her seaside honeymoon. And she loved it because it had a glamorous look but at the same time felt very humble and grounded. I think this is a perfect summary for many of my customers. They are not people who were born into wealth. Many of them came from a middle class family from another country. But they worked hard and achieved a lot to get to where they are today. So even though they love fashion and love dressing up, there’s always a sense of grounding and roots in their outfit. And MOYA London is the perfect match.
Alt : How has the market changed since COVID for you?
Moyang : This is a great question. COVID had a hit on everybody’s life. On a grand level, the world started to loosen appearances and turned attention more internally since COVID. Workplaces relaxed office hours. Employees dressed less formally than before. And everybody began to look after themselves more spiritually, resulting in a rise of yoga and meditation practices. It definitely had an impact on my designs too. When I first started learning bag-making, I straightaway went for leather styles. But for some reason they just didn’t feel right. Sustainability was one of the problems, after I learned that most leathers were tanned with harmful chemicals. Design wise, they also felt a little too “stuck-up” to me. Until I stumbled on a video for crochet, which reminded me of clothes that my mum made for me when I was a little girl. The sense of origin hit home. After experiments with different materials and techniques, the first prototype of Keira tote was born. I loved it right away because it has the perfect balance of glam and craft. Without COVID, I don’t think I, or my customers, would be able to appreciate traditional craft in this way. Also because MOYA London was born during COVID, we are among the first brands that are looking for a new interpretation of traditional techniques and using it to elevate a contemporary lifestyle.
Alt : Where do you see your business in 5 years time ?
Moyang : We have so many exciting things planned for MOYA London, from brand collaborations to retail innovation. But at the same time I also acknowledge that MOYA London is still a micro business, and I prefer a steady, calculated growth over risky acceleration. With this in mind, I hope that in 5 years time, we will be known as the brand that modernizes traditional crafts (or simply as the coolest crochet brand!), with a few star products having made their debut in fashion. I also see us having been stocked at well known, international retailers with a solid, sustainable supply chain behind us.
Alt : What advice would you give to anyone starting a fashion business ?
Moyang : Launch your brand before the products, and test the market. I have been a consultant for fashion startups on the side of my businesses. Many of my clients thought that they had to create the perfect product or get the stock first before launching their brand. But there’s a better way. Different from other industries, fashion is deeply connected with our identity, values and attitudes. As fashion founders, we offer a unique view of the self and world, and the garments or accessories are only a little token of that view. Successful fashion startups know how to validate this “view” first. This can be done by posting stories on social media, creating conversations around a topic or mood board, talking directly to potential customers about it. The ways are unlimited. By doing this, you launched the brand without products and are able to test the market. If your view has a grip, you would see people lining up for you to launch your fashion line. And this is the ideal time to create products.If anyone wants to chat more on this, I’d be happy to help. You can email me via email@example.com
Alt : Where do you call home ?
Moyang : Deep question! I think home is where my family is. I was born and bred in Beijing. Then I came to the UK alone at 17 years old to pursue university and stayed in London ever since. My husband is also Chinese and both of us have now lived in the UK longer than in China. We definitely feel half and half culture-wise. For example, when I need to sell myself or my business, I still prefer to talk in a balanced way and speak about my learnings and mistakes just as much as my achievements. This is very Chinese of me. But when it comes to raising children, my views are quite “westernised” as my parents say. But I like this unique in-between-culture side of me. It made me who I am and MOYA London in many ways a result of culture mix too. I don’t identify as fully Chinese nor fully British. But thankfully I have a husband and two children on the same wavelength. So to me, I feel home wherever they are, no matter where we live.
Alt : If you were stuck in a deserted island and you could bring 3 items along , what would they be ( around design and innovation) ? And why ?
Moyang : A crochet needle, scissors and coffee! A big part of my design innovation process for MOYA London was to explore unusual materials to crochet/weave. I crocheted metal chains, loose wool fibres, my own hair and noodles before! I’m sure I’d found new and interesting things to crochet on this deserted island! Scissors are there to help me cut things into shape. And coffee…well that’s the origin of my creativity!
For more information on MOYA London and to check out their products, visit http://www.moyalondon.com/