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Meet Henry Wu of True Notions in Downtown LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Henry Wu.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am a first-generation Chinese-Vietnamese American born and raised in California. Although both my parents went to college, because they were not proficient in English, it caused a lot of financial and cultural barriers growing up as an only child. When I was about five years old, with the help of family and friends, my parents opened up their own garment manufacturing factory in South El Monte, California with just five machines. I spent the bulk of my weekends before college growing up inside the factory – learning first hand all aspects of the production process: patterns, fabrics, samples, cutting, sewing and finishing. Through hard work, our family was able to grow and employ up to 40 employees at our peak. Unfortunately, business was hit by globalization as manufacturing orders trickled overseas year after year. With me going off to college, my parents decided to close the company and move back to Taiwan to spend time with family and pursue other opportunities in the process.

Growing up, I always envisioned a career in fashion or law; no surprise, my family strongly encouraged my legal career. I interned at a law firm senior year of high school and in college, I worked at Legal Aid for three years. After college, I became a certified paralegal and got an amazing offer from a law firm to work in their US office for a year, after which they would relocate me to their Shanghai office. Unfortunately, about a year in, the law firm I worked for had dissolved. The news slipped the rug right from under me and forced me to reexamine the direction I wanted to take in my professional career. After having worked in several areas of law, none really stood out to me. I decided that even though I enjoyed helping others, the day to day office activities were not giving me a creative outlet that I craved. Drawing from what I knew as well as my interest in fashion, I started a garment manufacturing company in August of 2013.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Jumping into the garment manufacturing industry from an office job, I went from working about 35 hours a week to working 70-80 plus hours a week. Being the owner of a new business without much capital, I had to take on and learn all aspects of my business: sewer, bookkeeper, client liaison, production manager, HR, warehouse, compliance, etc… Having manufactured for large and small brands, there were a few flawed trends that I’ve noticed. Many brands don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the manufacturing process and send their designs to a third party factory to produce. Additionally, globalization has cut the bottom-line for many companies. In trying to cut costs, many clients choose to source based on cost instead of value. Sourcing inferior materials causes problems such as: fabric tearing, dye rubbing off fabric, inconsistent quality of materials, elastic shrinkage, color inconsistencies, etc. Customers try unflattering clothes on and think that it isn’t designed for their body. In reality, cheap material and sloppy manufacturing result in clothes only looking acceptable on the hanger or on paper. After three years of helping other brands produce their clothing, I decided to apply my background and strong understanding of these problems to build a brand that emphasizes quality and comfort with no-nonsense classic-inspired designs; thus True Notions was formed.

Entering the retail market sort of put me back at ground zero. Although it is part of the apparel industry; sales, merchandising and marketing are very different from production development and manufacturing. Right off the bat, I hit walls with stockists and retailers due to pricing. Because we manufacture locally and use higher quality materials, our costs are much higher compared to our competitors which source overseas at a fraction of the price. Additionally, as a new brand that was just entering the market, I often had to make concessions to larger retailers which were usually not in my favor. The business model was not working and it reached a point that something had to give. Since I founded True Notions on the principle of only using high-quality materials and construction, cutting corners was not an option. Instead, I made the difficult decision to change the business model; choosing to focus on direct sales to our consumers so we do not have to sacrifice our quality and brand integrity.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the True Notions story. Tell us more about the business.
True Notions is a men’s athleisure apparel brand that specializes in men’s underwear. My aesthetic is “timeless”, inspired by classic designs without a bunch of superfluous design gimmicks that plague the underwear and athleisure industry. Having a foundation of the manufacturing process has equipped me with the knowledge to develop and make the highest quality of clothing from start to finish; from our custom performance fabrics and elastics, down to the thread we use. Our fabrics feature moisture-wicking, antimicrobial, UV protection and 4-way stretch properties to name a few. Our non-rolling elastic is latex-free and we use micro-texturized thread to enhance stretch, comfort and prevent breakage. By using quality materials and drawing inspiration from classic designs, True Notions is the purest expression of my belief in making things better.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I try not to delve too deeply into luck. I’ve taken on the view that all things, good or bad, is just part of life. You cannot fully realize joy without experiencing pain. Sure, sometimes great things happen in inordinate succession and other times it feels like the world is plotting against you. I just do my part to the best of my ability and keep an open mind; the rest I just let life run its course.


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Image Credit:

Andy Chou & Nicholas Reid

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