The words Yu Mei flash in gold foil on Lambton Quay. It’s simplistic, the name and the brand, “like a good pair of Docs, you know?” Jessie Wong of Yu Mei is busy, a design student turned Creative Director - and so much more. A young designer with more than a few tricks up her sleeve, we met for a coffee and a studio tour. Yu Mei loosely translates to “young and beautiful” and whilst Jessie insists, with a laugh, on the ‘loosely,’ the leather goods translate a definite kind of youthful beauty.
Now stocked in 14 stores with more on the horizon, Jessie started the label in her first year, studying a Bachelor of Fashion and Design in Dunedin. Yu Mei was always a dream for the young designer, realised earlier than she might have imagined.
Jessie learnt everything she knows from the leather man himself, Bill Drake. From there, we’ve seen three Yu Mei collections, each more minimalistic and clean as the last, an aesthetic that, in Jessie’s words “is in the brand’s DNA.” The Lambton studio, less minimalist and slightly more chaotic, was filled to the brim with New Zealand made leather, Jessie’s family, and her recently-hired right hand man, Adrian.
Handpicked from South Africa, Adrian has the hands of a surgeon and, surprisingly, the blue steel of a model. Jessie and Adrian have charged into the industry, guns blazing. Since her first collection five years ago, it’s been a hurricane of trips, collections, and wise collabs - stockists like Wellington’s own Good As Gold (this particular collaboration inspiring us to get a dog just to try out the designer collar).
The Yu Mei studio is quiet - in here, the fingers do the talking. It’s messy but dreamy, images of old shoots and mood boards paint the walls. Her focus and dedication keeps her bags practical, with clean lines and soft leather. Their success proves the fundamentals of organic growth - beautiful products and beautiful people.
What interested me the most was how concerned this young entrepreneur was to keep Yu Mei a socially conscious brand. Having followed her supply chain personally through China to ensure ethical manufacturing, Jessie insists that outsourcing is not always a bad thing – these places just have the resources and skills not available in New Zealand.
“The only constant in my life is morning coffee.”
Evidently, as the leather guru relays her week of non-stop intensity, this is exactly the way she likes it. Jessie is a 2am kind of woman, the kind to be always on the run. While it might mean early wake-ups and 10pm liaisons with suppliers, it translates to flawless leather goods. The Yu Mei logo glitters in gold around Wellington these days, and proud owners flaunt, in my opinion, the most desirable leather accessories to have graced these streets.