Although it was a Wednesday, I drove out to See You Monday’s factory warehouse and got to interview the HBIC: Annabelle Lee. I pulled into the parking lot and walked right into the huge warehouse, greeted a worker and asked where I could find Annabelle, and was led upstairs to the office full of racks on racks on racks…of clothes. A few minutes later, Annabelle walked in, clad in a plaid button up (extremely similar to the one I was wearing), leggings, and metallic platform-y oxfords. We shook hands, we shared a few laughs, we walked into a room, we sat down, and we just had a casual conversation.
Okay, so here’s the general beginning question: describe your line in one sentence. I can give you about 12 seconds to think about it. It can be a complex sentence if you’d like.
Let’s see, one sentence. *sigh* mm. I can give you some random vocabulary. Ok, umm.
A See You Monday girl is confident, bad ass, a trend setter, independent; she’s a boss lady.
Speaking of a boss lady, how does your staff run here? Are you the HBIC?
I’m the owner, designer, creative director, head marketing person, head of publicity; I oversee all the production, and I do all the sales for the biggest accounts.
I believe, as a boss and as the owner, if you don’t know every little aspect of your business from shipping all the way to sales and to production, you can’t tell anyone what to do. I have to be all of their replacements; I’m everyone’s back up plan.
How did you fall into this? I mean, coming from a Korean American background myself, I know that fashion isn’t usually the first thing that we ‘should’ pursue. It’s all about that doctor, that lawyer, you know?
I went to USC, and my major was in broadcast journalism and communications. I never went to fashion school, but growing up, my mother was actually an artist herself and my father was a business man. I’d like to think of myself as having half of a creative person and half a business mind. It’s not easy because you have to turn off one thing in order to have the other at times – it’s having a dual personality for sure. I’m still trying to master that though.
I never meant to come into this business. A lot of girls who want to come into this for a living, and go to school for it will hate me for saying this, but this came so…organically for me.
Don’t get me wrong though, it didn’t come easy – there’s a gap between first generation and second. The ideas, the business minds, what is acceptable; I had to fight that. Even me wanting to print marijuana leaves on clothes because of my Snoop Dogg collaboration…I mean my parents are totally cool about it now, and we can laugh about it.
“Yeah those are just leaves, you know, whatever,” and I’m like, “No mom, it’s pot.”
It’s fine, but I had to prove it to them…with sales. The fact that I took their business and turned it around, even the style, the branding, telling them, “Let’s not just look at today and tomorrow, but let’s build a future by building a brand.” A lot of first generation doesn’t believe in that because they want to focus on the masses, the private labels: that’s where the money is at. But I had to stop that for a while, and we argued a lot about it. They didn’t get why I was trying to change the methods that had been working for them for years.
Even through all of the arguing and the generation gaps that you had to bridge, would you say that your family supported your dreams and ideas?
Yes, I think I got really lucky. I grew up in a very creative background, and even though my dad was a business man, my mom was like this hippy; it was okay to be creative – it was almost weird if you’re not. This is my family business though, this is our U.S. history.
We take a quick pause as I chuckle and point out the fact that she is saying this with such pride, looking off into the distance and into the souls of those who also were proud of their fulfillment of the American dream – but the image is fantastic because there just so happens to be a vintage American flag behind her.
But I did have a lot of lonely times, and I had to learn a lot, and my parents weren’t handing things to me. They wanted me to start for myself and give me a clean slate, they wanted me to pick myself up first. When I came here, I was like, “Dude I don’t know fashion.” I mean I love clothes, who doesn’t love clothes? I collect vintage and all of that but I don’t know specs, I don’t know these fashion terms. I don’t know the fabric content of polyester to rayon to viscos like…what are you talking about? And being the owner’s daughter, people didn’t give it to me easy, because they were like, “Ugh, you’re just the daughter, you think you’re privileged right?” But no, I don’t, I’m hungry, and I honestly learned from my factory workers. They took me in and they taught me how to understand pattern, how to cut and sew, understand different techniques of sewing. Then, my father taught me different fabrications, and my mom taught me the designing process, and then my father went back and taught me all of the sales things, and it kind of just…came together. I knew enough, but I wasn’t confident, and I knew I needed to learn more. When I got comfortable and could feel it, it came so natural, and at that point, I could call myself a designer and provide my input.
Do you think education was important, like going to college? There are a lot of people these days that say that going to college is unnecessary; follow your dreams, cliche cliche cliche, the most successful people in the world didn’t go to college, etc. But were there things that you think you learned from school that you just can’t learn through experience?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge educational believer, and I went to a great school. I do think that starting something and finishing something was learned from school. Everything else in between was self taught through observation and never giving up.
The bone part, the structural part is from school. You really have to learn how to start something and really not give up and graduate and learn to finish something. But you can only learn so much from school, as cliche as it sounds; you have to throw yourself into corporate settings. I interned for years in music settings, I grew up in the punk scene, going to (Vans) Warped Tour and being an emo/screamo kid, so being around that and being hungry and passionate about what I love became the meat in between the bone.
