Meet the emerging brand blending East and West

Working in perfect harmony, get to know Tommy Zhong.

[S]ince being founded in 2015, Tommy Zhong – the duo made up of Tommy Zhong and Jenny Nelson – continues to gain well deserved momentum worldwide.

Armed with a blend of influences, from their opposing Eastern and Western heritages, the pair focus on tailoring for the “modern” woman. By using unique fabrics – proudly made in house – and opting for a hand finished approach, Tommy Zhong create timeless and versatile pieces, which have rightfully gained them recognition from the likes of Italian Vogue, who even personally invited them to Milan.

After the busiest season of their careers yet, taking them across the globe to hit stops like London and Shanghai, the couple discuss the birth and future of their bound-to-be renowned brand.

How did you begin designing as a duo, and what do you think each other brings to the partnership?

We met whilst we were interning at Yang Li as students, and stayed in touch during the rest of uni. We always asked for each other’s advice when it came to our work so it was a natural progression to begin to work together on a brand. Tommy leans towards textiles and visuals, whereas Jenny is more focused on silhouette and finishings. Also the cultural combination of Chinese/British viewpoint is one of the defining features of the brand.

How do you resolves design differences? And do you have similar tastes in fashion outside of your own brand?

We eventually come to a compromise! It doesn’t happen too much, but if we can’t agree we will put it on the board and think about it until the solution presents itself. Outside of the brand, Tommy likes more experimental tailoring where as Jenny is interested in more 90s Japanese brands.

What was the starting point for your SS17 collection?

The starting point was our collaboration with Tess (Williams) on the textiles. We nearly always develop the fabrics first before anything else. The work with Tess went on to influence some of the silhouettes and draping pieces within the collection, raw and overlapping edges and patchwork were developed as ongoing features. 

Do you feel like you have signatures within your work? If so, what are they? How would you describe the Tommy Zhong aesthetic?

We are currently building up our signature for our work. For examples, we are using a lot of weave fabrics on AW16 and SS17 collection. We always explore adding the new element and explore the new technique into the woven fabric and create a kind of new vision of ‘WEAVE’ on TOMMY ZHONG’s collection. We are creating a sensitive, confident, strong and modern’s female.

You also work at developing fabric in house, why did you want to start this? Do you feel it gives the brand an edge?

There is no such thing as a “new silhouette” any more, every shape and size has been done. But textiles can be used as a canvas to convey your message, and also there are so many new technologies coming out all the time so it’s a much more exciting avenue than just buying some fabric and cutting and sewing. We also noticed when we were developing our business at the beginning that there is a revival in craft and techniques, a definite move away from fast fashion and we wanted to be a part of this.

This season you collaborated with artist Tess Williams as you said earlier. Is art a big influence on you both and is there anyone else you’d like to collaborate with?

Art is definitely one of our biggest inspirations, especially painters. Texture is always a word that pops up when we are developing the collections, and how we can translate paint textures and strokes into fabrics and clothes is always interesting for us. Working with Tess was really special this season, and worked with us to create some unique limited edition show pieces as well as a digital jacquard weave.

You also launched footwear this season. Are you keen to launch further accessories in the coming seasons? Tell us how you see Tommy Zhong evolving?

Yes, we collaborated with Ellis White on the shoes. She has worked with other designers on footwear before. It was just our first time making shoes, and we just made one pair as a test really. This next season we are definitely planning on expanding the selection of footwear into a more different styles, we also want to push the design and see how far our factory can go! There is a lot of technical skills that need to go into accessory development so we want to watch and learn first before expanding into other areas.

What are the main challenges that you’ve faced as emerging designers?

There are some of the same common challenges everyone has such as finding the right factory to work with, and dealing with smaller quantities from fabric suppliers. It can be a bit expensive at the beginning, but we are learning to be patient and focus on keeping the quality of the product great. 

Do you think fashion is kind enough to itself, or are we likely to see changes in the system soon?

We do think people do need to slow a bit sometimes, we have seen young designers start to do pre-collections after only a couple of seasons for example and it just doesn’t leave enough time to do the main collection. So you end up with a lot of product that’s been watered down. There isn’t a climate to allow for building mega brands anymore, but there is a customer out there who wants something more special but that takes more time to make which is what we want to do.