Originally published in 18XEEM, April 2008, Issue 04
Do your designs have any functions/unique aspects to it?
Hmong Reinvented is a fashion line that represents and bridges the gap between being Hmong and being American. In my designs I use Hmong embroidery with western silhouettes. I want to make wearing Hmong clothes fashionable. My motto is: Forget about the layers, the heavy money belts and bags. Keep it simple and chic.
How long does it take you to finish one piece?
Depending on how complicated the garment can get and how much time I have to work on it, it could take a few days up to a month.
Who would you want to wear this piece?
I think “tweens” to adults would really appreciate wearing my designs because of the stylish silhouettes, new interesting lines in design and the incorporation of traditional Hmong elements. I want to cater to the Hmong community, as well as branch out to the mainstream market.
How much does it cost?
Full outfits can range from $150 – $300 depending on design patterns and materials.
Where can we get it?
I am currently working on a website, but you can always look at my work on lylena.deviantart.com/. If you see anything you like, just leave me a note and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. I am always working on new designs and orders for other people. Please understand I make everything myself so it can take a month or more to get a garment to you.
“You know that time of the year when your mom pulls out the luggage of clothes she’s packed away for a year? You know what I’m talking about, the heavy luggage that you secretly hoped had miraculously disappeared in the closet or under the bed? Yes, it’s Hmong New Year and you feel obligated to wear the heavy, burdensome clothes again. We’ve all been there, it doesn’t matter if you’re Green, White, Striped, Black Hmong, etc. We all go through the same process –the hours of getting everyone dressed and the madness of the mess afterwards. Wouldn’t it just be easier if we could have something simple and fashionable? To answer that question, I created Hmong Reinvented… my fashion line of traditional Hmong costumes with a western touch. In keeping with tradition, I left as much of the original silhouette as I could, altering the neckline, the sleeves, the skirt and the layers as I went. In the end we have garments that are clearly Hmong, but very sexy and easy to wear. Not only have I updated traditional Hmong costumes, but I am also putting a little bit of Hmong into ready-to wear garments”.
What inspired you to get into fashion?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawing and dancing. I grew up drawing on my mom’s magazines. Going to traditional Hmong dance practice was mandatory since my mom was the dance teacher. Dance performances were the worst –I always threw up. I never figured out if I was nervous or my layers were smoldering me. In high school, I had enough with tradition and started a hip-hop dance group where I first combined my passion for drawing and dancing by designing our dance costumes. Then, going away for college was great! I got to discover myself and found a family away from home with the UC Davis Hmong Student Union, a Hmong club on campus. Being with them brought me closer to my roots. I went away for college to get into medical school, but came out with a BS in Costume and Textiles. I took up traditional Hmong dancing again and taught a few girls in the club. Most of us were away from home and couldn’t get traditional Hmong costumes, plus our parents weren’t too trusting of a group of teens with all those money bags. This was the first time I started to redesign Hmong costumes as well as try a hand at sewing. Once I started sewing my own designs, I couldn’t stop, I had found something I was incredibly passionate about –something I could see myself doing day in and day out and would never get tired of. I quickly got into the Design program at UC Davis and since then I have never turned back. My professors were wonderfully supportive. During my last two years in college, my designs were more theatrical and experimental. However, I didn’t really explore Hmong clothing again until a professor really encouraged me to do it for my senior project. I showcased four Hmong Reinvented garments that year for the Senior Fashion Show. It was incredible seeing my creations on the runway. Since then, I have continued to sew for family members and I’m slowly getting myself noticed in a few online communities. My largest commission so far has been for the “Nkauj Hmoob Yaj Yuam” dance group here in Sacramento, California.
What does it mean to be Hmong to you?
Being Hmong is being proud of your people, embracing your culture, speaking the language, learning the traditions and never forgetting who you are or trying to hide from it.
What are your goals/ aspirations?
My short-term goal is to have a booth at the Hmong New Year next year to test the waters and if all goes well, to open up a store of my own. I would love to be a high fashion designer and a common household name, but until then, I want to come out with something new and daring that hopefully the Hmong will appreciate and support.