I used to work at Warner Brother Records, so when I came in here from the music industry, I gave up something that I loved and worked hard to get. I mean I had a kick-ass job. I was the youngest publicist at Warner Brothers records, doing what I love. Being in the music industry is like being a kid all day listening to music and giving your opinions. But when I got there, I didn’t even work in rock. I was in hip hop; urban publicity. Mike Jones, E-40, a little of Wiz Khalifa. I was young…and I was Asian. *chuckles* But the worst part was that people would tell me, “Oh I heard you got hired because you dress well and you’re the Asian girl,” and I was like, “What the hell.” So I would wear baggy clothes, jeans and t-shirts, not dress up for work; I actually went to USC, I have brains, this was my major – I needed to prove myself. That was an intense learning experience.
To be honest, this is how I put it: USC was my undergrad, my grad school was Warner Brother Records. I guess my, I don’t know, my PhD program is See You Monday. That’s a summary of my path so far, and I don’t know where it’s going to take me from here, but who knows? I finish my PhD, I might go to law school. But having that question mark…is a great thing.
To me, there are two kinds of designers. There are those who like to design things that they would wear, and there are those who like to design for other people and for visions that they have. Do you think you fall under either category?
There is the designer that is the front runner, like “Look at me, I am this, I am that, this is the Annabelle Lee collection.” But honestly, I want to be the one behind, and to be honest, for the last 7 years or so, I’ve never really put my face out because I didn’t feel that I deserved it yet. I feel like the public should decide it, and if it were to happen, I would want it to happen naturally and very organically.
I want to create a lifestyle for the girl; I want her not to be afraid of being ‘the man’. Every girl needs to feel that she doesn’t have to be the pretty, quiet one. I know there’s a lot of female empowerment within fashion, and those are my peers and friends designing for their friends, and it’s great to be part of that movement. But I also want to create See You Monday. See You Monday is not just about one girl, one type. Yes, there’s an underlying theme of independence and confidence and the bad ass and all of that, but on the surface, we’re fickle. Let’s face it. We want to be pretty one day, and then hardcore, and then we want to be bad ass and then we want to be…I don’t know, free flowing hippies. And then we want to be business oriented and throw on a blazer.
We could be all of that, and so I wanted to create a line that represents every side of every woman. If you study my line, you’ll see four to five different girls within my line. It’s okay to be any label; I like to give that freedom, the freedom of style.
Ok let’s do fun questions now. What is your favorite song as of right now? Or something that you can listen to years later and think to yourself, “Oh yes, that Spring of 2014… good times.”
I’m a huge classic rock fan, and I have a song, but I can’t remember the title. This is so frustrating, wait, I need to remember this.
We pause to Google the song title.
“My, My, Hey, Hey”! By Neil Young!
Rock and roll is here to stay
It’s better to burn out
Than to fade away
And I agree; I’d rather burn than fade. I’m very black and white, yes or no. I wouldn’t want to fade; I would just want to burn.
What is the ultimate dream; like if you could be something and be so satisfied and die the next day, what would it be?
I want to be like a really progressive, crazy, music loving fashion politician. Yeah, like I want to be the politician of the music/fashion world, if there was a title for that. That would be sick.
Or Neil Young.
What do you like to do for fun? Are you like a crazy party animal or what?
I like to write, I like to paint, I collect vinyls — that makes me super happy. And vintage shopping; it eases my mind. Honestly? I like myself a good whiskey on the rocks, scotch on the rocks all the way. That’s what I do for fun. I’m like an old man, that’s why I want to be Neil Young.
How did you come up with “See You Monday”?
My parents came up with it actually. During the heyday of the downtown fashion district, like 20 years ago, it was really booming. Anything that was clothes, special or not, would just sell because the economy was that good. Back then, my father actually started with a textile business, so he would sell fabrics to people like myself. And he saw how Mondays were so busy; phones would go off after the weekends because retail businesses do better on the weekends, so when the weekend was done, the retail owners, the buyers, would call the wholesalers and reorder. The root of it started as a name for the buyers, like, “Hey, have a great weekend of sales, and we’ll see you Monday.”
Is there a piece of clothing or an item that every woman should have? Like a little black dress or a nude bra or something that every woman should have?
Shoot, this is… okay. I’ll say it. You’re going to agree to this, because I see you wearing it. Everyone needs a boyfriend fit plaid shirt. Like good plaid. Not a cheesy “Made in China” plaid, but legitimately vintage, good color combo plaid. Oversized. Every woman needs one.
Let’s try doing like, three words to describe things. It’s like a test. It’s like college. We’ll start off easy. Three words to describe “See You Monday”.
Crazy, sexy, cool.
Your first kiss.
*small chuckle* Silence. Wow… Oh my gosh. It was dark. Um.
Awkward, awkward, awkward.
Your personal style.
Boyish. Business… with a… Rock-and-roll-grunge.
Lovable. Open-minded. Beautiful.
Describe your everyday.
Patience. Courage. Endurance.
Glad you were able to get through that! Anything else you would want to add? Any advice for a young and bustling kid trying to make it in life? Or any last thoughts?
There’s so much beauty in going through ups and downs, and it makes you humane in a way where you’re not cold blooded. Having a human factor in business is important, because not everyone is perfect. People say to separate business and personal, but I don’t agree with that: your business is personal, your personal is business. You can’t separate the two.
I haven’t found balance, and I don’t think you can find it to the T, but I’m always seeking it.
*ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FOR THE 5TH ELEMENT MAGAZINE SPRING/SUMMER 2014 ISSUE*