In the fall of 2011, Fashion student Zhao Wu and his partner Chenling Fan launched VOIDTHEBRAND in San Francisco. The collaborators’ biggest hope for their new fashion line was to create an “honest product,” so they looked to local factories and fabric mills and set about creating a limited-quantity collection based on qualified available resources.
Wu, who would go on to earn his BFA from the School of Fashion in 2013, and build an exciting fashion design portfolio from there, explains that the new enterprise was not without challenge. “We had to figure out how to reinvent ‘basic’ with distinctive designs and materials,”he says, “but at the same time keep the product affordable.”
By partnering with local manufacturers, Wu and Chenling were able to maintain a dynamic, distinctive collection while minimizing the costs for material sourcing and production—and supporting to local businesses. VOIDTHEBRAND garments pay homage to the materials from which they are made—attention is paid to the natural characteristics of the fabric, and creative construction techniques enable Wu and Chenling to display their creativity within the framework of “basic” without sacrificing wearability and comfort.
We sat down with Wu to talk about the brand, his time in the School of Fashion, and the school’s own retail outlet SHOP657 in San Francisco, one of the places where VOIDTHEBRAND wares can be found.
How did graduating from college change your daily life?
Zhao Wu: It wasn’t much different because I had started my label before I graduated from school. I felt I had more time, which of course comes with many more responsibilities.
How did you get your brand started?
I wasted a lot of time and money doing the wrong stuff before realizing what are the right things to do. It takes time, effort and most importantly, an opportunity to get a brand off the ground.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when launching?
Sourcing and manufacturing locally. We always wanted to bring the manufacturing to the U.S. After one year of sourcing, we brought it back to San Francisco.
When did you feel like you had made it? Have you felt that way yet?
No, I still feel that we are a startup. These days, one brand can easily be replaced by another. I always feel like we need to work harder to stay in business.
What’s next for you?
I wish to create another label focusing on technical fashion—clothing that can protect its wearer.
Your company’s products are sold at SHOP657, the School of Fashion’s new retail store. What are your thoughts on the store?
I love the concept! The opportunity that SHOP657 has given us to showcase our works is amazing, not to mention being in the company of other talented School of Fashion alumni.
In addition to SHOP657, where else are your products available for purchase?
We operate an online store that ships worldwide. We also work with many retailers in the U.S. and overseas.
Do you have a favorite memory or piece of advice from the Academy?
My favorite memory was working on the Christmas windows at 79 New Montgomery. I think it was 2009 or 2010, when Russell [Russell Clower, assistant online director for visual merchandising in the School of Fashion] came up with an idea of huge Christmas wreaths. I had lots of fun working on that project.