After studying fashion at O’More, designer Van Hoang was inspired by the process of constructing her own garments and had gained an appreciation for knowing where her clothes came from, who produced them and how they were made. But she also found herself disillusioned with the fashion industry once she understood the immensity of waste created and the conditions that many garment workers are forced to work in. “It didn’t make me feel good to think that I could be unconsciously contributing to that unsustainable ecosystem,” she says. Her desire to change that led her to SCAD, where she studied sustainability through a holistic program that taught her specific skills and tools that could be applied to improve sustainability in any industry. “All these things challenged me to look deeper beneath the surface and not be content with the status quo. It has made me more thoughtful and intentional about what and how I choose to create.” Once she had completed her master’s at SCAD, Van returned to Nashville to focus on her work, incorporating that focus on sustainability through researching truly sustainable fabrics such as cupro and Tencel, making items to order to reduce waste and using 100 percent recycled shipping materials.
On April 6, Van will be honored during Nashville Fashion Week with the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund, which she plans to use to attend the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May. The conference will focus on sustainability, giving Van the chance to grow her passion in a tangible way.
Name: Van Thanh Thi Hoang
Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee
Years in Nashville: 10 of the last 12
Zip code: 37210
Age you learned to sew: 7 or 8
What’s the best part of being a designer in Nashville? The best part is being a part of such a supportive and engaging creative community. Everyone is willing to help in some way, which is incredible.
What’s the most challenging? That we don’t currently have the resources or infrastructure that bigger cities like New York or Los Angeles have. And we don’t have the manufacturing or textile production here, so it can be hard to source materials and labor.
What do you strive for when you’re designing a piece or collection? I really want to create things that will last the test of time, things that are relevant to today but not trend-driven. And I want to design things that people can move in and that are functional in daily life. For example, I have pockets in everything. Who doesn’t love pockets in dresses? But I also want it to have a dash of whimsy and something that makes it a little bit different.
If there were one thing you could tell everyone about fashion, what would it be? That it’s so much more than just an item of clothing. It’s a bearer of stories with incredible transformative powers.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to women about fashion, what would it be? There is no such thing as one size fits all, so wear what makes you feel good and fits your body type, not what the trends say you should be wearing. And a good tailor can do wonders!
Who taught you to sew? Kevin Crouch my construction instructor from O’More. I had never used a sewing machine before college! I had learned some basic hand stitches from my mom because we couldn’t afford a sewing machine when I was growing up.
How old were you when you designed your first piece? I think I was 8 when I designed my first piece for my doll Ariel from The Little Mermaid. It was a sparkly silver gown that she could wear when her fins were taken off because I wanted her to feel glamorous. In reality, it was just fabric wrapped around her with a seam down the back.
Where did your design inspiration come from? Cinderella — I was so mesmerized when her rags turned into a beautiful ball gown.
When did you know you wanted to be a fashion designer? It wasn’t until high school when I realized it could be a real career that I looked into it. I had always been interested in art and design, but when I learned that fashion could be a job, I was hooked.
What are your future hopes for your business? As my business grows, I hope to employ immigrants and refugees who are seeking gainful employment. It’s something I care deeply about as I come from an immigrant family, and so many people helped us when we arrived. It would be my way of paying it forward.
How are you seeking to counter fast-fashion with your collection? As everything is made to order, turnaround time for something to be made and shipped is anywhere from two to four weeks. I believe this makes the customer more intentional and thoughtful about their purchase. It’s also about bringing the consumer into the process so they know how it was made, who made it and with what materials. I want to enable people to reconnect with their clothing and not think of it as a disposable commodity. Eventually, I would also like to create a take-back system where people can return their unwanted clothing. I would recycle/upcycle the items to divert it from going into a landfill. This would be the first step in creating a circular system where waste becomes material for new products and processes.
What was your biggest fashion faux pas? In high school, we had to wear uniforms, and my pants got hemmed too high, so it looked like I was wearing flood pants. I only wore them when everything else was dirty. But, of course, now cropped pants are cool!
Where do you find inspiration now? From conversations with fellow creatives, the Frist, hiking at Percy Warner Park or walking at Radnor Lake
Who's your favorite person you've designed a piece for? My mom
If you could dress anyone, who would it be? Kacey Musgraves, Michelle Obama or Cate Blanchett
Who are your favorite designers? Alabama Chanin, Valentino, Stella McCartney, Dries Van Noten
If you could have a dinner with any three people, who would you invite? Dolly Parton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jonathan Van Ness
Where’s your favorite spot to grab a cocktail? Patterson House, Barcelona Wine Bar or Flamingo. Holland House used to have my favorite cocktail called the Backburner — but sadly, RIP.
If you could raid someone’s closet, who would it be? The Olsen twins
What do you hope never changes about Nashville? The small-town feel and close-knit communities