YU MEI x RUSSH

This article originally appeared on RUSSH Magazine as part of their series on New Zealand designers.
Words by Natalie Petrevski.
Photos by Rob Tennent.

Next up in the series is Yu Mei, a premium leather goods label run by founder and creative director Jessie Wong. Known for a minimal design aesthetic with a strong focus on utility, the label was created 5 years ago after Wong was in search of the perfect bag to carry all that she needed in a day. The result? She designed her own. Since launching, Yu Mei is now available over 36 retailers across Australiasia, along with its first flagship store that opened in August, 2019. Here, we chat with Jessie on innovation, meditation and why she has always lived by goals.

Tell us about your brand
Yu Mei is a premium leather goods label devoted to the creation of understated luxury. We design for the modern woman, with a focus on utility and the ethos that ‘simplicity is complexity resolved’. We’re a New Zealand brand and our bags are made from premium buttery soft NZ deer nappa, but the name Yu Mei speaks to my Chinese heritage.

I started the brand 5 years ago because I couldn’t find a bag that would carry everything I needed for a day in a walking city. Designing around my own needs soon extended to those around me and each bag is named after the person for whom it was designed who, like me, had a need that wasn’t being met. We have just opened our second flagship in Auckland, which is a testament to the strong community we’ve built around us over the past 5 years and I’m so excited to nurture and grow this network.

A part of my work I love the most is...
There are so many aspects of my work that I love, but I do love the strategy and the gamification of building a company. It’s so fun to be working in an industry ripe for innovation and change, with people and companies who are open to collaborating.

What are your most cherished rituals?
My morning coffee from our studio Moccamaster and watching the sunset across the harbour from our conservatory window.

What are you reading/watching/listening to?
I’m reading The Gentlewoman, always. I've also been reading Measure What Matters by John Doerr - it's sort of nerdy but I've always lived by goals. When I was little my mum bought me a silk-covered notebook and said I could only write my most important things in it, which I took so seriously that I only used two pages a year - one for my goals at the start of the year and one for the results. Measure What Matters is a book about a goal-setting system that uses 'Objectives and Key Results' to direct and scale growth by some of the world’s largest companies.

How do you stay healthy (mentally and/or physically)?
Yoga and meditation are very important to me, especially the mindfulness aspect of meditation. Definitely something I wish I'd tapped into earlier in life. I also love going for walks around the Southern Walkway on the weekend when the weather permits, there are lots of good hills in Wellington to take advantage of.

My current state of mind is...
Abundance and gratitude. Despite what we’ve collectively been through with lockdown and the pandemic, opening a new store and meeting all the wonderful new people there has given me so much energy and inspiration. It feels as though the possibilities are limitless - and I understand it’s certainly not the feeling for everyone, but I’m really excited about the future and so thankful. I’ve always had a growth mindset, so this speaks to that too.

My current project is...
Building out our digital community. We’re working on a special initiative to deliver exciting content and events online through our soon-to-launch “Club Yu Mei” but while we’re under construction, the first rule of the club is that ‘you don’t talk about the club’ so stay tuned.

My hopes and dreams for the future are...
To live in and contribute positively to a diverse, inclusive and sustainable society; For Yu Mei to be a leading global brand synonymous with innovation and the strong community of customers who champion it; To finish renovating my house.

What do you appreciate the most right now?
I am so appreciative of my incredible, resilient and diverse team. They're so strong and motivated and I love that we are all on the train to create the necessary change to build the future we want to be living in.

I miss...
International travel. Pre-pandemic, my job had taken me everywhere from shooting a campaign at the Chateau Marmont in LA to Paris, tanneries in Italy, and our world-class manufacturers in China. I’ve expertly curated my travel essentials and perfected the art of packing so I’m excited to resume travel again.