goodmorningoodnight oad new york

Out Of Office: OAD New York

Sydney Suh-Lee is the founder and creative director of OAD New York (the line of perfect bags you are about to be obsessed with).  She lives in NYC with her husband and their pug named Pillow.  

Q / How do you usually start your day?
A / I’m not a morning person. I usually wake up late in the morning. I start the day by reading emails and following up with news and updates while having my coffee and breakfast. I don’t necessarily have any routine and I don’t try to make one. Everyday is different…which I find to be one of the most attractive things about working on my own.

Q / Do you have a daily uniform or is there anything you carry with you every day? If so, why is it important to you?
A / In the summer time you’ll always see me in over-sized white shirts with jeans and during winter it’s usually an over-sized sweater with jeans. I find myself most productive and creative when I’m comfortable. I often try my bags on myself in front of mirror to see how they look in size and proportion and I love how my clean and structured bags look against a loose and casual outfit. I love the contrast. If I expand OAD to include apparel in the future, it will probably be mixture of those basics I wear everyday.

Q / Is there a time of day that you feel most productive? Anything specific that helps keep you focused?
A / When I had 9-5 jobs, I tried to change my inner clock so I could focus during the day time better, but it didn’t really work out. I’m a night owl. I’m wide awake and super focused past 10pm. I’m glad I can work however late I want now. I also work with a factory in South Korea and the time zone is thirteen hours different. It’s great when I’m up late working, I can get back to them right away since it’s day time there.

Q / What is your favorite place to work?
A My apartment. Since I launched OAD, my dining/living room has become my office. I have an old pug named Pillow, and I feel that I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him before when I had a job with long hours. I’m making up those times while working at home, but I’m hoping to get an office sometime soon where I can spread out more when I am designing.

Q / How do you try to balance your time?
A / One valuable piece of advice I got was “Do what’s most important rather than most urgent.” Sometimes, the most urgent things are not necessarily what matters. Since I have a very small team of one, prioritizing is so important. Also, I’m working on remembering to stop working and taking time to stay healthy and inspired. At least once a week, I take one afternoon to go check out my favorite vintage stores, shops, or museums.

Q / How do you keep yourself organized with all the projects you have going on?
A / Besides OAD, I consult and design for other brands too. Daily to do lists and a very organized calendar help a lot. Even if I make a plan with friends for lunch, I set it up on my calendar. (Everything goes on my calendar.) It’s a habit from my days working at a big fashion corporation where I had endless meetings back to back from 9am on. Also, I tend to get focused on one thing and lose a track of time often, so getting reminders from my phone and computer helps me to get back on the track.

Q / What is something you are good at? Something you struggle with?
A / I’m good at visualizing a design, expressing that on paper and getting it made the way I intended by closely working with the factory and vendors. I firmly believe that a good designer not only knows how to come up with an original concept, design, and sketch, but also that they need to be able to execute the design in the highest quality possible. Very often, a pretty sketch does not equate to well-made, quality product. It takes more than just coming up with an idea. At the end of the day, the final results represent the designer and the brand. As a small independent designer without an army of people working in teams, realizing the new designs into great products requires good communication skills, great relationships with vendors and factories, and just being a good person to work with. I love to create and I love all of my creations. They are like my children. Since I have limited resources and funds as a small designer brand, I can’t produce everything I design and love, so I need to edit the collection very tightly. When I worked for other big fashion companies before, I had a huge team of buyers and merchandisers whose job was to edit and merchandise the collection I designed. I wasn’t always happy with their decision but I found out that self-editing is even more difficult. However, I do love the fact that I can edit the line in the direction I want to and really take control of what OAD represents.

Q / What do you enjoy most about your career? What are the most challenging things about it?
A / I always say I have a dream job. I love what I do. Fashion has many facets and categories and tiers. It took sometime for me to find my place in fashion. That was a challenge for me. I have a few incredibly talented friends who ended up leaving the fashion world because they were disillusioned by its reality – mass production, the waste, long hours, lack of creative control and certain unbearable personalities. I was once faced with the same issues but I ended up working with amazing team of people who believed in me and what I had to offer as a designer. They are still my good friends and mentors now, and it was they who encouraged me to start my own brand and helped me in every step of the way to launch OAD successfully. What I love most about my career is that I challenged myself to work at different brands, price points, design aesthetics, categories and personalities. My main focus was accessories. The last 10 years, I designed bags, shoes, jewels, tech accessories (most of “non-apparel” categories). Usually, handbag designers only focus on handbags and do not transition to footwear or other categories, but I was lucky to move back and forth, and eventually I was put in charge of all accessories categories. I worked on very big scale production for companies like Ann Taylor but also designed advertising and runway shoes for Calvin Klein, and I helped Kate Spade to launch a new brand called Kate Spade SATURDAY, which was an amazing learning experience. All of these different experiences are so helpful to me now working on OAD.

