Why I created a better slim fit for Asian American Men

Wesley Kang, co-founder of Nimble Made, talks about why he left his finance job to create dress shirts, the need for size inclusion in fashion, and Asian representation in the media.

This article is sponsored by Nimble Made, creator of actually slim fit dress shirts, founded by Asian Americans. Continue reading to learn more about this story and for an exclusive Cold Tea Collective community discount.

In 2018, I contemplated leaving Citi, a corporate job I had held for three years, to pursue a career without guarantees but a promise of the creative freedom I was looking for: entrepreneurship. Inspired by my Taiwanese upbringing, I founded Nimble Made, an Actually Slim dress shirt brand with the goal of helping slimmer guys like me feel more confident in clothes that fit. Looking back on my experiences, I’m glad I took the leap of faith. 

Nimble Made dress shirts
Nimble Made’s dress shirt collection available in six Actually Slim sizes.
Photo Credit: Hannah Criswell

To me, the term “Asian American” means that I’m neither 100% Asian, nor 100% American. The duality in my identity is a constant balancing act between the traditional values my Taiwanese parents instilled in me and the expectations of the American society I grew up in. 

I was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. when I was eight years old. While growing up on the east coast, I always wanted to join my local soccer league like most of my American friends did. However, my parents urged me to study instead. You could say I was experiencing FOMO long before that became a thing. 

By funneling all my efforts towards academics, I knew I was making an important sacrifice for my parents, who had left their old life behind to bring our family to the States, and that my good grades would one day directly translate into a high-paying job that could support them and a family of my own. After all, this is the mentality of the collectivist society my parents came from, where the needs of your family outweigh the desire to chase your own dreams. 

But the heroes in the movies I watched growing up in the U.S., among many other factors, showed me that success in America wasn’t the same as the success my parents envisioned. Instead, I found that American success came through individuality. I saw my friends in the soccer league build a social currency of networking skills and confidence — all crucial to succeeding in the American workplace.

A Corporate Wake-up Call

Wesley Kang at Boston University in 2015 graduating with a degree in business administration. Photo submitted.

My parents saw my finance job as valuable and stable — a reward for all of the sacrifices we made immigrating to the States. In my new corporate life, I was expected to go to happy hours, socialize with coworkers and clients, speak up at meetings, drive sales, and more. As a first-generation Taiwanese American, I quickly realized I had to adapt to climb the corporate ladder, and that started with how I presented myself at work. 

My confidence suffered from one seemingly small problem: I couldn’t find a dress shirt that fit well off-the-rack. The clothing industry caters to the mass market, creating sizes for the American man who averages 5’9” in height and weighs 200 lb. That leaves someone like me out of luck, as I found that the “slim fit”, “modern fit”, and “extra slim fit” still left too much room in the chest, back, arms, and waist. As a finance guy who was 5’5” in height and weighed 135 lb, I was subconscious in a baggy shirt, always pulling my sleeves up or re-tucking my shirt that was overflowing at the waist. 

This work uniform was a medium that portrayed my professionalism at a bulge bracket bank. Being an introverted guy, my clothes and appearance became a big part in how I presented myself personally and professionally. I had to resort to boutique stores that had a smaller fit at a high price point or settle for fast fashion outlets like H&M where they offered XS sizes but at a low quality — all to find something as simple as a shirt that would fit properly. 

My co-founder Tanya Zhang said American dress shirts don’t fit her dad’s slim figure. We knew other people who had the same issue (don’t get me started on pants), and wanted to create something better for the niche of slim guys who had been excluded from the U.S. clothing industry. 

So, in 2018, I left my corporate job and started Nimble Made to fill this sizing gap in the menswear industry and created an Actually Slim Fit inspired by slim guys like me. Since then, my co-founder and I have expanded to over 21 dress shirt styles across our six unique sizes. We have been featured by Huffington Post, Money, Forbes, People Magazine, and more. While we are still in the early stages of growth, our customers tell us that we’re the best slim fit they’ve ever tried and they no longer need a tailor or settle for a poor fit. Hearing customers say they’ve finally found a shirt brand made for slimmer guys like them is the most rewarding part of this journey.

