This is a guest post by Tanya Zhang, a co-founder of Nimble Made. I chose to share this post because I love what Tanya and Wesley are building and am taking no reward for sharing this content. Enjoy!
My dad belted a sneering snicker as he showed his hand. Grumbles gathered from everyone else at the square table. Smoke and the smell of old Tsing Tao beer filled the room. Cue the sound of dense, plastic tiles hitting each other on the green felt table cover. Another round of mahjong begins.
Growing up, I spent all my summer vacations in China. Three whole months in a foreign country–yes, it was foreign even as a Chinese-American. My parents immigrated to the States with $50 in their pockets to give me and my sister a better life, free of the hardship they encountered living in Fujian, China. Because my dad’s business was in China, he spent most of his time there. I only got to see him during summer vacations and Christmas. I remember eagerly awaiting by the door for the car to roll up in the driveway and my father coming through the doors with 15 hours of plane on him. He was wearing the same dress shirt I last saw him in. “Dad, how about we go shopping?”
“American dress shirts don’t fit me.”
There we were, 2 hours later, having tried maybe 8 different clothing brands going from Macy’s to JCPenny’s only to find that he was right. American dress shirts didn’t fit him. They were huge, long at the shirt length, wide in the sleeve width. Where are the XXS sizes? Also, my dad’s not a “small man” by any means. At 5’7” and 140 pounds, he’s just a slimmer and leaner guy.
Mahjong is a fascinating game and not because of my childhood memories. There are two main strategies for mahjong: you can play to not lose, in which case you’d discard tiles cautiously to avoid giving away the winning tile to another player. Or you can play to win.
A few years into my corporate career I realized I was playing not to lose. Although I was successful in landing creative roles in an advertising agency, a financial tech startup and then in consulting, I realized I was ready to play to win. While I had learned a lot, I saw that if I stayed on the traditional path, my potential was capped within the age-old hierarchical systems of corporate bureaucracy, politics, and sameness.
I mention the word “sameness” because many of our institutions are set up for the average person. This was the case for my father trying to find a dress shirt and it was the case for me early in my career.
“But why dress shirts?”
The dress shirt industry uses averaging as a method to size clothes to target the mass market. This scale creates the average mold of “XS, S, M, L, XL” sizes that don’t actually fit anyone well. My co-founder and I decided to create a new size scale, N1 to N5, that had a unique trimmed down measurements for a more modern, slim fit. That means a trimmed shirt length, sleeve length, and back/shoulder measurements. As an Asian-American and female founder, I’m excited to change the dynamic clothing landscape to include men of all body types, starting with a slim fit that actually fits.
When Nimble Made launched in August 2018, my dad bought 3 of our actually slim dress shirts through our newly launched site. He tried them on and sent this to our family WeChat:
Q. Zhang, my father, sporting our pink shirt, The New Year
“Maybe I need M size.”
I couldn’t believe it. He went from drowning in an XS big retailer dress shirt to needing an M in one of my Nimble Made dress shirts. I laughed at the irony that I’d created dress shirts that were too-slim for him. His following message read, “Great design 👍”
Why dress shirts? Because it creates a solution for an immigrant parent who works abroad to provide for the family in his life and to ensure I have success in mine. Because it creates a modern fit for my Taiwanese-American partner (who’s also my co-founder–but more on that to come) who struggled to find a good-fitting dress shirt without needing to tailor or go the custom fit route. Because the market is saturated with women’s petite brands and petite clothing lines with barely a dent made for men’s clothing space. Because it creates a platform for open dialogue around diversity in fashion, inclusion in sizing, Asian masculinity and redefining success as Asian Americans.
As I said, there are many strategies to mahjong. When the going gets tough, many switch strategies to play not to lose. But when you’re just 1 tile away from winning, you have what’s called a Ready Hand. It takes changing up your strategy multiple times, assessing the players around you, and taking risks in a game to get to a Ready Hand. But when you’re there, the only difference is the one winning tile.
By leaving my corporate job and founding Nimble Made, I’m excited to be working on a brand that addresses a sizing problem in my Asian American community and am ready to play to win.
“No one is average. Not you. Not your kids. Not your employees. It’s a mathematical fact with enormous practical consequences. But while we know people learn and develop in distinctive ways, these unique patterns of behaviors are lost in our schools and businesses which have been designed around the mythical ‘average person.’ This average-size-fits-all model ignores our differences and fails at recognizing talent. It’s time to change it.”
-The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose