Designer Interview

By: Fashwire
Oct 07, 2020 10:00 AM

What is the story behind Suzanna Dai? Where did the name come from?

Suzanna Dai (pronounced "day") are my first and middle names. I'm not sure where "Dai" comes from, other than my father just liked the way it sounded, and so my parents went with it!


What inspired you to start designing jewelry? When did you know you wanted to become a designer?

I have been playing with beads and making jewelry since I was pretty young. I'd make friendship bracelets for friends in elementary school and beaded daisy chains in high school. I got a lot more interested in intricate embroideries and beadwork later on, and eventually taught myself how to bead and embroider. I knew I wanted to be a designer from the age of 11, but I originally wanted to design clothing. After working for several garment companies and getting a real feel for what sells, etc., I came to the realization that people are a lot more creative and daring with the jewelry they wear, and it would be an easier way for me to fully express my creativity.


What is your favorite part about being a designer?

I like actually making the first samples myself. It's a time where I can let my creativity go wild before having to dial it back a bit in editing a collection. I also love hearing positive feedback from customers. That always makes me feel good to be affecting someone's life in a positive way.


“I am very fortunate to have a great mentor and guide in my father."


How is working in fashion today different than when you started out?

It has changed drastically, even in just the 10 years since I started Suzanna Dai. I started working in the industry in 2000, when a lot of production was still in the US. It's basically all moved overseas at this point. I also started working in the pre-social media landscape. There was an established and chronological way of doing things every season: you planned and designed the collection a year in advance; you showed the collection to the press, and buyers placed orders 6 months in advance; you had your production completed, and then you shipped the orders. Because there was no social media, there was no instant leaking of runway photos, etc. You had to wait 6 months until the new collections debuted in the March and September issues of Vogue magazine. With the increased influence of social media and fast fashion, that whole process has been crunched down to, in some cases, only ten days. There's an excellent new book called Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas that I highly recommend. She takes a deep dive into all of these issues, and most importantly how fast fashion is the major contributor to climate change. Please read it and share with your friends!


What was the biggest rookie mistake you made when starting out? 

I am very fortunate to have a great mentor and guide in my father. When I was starting out, I would run a lot of things past him, and he would advise me on how to handle certain issues of getting paid, making sure orders were officially confirmed and signed off on, vetting potential sales reps and showrooms, etc. Having someone with experience of running their own business who had my back and best interests in mind helped me to avoid many pitfalls I might not have foreseen otherwise. He never gave me financial support in my business, but I feel his guidance, knowledge, and general business support have been far more valuable in the long run. He didn't give me fish - he taught me how to fish, as the saying goes.


What advice would you give to a designer just starting their brand?

I would say meet and interact with as many people in the industry as you can; it's a small world and you run into the same people over and over. Be open to working, learning, and collaborating with people. Be true to your vision and have firm boundaries, but don't let your ego run wild. If something doesn't feel right, trust your gut. Be open to opportunities but ask a lot of questions and remain skeptical.


“I am excited the 90s are back in style. It was the decade where I discovered fashion and Vogue magazine. It was the decade of the supermodels."


Are your jewelry designs a reflection of your personal style? How would you describe your style?

Yes, absolutely. When I started, I didn't feel like there was any jewelry like mine in the market — based on embroidery and beading techniques, with lots of color and a vintage spin. I was definitely designing things for myself to wear, because before that, if I wanted something different and funky, I'd end up buying vintage costume jewelry at antique stores and flea markets or just making it myself. My personal style is colorful, unique, vintage-inspired, quirky. I love matching my shoes and other accessories with my jewelry.


What is the most memorable event you participated in that you were able to showcase your designs? Why was it so memorable?

The absolute best was when Michelle Obama wore my Weimar Drop Earrings to a state dinner at the White House. That had been a dream of mine for a while, and I wasn't even sure if it was attainable, so when that happened, I was absolutely ecstatic. I felt like it validated everything I had done.  


What is your favorite fashion trend? Least favorite?

I am excited the 90s are back in style. It was the decade where I discovered fashion and Vogue magazine. It was the decade of the supermodels. Everything was very glamourous, and I loved the retro takes on the 40s, 50s, and 60s that designers created in that decade. I flip through my old Vogue magazines from that period and get caught up in the dreaminess of it all. My least favorite trend is those big clunky white sneakers with the huge soles that look like exaggerated nursing shoes. Yuck!


“It's important to not take things so seriously and learn how to ride the waves as they come and go."


Where do you draw inspiration from to design each collection?

I'm inspired by certain colors, time periods, ethnic groups, antique jewelry, particular countries and regions around the world, or any interesting beads or textiles I find.


What would you say has been the key to your brands success?

You kind of have to take the mindset of it being a marathon and not a sprint. I try not to let ego and all the PR smoke and mirrors get into my head. A lot of the fashion industry is built on illusion and ideas of status that are impossible to attain. I think it's important to stay grounded and true to yourself and your vision. Have firm boundaries but be open to new opportunities — you never know where they'll lead. Look at each new season like you're starting from scratch; don't assume just because you were successful one season that you'll always attain that same level of success. It's important to not take things so seriously and learn how to ride the waves as they come and go. When you have a good season, do everything you can to take advantage of it, and when you have a slow season, scale back and take advantage of the extra time to make a truly amazing collection for the coming season.


Are you passionate about something other than jewelry design?

I love travel and human rights, particularly women's rights. I'm also really interested in psych spirituality, consciousness studies, neuroscience, how the brain works, psychology, and paranormal experiences. I've been reading a lot about dreams, out of body experiences, and have been keeping a dream and meditation journal. I did a meditation intensive in November and am trying to figure out when I can do my next one! 


What is next for Suzanna Dai?

I've got a lot of ideas, from a line of sunglasses, to possibly hosting travel experience events abroad where you can go visit a specific country like India, for example, and meet different artisans who would create a memento of your trip together with you, so you can have a meaningful souvenir and really interact with and get to know the people on a deeper than the typical tourist level.