Design student follows 'unusual path'

Updated: 2013-10-25 10:20

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily USA)

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Design student follows 'unusual path'

Designer Mengdi Wu presents the bags in her new Miss Locker Personal Case line. Provided to China Daily

Mengdi Wu's initial line of cartoon-faced tote bags have all sold out, her new line of makeup bags are available online for pre-order, and the Chinese designer hasn't even graduated from college yet.

"It is very rare that such a young student would already have a line in stores and try to balance school and business," Aneta Genova, assistant professor for Accessory Design in the School of Fashion at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, told China Daily.

"Making this makeup bag was harder than I expected," Wu, a senior at Parsons, said.

But her bags are meant to make life easier, for girls at least.

"I thought, from the experience of the everyday girl and also my own experience, that maybe makeup bags can be multi-use for both makeup and personal items, to make the everyday girl's life easier," Wu said, talking about the inspiration for her new design.

Wu's new Miss Locker Personal Case line will be available to ship on Nov 30. The bags come in small ($23), medium ($28) and large ($33), and are being sold online at

Each bag has its own bright graphic design that includes the iconic mengdi3wu brand cartoon face, but they all have the same general construct: a compartment on top for makeup and a second "secret" compartment on bottom to keep girls' personal hygiene items more private.

"To me, bags are like a girl's mini locker," said Wu, who grew up in Ningbo, Zhejiang province. "I included a mesh compartment in the makeup compartment so things don't fall out when you open it, and you can see everything, so you don't have to dig through everything."

The bags are entirely waterproof, with shiny PVC material on the outside and polka dot polyester lining on the inside — yellow for the makeup compartment, pink for the personal compartment.

"With makeup powder, cases tend to get dirty, so I wanted to make my bag waterproof so that it's easy to wipe down," Wu said. "I also designed the bottom to be black because we tend to put these sorts of bags on sinks or surfaces that may be wet, so it's much easier to clean this way."

It's been four years since Wu, then a freshman at Parsons, launched her personal lifestyle brand, mengdi3wu, with the release of a square white canvas bag with a button-eyed face screen-printed on it, known as the "Button Tote."

From there, Wu went on to design the "Tie Tote," "Tape Tote," "Jail Tote," "White Afro Tote," "Red Afro Tote" and "Thick Lip Tote" — all of which are now sold out and will never be reproduced.

"It's like a limited edition," Wu said with a laugh. "I want to get to the point where I can just do one collection, sell out, be done with it, and then move onto the next collection, instead of producing tremendous amounts of bags."

Wu said her father, who is a businessman in the children's wear industry, helped her with the production of her tote bag line, but then let her take the reins herself with Miss Locker.

"My dad was like,'If you want to open a company for yourself, you have to start from the beginning — production, design, everything,' " Wu said.

After narrowing down her manufacturer options from searches on the Chinese e-commerce website, and hundreds of emails to nail down her makeup bag designs, Wu said she finally has 1,000 of her Miss Locker cases being shipped from China, and another 1,400 on the way.

"It takes a very organized and driven person to be able to achieve her level of commitment," Genova said. "I would say that [Wu] spends most of her energy on dealing with issues most other students have not even encountered yet — that would be building relationships with factories and creating samples."

Wu has also arranged to meet with a Macy's group vice-president next month to discuss her next design, which is already in the sample making process, to potentially strike a deal to sell her forthcoming line.

"The inspiration for the next collection is about text messages," Wu said. "Since we're in a fast-forward society, and teens and tweens are relying on texting a lot, I want to make this new design fun and playful for them."

Wu said her goal is to promote happiness with her products, make them fun, and also to give back. She plans to donate 20 percent of her Miss Locker bag sales to charity, which she said will probably be one of the two organizations she has previously been involved with — the American Red Cross or Project Sunshine.

When she can catch a moment of Zen, Wu likes to go to the New York Public Library or the Greek sculpture atrium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to "calm down".

"The fashion design program at [Parsons] is rigorous and famously difficult and leaves very little free time for any other endeavors," Genova said. "Mengdi is a special student, who has an unusual path."

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