Pamplemousse - Danica Zheng
Danica Zheng started her line, Pamplemousse in 2015 shortly after graduating from Parsons. Danica had several design internships at well-known houses, Narciso Rodriguez, Carolina Herrera, and also worked at Calvin Klein. This interview took place at Greecologies. Getting to the venue was quite hectic, and I was a extremely late because I got stuck on a subway for multiple hours. Thankfully, she was understanding and we pushed back our meeting time once I finally got cell service! Get the full scoop on Danica and Pamplemousse below:
- What did you learn during your internships vs. in school? An internship is less about independence, and more about guidance. You will be given a specific task, sketching, drawing, tech packs (technical illustrations of products, mostly used for production purposes), specs, matching fabrics, researching for trims, etc. You have slightly less creative freedom since it's at an earlier stage of your design learning process. It's a foundation, learning the different kinds of fabric, where to go to match the fabric, trim & fabric sourcing, technical drawing, and more. Calvin Klein was really hands on. I was draping, developing fabrics & designing, but under the head designer. They give you a specific task, and you come up with solutions to that task, so it's more of a problem solving process. School is about R&D. It's more creative in terms of the thought process.
- What does a week look like for you? It's always different. I make sure I get enough sleep. I reply to emails in the morning and fix any issues. It depends on which stage we are in with production: if it's the design stage, I'm sketching, if it's the production stage, I'm working with the factories. Closer to fashion week we are producing samples or pattern making. The design process is: sketching, pattern making, producing samples, and reaching out to buyers & PR. You need to leave time for last minute unanticipated things.
- How often do you travel, and what do you do while there? I travel once or twice a year. I always try to go to new places. I'm a huge foodie. I also travel for inspiration or research and travel to Paris for market week.
- Did you always dream of starting your own brand? I did not. I wasn't ready to start my own line right after graduation, and knew I wanted to get experience first. Working at Calvin Klein was my dream job. Even if I started somewhere else, I knew that is where I wanted to end up. It turned out to be my first job. I worked on the Collection team for a year. I learned so much there, but it was different than I imagined. It was an enriching experience, and after I realized if I'm spending so much energy and time, it has to be something that I really love and feel passionate about. I put together some pieces for myself, but not for the purpose of starting a line, which organically transitioned into founding my own line.
- How did you choose the name for Pamplemousse? It means grapefruit in French. I am a super spontaneous person. My husband is French, and we both love grapefruit. I love to sound of the word, it's a bubbly sound. It perfectly describes how I think of the brand: zesty, not too sweet, whimsical, feminine, pink, but tough. It's the perfect balance of what I was envisioning for the brand.
- What skills are necessary to start a company? What did you know before, and what did you have to learn? Dedication, responsibility and passion. You have to love what you're doing and you have to be responsible. There are times when you have doubts, but your dedication will help you pull through. In school, I learned the technical part of design, and it prepares you to work for a brand. A lot of business is involved in starting a company. At the beginning, I didn't know how to price my items from production to wholesale to retail. Where to go for production, how to price, where to source fabrics, all of this I learned after I started my line. It's a lot of reflection and learning along the way. One must look back on the prior season to analyze what did and didn't work, why and how to change for next season.
- Is it imperative that one attends school for design in order to start their own line? I think that it depends on the person. You need the technical skills in order to start the line unless you hire someone to design your line and you are managing the business side.
- How did you find factories and fabrics to work with? The first sample factory was someone I worked with during school. The others were from people in the industry who introduced me to factories. At the beginning, my fabrics were sourced from fabric fairs. Along the way, one gains more and more contacts. One way designers move forward is helping each other and collaborations.
- Do you use draping or do you sketch? I use both. I drape, then print on top of the sketch and drape again.
- What does designing a collection look like for you? It starts before the prior season ends, and you already have it in your head. It's a long to process to realize those ideas in your head. The next step is problem solving, how do I make it into a garment. What is the current market? It's a business and you need to sell the clothing. It has to be something that's relevant in order for people to want to invest in it.
- Tell me about a presentation. What all goes into preparing for this? This happens when I'm designing the collection. In my head, I have what kind of space and presentation I want. When I'm designing I have the mood for the collection and a general image of the girl. A couple months before the presentation, you look for the space that fits the mood.
- How do you choose the color palettes for each collection? It's like a mood, you just feel it. Like when you get a manicure, how do you pick your color?
- What was the process of designing your website? I used squarespace. I know the visual aesthetic I want and my husband does the technical execution.
- What does the future of Pamplemousse look like? I want to see more people wearing the brand, on the streets and when I'm traveling. I want to keep my current retailers and expand to boutiques, online retailers and department stores. Eventually it would be great to have our own retail store.
- Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion? I grew up in a very academic environment in Singapore. All of my friends are doctors, lawyers or architects. I was planning on being an architect myself. I even attended USC for architecture. When I was applying for college, my family wanted me to do architecture. However, I didn't reject the Parsons offer that I applied to. 3 days into the semester, I started calling Parsons asking to transfer. They said they would hold my offer for a semester, and I could make up that semester up over the summer.
- What advice would you give to someone interested in starting their own line? You need to find out what is different about you. Make sure you have a vision that stands out from other people, something that's personal and unique. You need lots of passion and dedication. Don't give up. Eventually, if you work very hard, everything will fall into place even if it may not seem like it at the time.
- How did you find the space for your studio? I live in a duplex, so I work on the second floor that's my studio. For market week I rent a showroom.
- Did you grow up in Singapore? Yes. I go back once or twice a year. I'm the only one here from my family.
- When did you come to the US? 6 years ago. I first came 8 years ago on a school trip. We spent the week going to museums and art galleries. I thought Times Square at night was out of this world and gave me such an adrenaline rush. The trip was when I decided I wanted to move to New York.
- Where does your inspiration come from? In the beginning, I used to study art history, but now, it's slowly becoming more personal from my childhood, things I read as a kid, my cultural background. It's more reflective now. In school, there was a Parsons aesthetic that you wanted to fit into. After graduation, my aesthetic changed and became more of who I really am. Before it was more avant-garde, and now it's more feminine.
- What words would you use to describe the clothing? Fresh, whimsical, fun, not overly sweet, but flirty. Taking things less seriously and have a bit more of a fun personality.
- Do you want to introduce other product categories to your brand? I adore shoes, and would love to do them, just not right now.
- Do people stop you on the street and ask what your wearing when you wear your pieces? Yes! I tell them to check out my Instagram.
- Has pricing gotten easier? Yes, I have learned what price the customer is willing to pay for something. I talk to my mom about pricing, and she provides a great outside perspective.
Links to some of my favorite products are below!