Seasonal Vest A Hotcake

Seasonal Vest A Hotcake

Dandelion Vest by Miss MaiMai Image Credit: Instagram

It’s bitter sweet that, at time of writing, the limited edition Dandelion Vest in Chalk - debut garment of slow fashion label Miss MaiMai, is, sorry folks, SOLD OUT!

But let’s not be too dramatic, you can still pre-order in Chalk and there are a few left in the Sand colourway. It’s a strong indication that there is appetite for cute handmade knits, and a taste of lovely things to come from Vietnamese-born Sydney-sider and all-round creative talent, JayJay Nguyen. We caught up with her to hear more about the inspiration behind the label.

1.Exciting times - breathing life into Miss MaiMai - tell us a little about this slow fashion label you're launching.

Miss MaiMai was actually conceived nearly eight years ago. I always had a desire to do something creative. Miss MaiMai came about when I met a friend in Bali. My friend is Vietnamese American and I’m Vietnamese Australian. We had a lot in common in that we both left Vietnam at a very young age as refugees of the Vietnam War. I guess we saw ourselves as “the lucky women” and “the blessed ones”. We got to have a new life in a new country with so many opportunities available to us.

My husband donates a lot to charity and I wanted to do something to help the Vietnamese women that weren’t as lucky as me. I was looking for ways to help women in third world countries to earn a decent wage and help to empower them some way or another. MaiMai means tomorrow in Vietnamese. It’s about looking forward to a better future. I thought we could start a fashion line that could highlight the talent, craftsmanship and skills of women in disadvantaged villages. I wanted to celebrate the tradition of how a lot of beautiful things are handmade. We bought the Miss MaiMai domain name and took a recce trip to Vietnam but sadly the project never gained much traction and so Miss MaiMai was put on the back burner. I’m now ready to bring it to life, in a somewhat different form.

Miss MaiMai

“MaiMai means tomorrow in Vietnamese. It’s about looking forward to a better future.”
JayJay Nguyen

Wool and the Gang

Images: Instagram

2. And your journey to this point - your love affair with wool started when you were just four years old?

Yes, my love affair with wool started when I was only 4 years old and I fell in love with knitting at the same time…so it’s only natural that wool is the beginning of Miss MaiMai’s journey. My “day job” can be quite stressful and so I find knitting to be very meditative and therapeutic. It helps me to de-stress and slow down. I love knitting for people I love as it’s a slow process and you get to put a lot of love into the process.

During the Covid-19 lockdown all our hectic overseas travels were halted so I got to knit more and more for friends and family. Miss MaiMai was revived when my gorgeous friend, Kerrie, from Arkke The Shop in Bowral suggested I knit some to put in her shop. A few days later I unexpectedly found a stunning vintage mannequin for sale. I went to pick it up and found myself inside a beautiful store that values and promotes ethical, sustainable, holistic Fair Trade fashion. Encouragements from friends and family and another offer from another a gorgeous friend, Caro - with a fabulous store in Melbourne, to carry my hand knitted jumpers gave me the courage to move ahead with Miss MaiMai.

I’m also very lucky to have beautiful, talented local artisan friends that I was able to collaborate with..... Suddenly, Miss MaiMai was awakened and reborn. What was only a crazy dream is now slowly becoming a reality. Because of Covid and international travel restrictions, we are just starting in Australia for now but our plan is to offer work and decent wages to disadvantaged women in third world countries. I will also look into donating some of the profits to environmental causes. Keeping our ocean clean is a big passion of mine.

Mai Mai Dandelion vest

Image: Instagram

3. The Dandelion vest is a runaway success! What will the next few items in your range be?

Haha ha ha…. I probably wouldn’t call it a runway success. I wish!! I just have a lot of wonderful friends and lots of love and support out there. Everything in the Miss MaiMai range will be in small quantities and a limited edition. Each garment is numbered and signed by the maker/artist. We are starting with knits because it is closest to my heart, but as the season changes we will look to making unique silk garments with vintage hand embroidery.

4. Why is slow fashion important?

I became an advocate of slow fashion as a result of us moving to Hong Kong 18 years ago. Hong Kong is the shopping mecca of the world. It wasn’t difficult to become a shopaholic and I became one overnight. The problem was that our apartment in Hong Kong was a size of a shoebox, so every time I bought something new I had to throw something out to make room. Clothes, shoes, handbags were on a revolving door in and out of my apartment. Like most addicts, I finally hit rock bottom when I got stressed and burnt out. Luckily we left Hong Kong and all the shopping temptations behind when I was offered a promotion and we moved countries. I woke up one day and realised what a hedonistic world I was living in and all the wastage.

We eventually moved to Bali where I was able to slow down and adapt to island life. My adoption of slow fashion didn’t happen overnight but I can now vouch for myself as an advocate and devotee of the movement. I still have and wear dresses that I bought over 10 years ago. I only buy what I really really love now and I don’t follow fashion. I now opt for quality over quantity. I only buy beautiful well made clothes that I know will not fall apart or go out of fashion after one season. Yes, they are usually more expensive to buy initially compared to the cheap junky fashion available everywhere, but over time they become even more beautiful and so they are actually much better value.

5. Other handmakers that you're admiring and following right now?

I’m a sucker for handmade ceramics right now so I love @marleyandlockyer and @claybeehive. For fashion I love all the Japanese handmade. The Japanese are the best when it comes to attention to detail. A brand that I’m obsessing over right now is @hallelujah_life_style.

Thanks so much Jay Jay!

For more of her story, and to meet her inspirational co-worker, read on here. To be the first to know about upcoming Miss MaiMai garments, follow Jay Jay on Instagram here.

Back to blog