Actually Slim dress shirts in a variety of colours and ranging from professional to casual shirts. Photo submitted.

Asians in media

While we strive for size inclusion in the industry, the bigger mission is growing Nimble Made to be a platform for not only providing great fitting dress shirts, but also for promoting Asian representation in fashion and media. 

@IGJustin wearing the Grand Canal blue striped dress shirt on a photoshoot in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Ray Javier

Asian Americans have been shortchanged in depictions on screen or print for a while now. Transcontinental Railroad-era propaganda showed us caricatures of Asian men with mouse-like features, culminating into contemporary representations of Asian men as perpetually effeminate or nerdy. We’ve also seen overly exoticized villains like Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu or more recently, martial arts masters like Jet Li’s character Han Sing in Romeo Must Die.

Semioticians like Daniel Chandler argue that myths “naturalize the cultural” and “make dominant cultural and historical values, attitudes, and beliefs seem entirely natural, normal, self-evident, timeless, obvious common sense — and thus objective and true reflections of ‘the way things are’”. In other words, the longer Asian men are represented the way they are, the more natural it is for them to be relegated to the role of the geeky sidekick, or the badass-but-socially-awkward kung fu master. 

Models Michael Liu (left) and Sarvesh Narayanan (right) wearing the Crescent and The Waterbend dress shirts. Photo Credit: Justine Webster.

This collective image of Asian men didn’t haphazardly come into existence; it was built over time, consciously or not. Maybe that’s part of the reason Crazy Rich Asians had the success it did. It’s not everyday that an Asian man takes his shirt off on screen and looks good as hell. It’s just not common sense for a lot of us. On-screen representations really do build the way we’re perceived in real life.

But that’s not the end of the story. As Buzzfeed’s Eugene Yang elaborates in “Why Aren’t Asian Men Sexy?”: there are “genetically gifted people of every ethnicity.” It might help that Americans are growing to be more cognizant of hot K-pop stars from Asia, but how big of a stake does that have in the lives of everyday Asian Americans? 

Shopping online at major brands, I never saw someone who represented me — a Taiwanese immigrant with a slimmer stature — wearing clothes that looked good for someone at my height and weight, and that catered to the needs of a simple piece of clothing: dress shirts.

However, I’m now proud to put good looking Asian men at the forefront of Nimble Made. From our models to photographers to creatives behind-the-scenes, we’re a brand that values diversity and representation. With over 600 images captured where 92% of models were Asian and 100% are people of colour or women creatives, we’ve worked with amazing photographers, models, motion designers, videographers to build Nimble Made with us (meet some of these hustlers) and are excited to build a brand that is part of a bigger movement too. 

Forging Forward in 2020 

Nimble Made’s new casual flannels released in October 2020. Photo submitted

When stay-at-home was implemented in mid-March, I saw our sales drop significantly as guys switched to a more casual attire, leaving their dress shirts in their closet. However, the business has slowly been recovering month over month, with July being our all-time high in sales. I realized that, pandemic or not, guys still needed shirts that fit and many customers have told us that we were the only brand that fit them properly. After two years in business, we’re looking forward to launching more casual collared shirts this fall, which will include flannel shirts and chambrays that’s great for everyday wear. Seeing the trend in the industry skew towards casualwear from news like Goldman Sachs’ relaxed dress code, we know it’s only a matter of time before casual attire is the new norm for white collar jobs.

Follow us on Facebook & Instagram @nimblemade to keep updated on what we’re working on and visit our website nimble-made.com if you’re in the market for a slimmer fit! We’re extending a CTC exclusive discount of 20% off site-wide with code CTC20 until 11/31/2020.

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