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Q&A: Julia Chew

Q&A: Julia Chew

Sparks Magazine: What led you to become a fashion designer?
Julia Chew: I’ve always enjoyed sewing. I’ve always made my own clothes. It’s always been something that’s been really fun for me to do. Eight years ago, I turned it from being just a hobby to making it a business.

Sparks: Where did you learn how to design your own clothes?
JC: Both of my grandmas sewed, so when I was a kid, they taught me how to sew. I used to sew clothes for myself, clothes for my dolls, that sort of thing. And then I really got into designing, sketching, drawing different designs, testing different fabrics. I started playing with them more in high school. Friends would ask me to make prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses, that sort of thing.

Sparks: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
JC: I do a lot of nature-inspired designs. A lot of my designs, you’ll see different inspirations from birds, butterflies, moths. I do a lot of different textures, so what I like to do is take a really elegant or basic silhouette, like a nice A-line gown or a mermaid gown, and then incorporate a different animal into it, whether it be butterfly fabric or bird wings or that sort of thing. It will be something that’s  outrageous or something that’s really big in a design, then kind of bring it back down to something that’s wearable.

Sparks: Which designers are your biggest influences?
JC: I don’t really follow that many big fashion designers, but I love, love, love costume design. I love watching movies like Tim Burton movies or different TV shows where they have historical fashion. I love fashion from the Victorian era, the Baroque era, that sort of thing. I get a lot of my silhouette inspiration from period fashion, so I really love seeing costumes on Broadway or on the runway, and sort of imagining what that would look like in more modern times.

Sparks: How has your heritage shaped your work and your career?
JC: I’m Chinese, so it’s always important for me to reflect that. I use a lot of Chinese models when I do my designs. I like to use some Chinese or Asian inspired hair and makeup. I made the dress I’m wearing today, which is a fairly modern take on a traditional Chinese dress. I love using the Mandarin colors. I love using colors like gold, red. Like really bold colors. Those stand out to me. I’ve always enjoyed putting a little bit of the elements of my ethnicity in my designs.

Sparks: How does the AKM fashion show differ from other fashion shows that you’ve been a part of?
JC: I first did this show a few years ago and I was super impressed. Everybody was super organized. Everybody was super welcoming. I really loved being in a fashion show that was supportive of my ethnicity, that was using Asian models, that love my design and my inspirations, because different shows I’ve done haven’t had an emphasis on culture, and what I really loved was that they brought culture and fashion together. Obviously, for Asian Kaleidoscope Month, they don’t just do fashion. They also have people from film, music, that sort of thing, and I really loved being part of a bigger picture.

Photo by Tho Tran.

Sparks: Why is fashion important to you?
JC: Fashion is important to me because what you wear is a representation of what’s on the inside, and I love to show people how I feel. It’s like an attitude. People can show their confidence. They can show their inner beauty through what they wear as well, and I really love to show women that they can be beautiful, they can be confident, they can be vibrant.

Sparks: Can you talk about the collection that you’re showcasing at the AKM fashion show tonight?
JC: So basically tonight is what I’m going to call “best of my designs.” I do a lot of different types of designs. I’ve done ready-to-wear for boutiques, I do red carpet couture, I do the very elegant feather dresses. In the past couple of years, I’ve also gotten into designing for bridal and wedding gowns. Tonight I’ll be sharing some ready-to-wear, some couture, and also some bridal, so a little bit of each and basically my favorite picks from each collection. Also, I’ll be unveiling a new design for my finale that no one’s ever seen before. I’m super excited about that.

Sparks: What advice do you have for young designers who want to enter the fashion industry?
JC: Work, work, work. When I wanted to get into fashion, I thought that it was going to be a lot of fun, and it is really fun. Every day, I wake up and it’s my dream job. At the same time, I pour 100% into everything. Some days, it’s really hard to not be discouraged, but it’s always really important to go back, write your goals, and see how far you’ve come. It’s always important to look to the future. It’s really exciting. I would love to see more Asian designers. I’d love to see more women go into owning businesses, going into fashion, so I think that’s really important. I guess my advice is to just never be discouraged and always dream big.

Sparks: Is there anything else that we haven’t touched upon that you want to talk about?
JC: I’m really excited to be here tonight. Again, three years ago, I had a great time at the fashion show. It was actually when the Reitz Union was under construction, so we were off-campus, so I’m really excited to come back here and see everybody setting up the ballroom. Everything’s really exciting. I’m super excited about the models and everything. I was just backstage and they were doing makeup and everything looked really good. 

Interview by Jenine Marquez. Photo by Tho Tran. Video by Jessica Lim Liwag.