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From cutting room floo

From cutting room floor to CEO, how one New Yorker made her fashion dreams a reality

For Wen Zhou, President and CEO of 3.1 Phillip Lim, it wasn’t a question of if she would work in fashion, but where she would find solid ground and build her career, after migrating from China at age 12 with her family to New York in 1985.

“When I arrived to NYC, I worked in a sweatshop. My mum was a seamstress and my dad was a dishwasher. Six members of my family shared a little project that must have been about 450 square feet on the lower east side,” Zhou recalls of her first years in New York, taking on odds jobs and finally ending up as a swatch cutter before graduating to retail.

“The position had great potential as I was able to work with designers on 7th Avenue,” the mother of two acknowledges of starting out. After a couple of years learning the ropes Zhou launched her own textile company where she fortuitously met her future business partner Phillip Lim, in Paris no less, and the pair set out on a new venture, 3.1 Phillip Lim.

“Phillip was my client under his previous company called Development, and that’s how we met. I loved LOVED everything he designed. Each time I saw a new garment I was like, ‘I need that!’” Zhou recalls before noting she encouraged Lim to move to New York and in 2005 the paired launched the line at the age of 31.

After getting her children off to school in the morning, Zhou says no two days as a CEO are the same but notes her love of people and product gets her through busy weeks.

“Fashion is its own language and has an ability to transform. Fashion is one of those industries that is going to be here forever,” says Zhou, adding, “after 12 years, I am very happy that we continue to make incredible product and have a global footprint.”

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