“I want to be their leader, not their boss.”
#MotherlyMakers features the entrepreneurial women remaking our world. We chatted with Khanh Nguyen, the Creative Director and Designer of the Nha Khanh label, about her incredible collection—sold at stores like Saks, Rent the Runway and Anthropologie—how she decided to go into the fashion industry despite uncertainty, and how her daughter inspires her at work.
Your designs are all over the world from Neiman Marcus to Kim Kardashian's closet to Vogue. We'd love to hear—how did you get started in the fashion industry?
I grew up in an artistic family as my father was an art teacher and my mother was a great dress designer.
I remember falling deeply in love with designing and making dresses for my dolls at the tender age of 5 while watching my mother designing and running her own bridal salon in Vietnam.
My family immigrated to the states in 1993 and it was my parents dream for me to become a doctor.
To appease my parents wishes I studied biology and got accepted into The University of Texas's School of Pharmacy.
Almost four years into my major I knew this wasn't for me and I made the gut decision to switch to become a Fashion Design major.
I won several awards and scholarships to help pay for my last year of college.
One of the prestigious scholarships I won was the Fashion Group International of Dallas for Top Achievement Award, which afforded me a life-changing experience to further my fashion study in Paris under the teaching of world leading experts from Chanel, Christian Dior, Ann Valerie Hash, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Elie Saab.
While I was in Paris the summer of 2008, my husband,then boyfriend decided to join me.
We visited several cities in Europe, then he surprised me with a engagement proposal in Venice, Italy.
Excited and already inspired by my experience in Europe, I couldn't wait to come back to start designing all my wedding attires.
Not only did I design my own wedding gown, I made all four dresses for myself, 5 bridesmaid dresses and 2 flowergirl dresses.
The last dress I wore at my wedding was a short ivory lace dress with adorable nude tulle petticoat really stole the show.
Every girl at my wedding fell in love with it.
A year later, I made the dress in a black version to attend an event.
People were stopping me left and right to ask about the dress.
I decided to name the dress, Milace (short for Mi(ni) Lace).
Special custom requests for the Milace dress started to roll in.
Then my husband and I decided that it was time to take the business to the next level.
Soon after, we met many of my staff, most who are still with us today.
What was it like when you first decided to start Nha Khanh?
“Uncertain, uplifted, inspired and going above" and beyond are some of the things and feelings I had to dealt with when started out.
Uncertain of what the future would hold, uplifted because I finally had the strength to follow my dreams, inspired by those I surrounded myself with, going above and beyond in everything I do and I still and continue to do that.
Was there a moment that you knew this was what you needed to do?
When I had a gut instinct and changed my major in school. I knew fashion design was something in me and I couldn't let that go to waste.
Can you give us a little glimpse into a day-in-the-life of a renowned designer, owner, and creative director, not to mention 3 yr old mama like yourself?
At 6: 30 am. . .
Wake up. Prepare breakfast for both my daughter and me.
My husband usually leaves for work before 7am, so he'd just grab something quick to munch on on his way out.
But I like to make sure my daughter is fed before I drop her off at school.
Then wake my daughter up.
Get her ready.
At 7:45 am. . .
I'd go get ready while my daughter is having her breakfast. After I'm done getting ready, I take my daughter to school on my way to the studio.
At 10:00 am. . .
every morning, I either have meetings with my staff as a team, individually or I have custom fittings with my clients.
At 1:00 pm. . .
I have lunch with my husband while discussing new plans and upcoming tasks (we work together).
After lunch, I check and answer emails.
I walk around the studio, checking up on everyone.
At this time, questions from my staff are being thrown at me.
If it's something urgent (which always seems to be the case) I'd deal with them right then and there.
At 3:00 pm. . .
troubleshooting and decision making. Finalizing patterns, sewing techniques, and design details.
At 5:00 pm. . .
While everyone is getting ready to go home, I usually stay back to finish as much work as I can until 6:30pm.
At 9:00 pm. . .
This is usually my daughter's bedtime.
I read to her and cuddle her to sleep.
After she falls asleep, I check and answer my emails again.
Do research on new projects.
Then fall asleep around 11pm to midnight.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
My mother always tells me, “ Your health is your wealth. Take care of yourself."
Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to that's helped to shape you as a woman and a mother?
Yes, my own mother.
Tell us about Nhavy. How has she changed your career?
My life took a sharp turn since the day I found out I was pregnant.
I've decided, my health, my marriage, and my pregnancy come above all else.
Everything else would fall into place as it should and it did.
I know when I'm healthy, my pregnancy would be easy.
When pregnancy is easy, my daughter would turn out to be healthy, which in turn would make my life easier to juggle between family and work life.
Luckily, my daughter was very healthy and was such a good girl when she was born.
She even slept through the night after 5 weeks.
I was able to breastfeed her for almost a year.
I made sure this was one of my priorities.
My husband was very hands-on with my daughter and that allowed me to get back to work early and smoothly.
Positive attitudes also really help me get through many tough times and attract many great things as well. I've never had the patience that I have now, children really teach you how to be patient and the way you look at life.
Polished with aromatic edge.
Being a mother and a successful entrepreneur is no easy feat, and you do it with such grace and style. We love that you bring your daughter to work with you, and create an environment that welcomes other mothers on your team to do the same. What are your secrets for integrating work and family?
Ever since my daughter was born, I was able to have her around at the studio until she turned 18-months.
She got to interact with everyone, familiar faces to strangers.
She grew to love my staff and loves being at the studio any chance she gets. I work in an opened-yet-intimate environment.
I love getting to know each and everyone on my team and having their kids in the office as well.
I want to take care of them like they've been taking care of my business and myself.
Most of my staff are woman with family and kids.
I can definitely relate to their roles as working mothers.
I want my staff to be happy when they come to work, so I often openly share my ups and downs with them as well as lending them an words of advice.
I want to be their leader, not their boss.
I don't mind getting down and dirty when crisis falls upon us.
I also try to keep an open-mind to let them explore their creativities and learn from them as we grow our company.
We love seeing Nhavy pop up in our Instagram feed—she is the most adorable, and best dressed, little girl! What are your tips for styling her and choosing her wardrobe?
On weekdays , I set aside two outfits I want her to wear to school each morning.
She only has 2 options. She can pick whichever outfit she wants.
On weekends, I let her choose whatever her heart desires.
This means she would pull everything and I mean everything that is pink to put on her body from head to toe.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you inspired and excited about life?
My husband, my daughter and my job.
We'd love to hear—what would you tell other mamas who want to turn their passions into their professions?
Do it wholeheartedly and have a clear plan.
What are your big dreams for Nha Khanh?
To continue to expand my business as a whole start a children's line.
What about for Nhavy?
I hope to raise her in a loving and creative environment, to fully use her God given talents, to know herself and follow her heart.
What do you hope she learns from your career?
Talents are nothing if you don't know how to use them right.
Have patience, a lot of patience.
Nothing good comes easily.
Stop and smell the roses.
Do not take shortcuts, you'll never know what you're missing out. Last but not least, take care of your staff, they are your business...without them, there is no business.
What does it mean to you to be “Motherly"?
Motherly is to be a woman with compassion and passion to take care of others, to nurture young minds while nurturing the inner child in you.