Q / Is there anything you will never take seriously in terms of your work? Something that’s very important to you?
A / I don’t take fashion seriously. I enjoy it and it’s fun, but I don’t breathe and bleed fashion. I take a more pragmatic approach in when I design. I think you can see that in my bags. I always want to make sure my designs look considered and that they are functional. Every detail should be thought through and worked out.

Q / Where do you go to be quiet and think?
A / My home.

Q / How does your environment influence the kind and quality of work you produce?
A / It’s even more important now that I work at home. I try my best to keep it relaxing and inspiring. It’s always work in progress, though. As my aesthetic evolves, my home changes with it.

Q / Where did you grow up and what led you to New York?
A / I was born and raised in South Korea. I moved to NY when I was 16 and I’ve been here ever since. New York is home to me now and my design aesthetic really roots in living and working here the last 15 years.

Q / Do you keep any collections? If so, how do they influence you creatively?
A / I archive all my favorite designs from previous jobs and projects, so I have boxes full of shoes, bags and accessories that I’ve designed and sometimes refer to when I come up with new designs. Especially when designing handbags, the proportion and function is so important. It helps me visualize and figure out the construction of new designs when I have a successful one in front of me.

Q / How would you define beauty and what part does it play in your work?
A / Beauty is effortless and genuine. It’s true to design but also people. This definition of beauty helps me focus and edit…

Q / How does social media factor into your work? Is there anything you find problematic about it?
A / It’s so important but it’s a lot of work. Some people are just talented social media butterflies. Not me, I’m not even that social in person. Ha. I’m still figuring it out. But it’s been a great tool connecting with people and spreading the word about OAD. As a new brand, it’s crucial to get more exposure and social media is free PR I can afford now.

Q / Do you use the internet on vacation or do you prefer to completely disconnect?
A / I use the internet. I don’t have luxury of disconnecting from my business yet. It makes me feel better knowing I’m up to date and connected.

Q / Is there anything in particular that you do to take care of yourself and relax?
A / I love eating good food. I go out with my husband to eat at my favorite restaurant and come home to binge watch good shows in a warm blanket.

Q / What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
A / When I see/read/hear about how my design is making someone happy. After all these years designing, it still warms my heart when I see a bag or shoes I designed on street worn by a stranger. I also love to see my vision come to life. It’s the best thing. I usually do very thorough sketches of everything I design. It’s so fun to compare the sketches to the real product later and see the development of an idea.

Q / How does your work affect the rest of your life?
A / Things have changed alot now that I’m working for myself. I feel my life is more balanced because working at home makes it easier to do some personal projects in between my business work. When I used to work for a company, I felt like my personal life was on hold until my deadline was over and there were always so many deadlines. Financially, it’s not easy since OAD is still a very new start-up, but I do freelance design work for other brands to make up for that. Regardless, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Q / What has been your proudest career moment thus far?
A / I’m just proud to be where I am in my life doing what I do…it was exactly what I’d been dreaming about for long time.

Q / What are you looking forward to this year?
A / Launching OAD in Japan and the US (and creating useful and beautiful things that help you do more with less).

Q / Lastly, ten of your favorite people, places, and things that we should discover too?
A / Blinkist (app), KyotoCentre PompidouDuo in the East Village, BreatherBCD Tofu HouseRichard DiebenkornZenkichi, my Pug baby Pillow, and Muji house (I went to the Muji flagship store in Tokyo last year and they sell pretty much everything in every category you can imagine, all aesthetically cohesive, it’s amazing. One of the most fascinating things they sell are these pre-made house blocks you can actually buy to build your home!!! I dream of the day I can import the Muji house here to NY and live in that minimal but functional and beautiful space.)

Art Direction & Interview
Catherine Litke

Peter Curtis

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