Tanya Zhang

Founder of Nimble Made

Tanya Zhang is an art director and designer born and raised in Los Angeles. She moved to New York City to start her career in advertising, designing ad campaigns for brands like H&M, Nissan, McDonald’s, Michelin and more. She became the first brand hire at a financial tech startup in Manhattan before specializing in user experience and user interface design as a senior consultant at EY. She took the leap of faith in October 2018 and co-founded Nimble Made, a men’s actually slim fit dress shirt brand, with co-founder Wesley Kang to strive for more size inclusion and Asian American Pacific Islander representation in fashion. She was inspired by her immigrant father who is slimmer in stature and could never find a good fitting dress shirt that fit him off-the-rack in the U.S. Nimble Made creates a better slim fit through height and weight and carries six unique sizes with trimmed sleeves, shirt length, and back/shoulder measurements. As Asian-American founder, Tanya is changing the dynamic clothing landscape to include men of all body types, starting with a slim fit that actually fits. Nimble Made is a D2C brand with “A Slim Fit That Lives Up to Its Name” and that has been featured by Huffington Post, MONEY Magazine, Yahoo and more.

Where did the idea for Nimble Made come from?

I remember going from store to store with my immigrant dad after finally convincing him to splurge a little on himself. When it came to finding a crisp new dress shirt, he’d say right off the bat, “American dress shirts don’t fit me.” I realized I would often hear the same issues from many of my friends, especially Asian Americans, AAPIs, and people of color with leaner body types. They couldn’t find a good quality, well-fitting dress shirt in the US without having to pay a premium or fixing it up at a tailor. There are clothes brands dedicated to serving petite women, but nothing similar catering to slimmer men. I’m changing the dynamic clothing landscape and drive awareness of Asian culture through the lens of thoughtfully crafted goods. I built Nimble Made to bring more representation for Asian American Pacific Islanders, starting with more inclusion in sizing standards in fashion.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day for me varies from day to day from marketing to product development to branding and more. As my own boss, I find that it’s hard to feel productive at the end of the day because I am not even sure if I have gotten the most important and pressing things done. What I found really helpful though is putting aside two hours each day to be hyper-focused on a number of things I want to accomplish for the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

With Nimble Made, it’s a lot of collaboration with my co-founder Wesley Kang. The first step is always settling on the one idea that you want to move forward with and to not get caught up in other ideas that might distract us or turn our focus away. Then we think about the next actionable steps to take whether that’s researching the market, looking at our competitors, or designing a shirt. Putting together that list of objectives immediately helps me get from an idea to something viable.

What’s one trend that excites you?

As an e-commerce business owner, it’s the trend of how technology influences online shopping behavior that really excites me. There have been a lot of advancements in clothing sizing and fit in apps where you can use augmented reality to see shirts on your body which could really help a size-inclusive brand like Nimble Made help our customers find a better fit.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Keeping in touch with our community: our friends, family, and customers. Always reaching out to them helps us to get more ideas from them or to be inspired by them. Because we are an Asian American brand founded on this mission for more AAPI representation, we always get feedback from our community whether that’s on the shirts, what they’d like to see next, our fit/sizing, how we can improve our website, etc.. Doing all that gives us a laser focus on our label, our brand, and our message.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Maximize your strengths; minimize your weaknesses. I would tell my younger self to believe and have more confidence at an earlier age. There were so many times where I doubted my skills and ability to achieve or associated achievements with luck. It’s really such a disservice when you don’t give yourself the credit you deserve.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Funding does not mean success.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

To be resilient because there are so many obstacles in the day to day when you’re operating your own business that can really drag you down both in the business and your emotional/mental capacity. Being resilient makes you persevere through the inevitable hardships on the entrepreneurial journey. I also adopted a dog when I started my business and he’s been a stress reliever as well.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Getting a second opinion, a fresh pair of eyes to look over your work because feedback from others is really important. Being to work with my co-founder Wesley Kang to discuss what shirts we want to make, what channels we want to invest in, and how to spend our time efficiently is vital because it makes for a better product in the end. Additionally, we poll new shirt ideas with our community to get their feedback and to loop people into the business and make them feel like they have ownership over the product as well.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I have faced many setbacks from bootstrapping Nimble Made. We ordered the bare minimum in inventory and ended up not having enough shirts to prepare us for our first Q4, leaving us empty-handed during the holiday season with customers asking when sizes were going to be restocked. We also ran out of our mailer boxes and had to ship our $80 dress shirts in USPS boxes while apologizing to our customers for the lackluster packaging during the holidays. We were constantly running out to the store to get more tape, tissue paper, extra clips, etc. I learned to not underestimate myself, the business, and to take bigger risks when it comes to putting down money. While self-funding this venture has been rewarding, penny-pinching stunted our growth. In December 2019, we asked and received a small friends-and-family investment to further grow the business.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I had this idea for an umbrella-sharing app that had docks of umbrellas that were ready to use outside of hotels/public areas since I’m personally never prepared for rainy days. But I read in the news shortly after that a company had launched with this idea and failed because no one ended up returning the umbrellas and it was a horrible business model.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

We upgraded our hand steamer to a standing garment steamer since we are an e-commerce business and we have a decent number of exchanges and returns. Dress shirts that need to be returned or exchanged also need to be steamed and re-folded. We’re a pretty lean startup (two founders and a small remote team) and we were operating on a hand steamer for a while which took us a surplus amount of time to use.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Google calendar. I’ve tried a lot of productivity apps but still think that Google calendar is the best way to not only see what you have to do that day but also plan for it as well. I often block out times in my calendar to focus on a certain task/business endeavor and it also reminds me to eat lunch.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani. It was very refreshing to read a book by a fellow Asian woman and entrepreneur – she teaches women to be brave in what they do and shed the notion of being perfect as society has taught. The themes of fearing less, failing more, and living bolder are consistent throughout her book and were relevant to my decision in taking the leap of faith. Working at my corporate job, I felt myself trying to please everyone, avoiding conflict, playing it safe which led to me feeling unfulfilled at a job I spent so many hours a week at.

I was afraid of failure and that was a big deterrent in taking the leap of faith. Her book really showed that by choosing bravery over perfection, I could have more agency over my voice and who I wanted to be. I wanted to challenge myself and strive for a greater mission of more Asian American Pacific Islander representation in fashion.

What is your favorite quote?

“It’s an honor just to be Asian” – Sandra Oh, 2018 Emmys

Key Learnings:

  • Nimble Made sells actually slim fit dress shirts that are inspired for slimmer Asian Americans who can’t find a dress shirt that fits well off-the-rack in the states.
  • Keep in touch with your target demographic and ask them for feedback. This will only improve your product!
  • Be resilient because there are so many obstacles in the day to day that can drag you down both in the business and emotional/mental aspects. Being resilient makes you persevere through the inevitable hardships on the entrepreneurial journey.