“I have nothing to wear.” For many women, this is an everyday mantra. For Mei Zee, it was inspiration.
Dissatisfied with her professional wardrobe, Zee, along with fellow University of California at Berkeley grad Amy Jin decided to take matters into their own hands, founding MEI New York.
“There’s a void in professional women’s clothing that’s fashionable and has deep thought,” says Zee, a veteran of the industry (most recently at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren). “That was how we jump-started on the brand, and I think we still have that professional woman that we’re catering toward. But at the same time, it could be any woman, from any industry.”
Since launching in September 2011 (spring is their second collection), Zee and Jin, a full-time Google Authors employee, have creatively honed in on their career-girl muse, while maintaining a modern vintage aesthetic.
For their spring lineup, the New York-based designers turned to the naval era of World War I for inspiration. “There are a lot women out there who don’t really have a lot of freedom when thinking about what they can wear. For me that’s what spring is really about,” says Jin, who serves as MEI New York’s cofounder and chief financial officer. “It’s about this idea of liberation in World War I, where folks were getting on ships and going across the world. It’s the modern woman, and thinking about what she can do and when she has a choice, and just feeling liberated in her daily life.”
This military inspiration also sparked another breakthrough for the brand — their first foray into prints.
“I was trying to figure out this spring season, and I stumbled upon a picture of this dazzle camo ship,” Zee says. “I thought it was an art showcase or exhibit, but then realized it was something legitimate, and used back in World War I as a technique ships used to confuse the enemy. That was a huge part of our signature print.”
The clothes are strong, smart and to the point, comprised of crafted outerwear (retailing from $375 to $550), mix-and-match separates ($175 to $330) and simple sheath dresses ($250 to $545).
Next up is a collaboration with SoHo boutique Kisan. Dubbed MEI + Kisan, the capsule collection will showcase five silk dresses in a natural color palette and yet-to-be determined print. “It’s still in the works, but we are going to do something in reference to sea creatures for some graphic patterns that almost mimic optical illusions,” says Zee.
MEI’s fall collection was picked up by Thistle & Clover, Dagny & Barstow and New Orleans-based Vernon Clothing. Beginning next spring, some pieces will be sold at meinewyork.com.