Adrian Williams in our Wellington Studio, New Zealand.
Adrian Williams is Yu Mei’s Head of Production and Design, working with Jessie to ensure our products are as functional as they are beautiful. As the first official Yu Mei employee back in 2016, he’s been a crucial member of the family since day dot, and you can always rely on him to light up your day with his infectious laugh and sassy one-liners.
I've always had an interest in fashion, probably because I grew up seeing my Mum at the sewing machine. That always intrigued me, so I started hand sewing when I was a kid. I loved that you could make something out of nothing. We didn’t have many toys growing up, so I used to make my own. They had these upholstery bodies and faces made from knots, and their hair was unraveled wool. Later, I started sewing properly in high school on industrial machines. When it came time to go to University, I turned up to the office with all these sketches on that blue-lined paper and was like, ‘I want to study fashion.’ One lecturer remembered me from a school visit they’d done a few years ago, and said I could come along and sit in on the classes. But I wasn’t officially enrolled, and I didn’t have a student card to get into buildings, so friends would smuggle me in. I ended up getting kicked out three months later, when the university found out. But after that I got a scholarship to study for three years.
When I started working, I knew I didn't want to be in corporate fashion. It’s not as much of a thing in New Zealand, but in South Africa there's a lot of those big corporate fashion companies, more fast fashion stuff. It’s an easy job to get, and you get paid a lot, but I wanted to really grow my skills. So I got a job as a pattern maker for a bridal designer—one of the big dogs in South Africa—and I worked for him for four years, which was amazing. It was similar to how you think of the fashion houses in Paris where there’s a real focus on design, a tight knit team, and all the knowledge stays in-house. So that's how I learnt a lot of my skills initially.
I came to New Zealand in 2015 to visit family, and ended up living in Dunedin. I decided to see what the New Zealand fashion industry was like, and my cousin’s partner’s sister said, ‘Oh, this girl is looking for someone to help make dust bags.’ That’s how I met Jessie. I just rocked up to her studio one day and we got chatting, then she basically offered me the job the next day.
Six years later, I’m Head of Design and Production. I work with Jessie to come up with designs, and then figure out how to make them functional. We normally come from a point of thinking about the customer and the person the bag is based on—for example, thecame about when Sonja came to us with a bag she loved the look of, but that didn’t have all the functions she needed. We were like, ‘Ok, how can we make something that looks just as good but can fit her laptop in it, and her charger, and then there’s also space for a jumper.’ I go on a lot of deep dives into Pinterest and YouTube, and am always trying to learn new skills that help the design process.
To anyone wanting to get into this field, I’d say that if you don’t have a passion for it don’t do it. Because there’s a lot of work involved. When I studied fashion, so many students just dropped off like flies, because there’s a chunk that think that fashion is just sketching and swanning into the office with a coffee looking glamorous. But fashion isn’t all a fantasy. At the same time, the fantasy parts are amazing, when you do get to swan into the office with your coffee. But you have to do the hard work first.
I have my morning routine down to a fine art. I wake up, do my stretches, then I think about what I'm going to wear in the shower. As soon as I’m out I do my beauty routine, my perfume and get dressed. I pack my bag the night before because I live further out, and I love sleeping. So I need to sleep right up until the last minute.
I’d say my personal style is an understated overstatement. It's definitely become more curated over time, and it’s all about the fit and how the clothes make me feel. I'm not one of those people that wear something because it's in fashion. If I’m wearing something that’s in fashion, I’m wearing it because I like it, not because other people do. I’m a huge fan of coats, because there’s so much construction on the inside that you don’t really see. It reminds me of the Yu Mei aesthetic—it looks simple, but there’s so much work and hidden detail that goes into it.
My favourite designer is Alexander McQueen. He changed the fashion industry, and his background is so relatable. He also didn't give a damn about what other people thought of his creations, which is how I design as well. I don't really care if you don't like it—it just means you don't have a connection to it. It's not personal. It means you see the world through a different lens than I do.
I've gotten better at separating life and work. It’s always hard to switch off, but I’ve stopped replying to work-related things at night, just to form more of a healthy balance. My version of unwinding is watching something trashy like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. That’s my favourite. It gives me life. Oh, and I like documentaries. I am obsessed with documentaries about nature, or any fashion documentary. And I'm not going to lie, I love Marvel movies as well. But I can't watch horror movies. I suffer from sleep paralysis, and horror films don’t help.
There’s so many skills that I want to learn. But I've also realised I can't learn everything, because otherwise I’m never going to move forward. When I do something, I want to get to the point where I can master it. And that’s why I’m not a figure skater. Because it just takes too long. I have the patience, but I don’t have the time to dedicate to it. But I’m happy with the skills that I have so far. I feel like I’m already strong in those, I really threw myself in the deep end of fashion, which forces you to learn very quickly.
I'm one of those people that believes you need to have multiple bags to suit different occasions. My work bag is thein Deer Nappa, which is amazingly functional. Obviously I helped design the bag and put in a key tab where you can clip your keys, but I only started using it in the last year or so—and now whenever I use it I’m like, ‘Wow, this key tab’s amazing! I can find my keys so easily!’ So I find joy in things like that.
Inside my bag I always carry a lint roller, lip balm, my glasses, and I always have a smaller bag like myinside, because you don’t want to lug your big bag around when you pop out of the office. And I always carry a jumper, because what is this Wellington weather? Is it hot? Is it cold? Who knows?
This is my quick get-out-of-the-house-on-time skin routine. They're all products I find my skin likes.
Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Solution Home and Away Duo— it feels very light and refreshing, and really removes dirt from your face. It has no smell which I love. I discovered this on my trip with Jessie to Paris—French pharmacies are so good with skincare.
Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Crème—it has a slight yellow tint which is perfect for covering darkness under the eyes, and similar to a concealer it helps rejuvenate the under eyes, for an instant fresh look. I got it as a gift from a friend that is obsessed with skincare.
Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma Fresh Day Serum—I love a C serum. It's from Mecca—I just tried a tester size first, and really loved how it made my skin feel.
Avene Hydrance UV-Rich Hydrating Cream 40ml—Light moisturizer/ hydrating cream with SPF 30. I changed to this moisturiser after the trip to Paris.
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