We chat to Nina Sieber, one of the founders of cult local fashion brand We Eat Avocado Toast (WEAT), about design inspirations, her 2021 goals and the reality of starting your own business in Hong Kong…
Impeccable style and gritty entrepreneurial spirit collide in Nina Sieber, one of the founders of cult local fashion brand We Eat Avocado Toast (WEAT). You may have seen her designs hanging nonchalantly on the arms of your favourite influencers, or perhaps you’re a keen follower of her dreamy, travel-filled Instagram page (warning: it will leave you with major wanderlust). We’ve been huge fans of Nina for years, so we’re thrilled to finally get the chance to chat to her about everything from design inspirations, 2021 goals and how she strikes the elusive work-balance in Hong Kong…
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you lived in Hong Kong?
I grew up in a small town located in Bavaria, in the East of Germany. Wanting to pursue my passion for fashion and style meant that I had to move to a bigger city for my studies. I chose Berlin and began to study fashion design at ESMOD.
Before and during my studies, I did various internships in the fashion industry for companies such as Adidas and Vivienne Westwood. This was great experience, however, after completing my studies, I wanted to broaden my expertise and learn more about what goes on behind the scenes in sourcing and production. That’s what brought me to Hong Kong five years ago; I started working for a textile company and was able to gain experience that went beyond the creative aspects of design. Two years later I started my own business – WEAT.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
I’ve been interested in fashion since I was a child. Back then, I styled and created outfits for my dolls, sewing cloths and giving them a total makeover. In school, one of my main subjects for my Abitur (A-levels) was Art – I wrote my thesis about fashion design and created a small clothing design collection. To me, it was inevitable that I’d end up in the fashion industry.
We’re huge fans of WEAT. What encouraged you to start it?
WEAT was born with the idea of creating a chic and functional yet high quality bag that is perfect for today’s multifaceted modern woman. It addresses the massive gap in the handbag market between the big luxury brands and the fast fashion brands, providing a product where there is no need to compromise between quality and price.
The main reason I wanted to start my own brand was for the creative freedom. Being a designer means that if you work for a company, you will always have to adapt to their design or their style; there are always going to be corporate guidelines. However, if you decide to create your own company, you have complete freedom to express yourself artistically through your designs.
Being your own boss definitely pushes you to your limits. But being able to develop your creativity is an extraordinary experience that I wouldn’t change for anything.
Starting your own brand means so much more than being creative. I have learned a lot in the past few years, and if there is one thing I can say now, it’s that I don’t really see myself as a fashion designer anymore, but as an entrepreneur with a good sense about design and fashion.
There’s so much that comes with starting your own company. Can you share your most meaningful milestone?
I think that, as for most e-commerce businesses, there are a number of milestones that make you proud and happy. When the website was launched online three years ago, it was super exciting to see that people were visiting and starting the checkout process – I clearly remember the day that the first order was placed. I also remember the first time a cool influencer contacted me (and not the other way around!). Bringing your own designs out into the world and having a good market response is truly amazing.
I am proud to say that we have been online for over three years now and our office is steadily growing. Located in the busy epicentre of Hong Kong, in the up-and-coming artsy district of Wong Chuk Hang, we are an all-female team of six people. It’s great to come into the office and be surrounded by a team that is working towards the same goal that I had in mind when I first created the brand.
What has been the biggest challenge about trying to start a fun, functional fashion brand in Hong Kong?
Someone once told me: “Having your own business means you will solve problems every day. Some days they are bigger, some days they are smaller but there will always be problems and if there is a day where there are none, you better start looking because there is no such thing.”
Two years after starting this rollercoaster I couldn’t agree more. Every day is a new challenge that comes with a new lesson, and you never stop learning. I don’t think that there is one big lesson to learn, but many small ones. Above all, you must be passionate and love what you do enough to not get tired of learning and improving every day.
Furthermore, you must never let yourself get beaten down or demotivated by problems or defeat. In Germany we say that you should just “shake it off, like a dog would wet water” and continue. My recommendation to any young woman out there trying to start her business would be that.
Can you tell us a bit about your design inspirations?
I use architecture as my main point of inspiration. It reflects functionality, purpose, clean lines, different textures, and sometimes playfulness, with bright colours and interesting shapes. I try to make all my designs modern and trend-forward, and always keep in mind that I’m designing for the young, go-getting women of the world.
What are five goals you hope to achieve next year?
- Growing the WEAT team
- Taking WEAT into China
- Expanding WEAT’s footprint in the Hong Kong market
- To strive to be more sustainable, both in terms of company practices and my own personal life
- To adopt another dog – we already added two to the family this year!
What are three things you do to maintain work-life balance in your day-to-day?
I love to start my day by taking a nice walk up to The Peak with my two dogs, Milos and Rio. Being surrounded by fresh air and nature relaxes me and puts a smile on my face every morning. Afterwards, I head to the office with an oat milk latte and a cinnamon danish in hand, ready to take on any challenge that comes my way.
What are your favourite brands and who are your favourite designers? What makes them different to you?
I love the Australian designer Dion Lee: his designs are very cool and clean, but at the same time, boast special details which give them a fun twist. I love the idea of his unisex clothing. I also enjoy Jacquemus (who doesn’t love his fun happy and colourful designs?), and Attire, which is one of a few fashion brands created by an influencer which I truly appreciate; expect amazing classic designs with a 100% focus on sustainability.
If you had one piece of advice to give to aspiring designers or fashion brand founders, what would it be?
The number one advice that I would give is to not think too much about it and just do it. Sometimes I meet people that have amazing ideas, but sadly they never make it out to the market because they doubt themselves and overthink it.
My next piece of advice is to understand that you will be learning by doing. You cannot be prepared for everything in advance, so you need to get comfortable with dealing with problems on the go.
Last but not least, challenge your comfort zone! You can’t achieve anything if you are always afraid of stepping outside the box. Go out there and take risks!
All photos courtesy of Nina Sieber. Follow Nina on Instagram to see more.