POP CULTURE: Fashion designer Malia Peoples personifies youth power effortlessly by reinventing disco and vintage wonder

Fashion designer Malia Peoples is not a person to ignore an opportunity for fun.

Once you have earned her good graces, Peoples just might invite you to her Northgate studio to pose together in front of the camera for a make-believe Vogue shoot, and goodness does she commit.

The studio itself is a colorful gallery that proudly exhibits the 32-year-old Chinese-Hawaiian’s multicultural roots.

Her eclectic collection of retro paintings or miniature Buddha statues adorning the walls could surely bring out the Zen within.

You can spot quilted tapestries here, a Domo doll there, and Roaring Twenties jazz playing everywhere.

Speaking of exhibits, four garments from Peoples’ 2013 spring/summer collection, titled Pop Soda, stands proudly in the Wing Luke Museum.

The exhibit, which runs until April 21, is called Workroom to Runway.

You can practically feel the power of the disco exuding from her dresses.

The pastel yellow picnic prints and the adorable buttons on the chest with orange outlining, all color blocked by a striking navy blue, serenade the onlooker with spunky ‘70s dreaminess.

The showcase celebrates the presence of the Asian-American community in the fashion industry by flaunting works of both internationally acclaimed and Seattle-based fashion designers.

Designers include Jason Wu, Vera Wang, Banchong Douangphrachanh, Gei Chan, etc.

You might think earning the “most playful” superlative for Seattle Magazine’s Seamless in Seattle competition two years ago is Peoples’ proudest career moment, but you would be wrong.

“My career highlight is being a part of the Wing Luke Museum exhibit,” she said. “It’s been such a blessing to have taken part in that.”

Peoples traced her entrance into the Wing back to when she was presenting her creations in front of a panel of Seamless in Seattle judges while wearing a skintight nude suit.

She began stripping and putting on a collection of ‘60s polyester galore while explaining her inspirations – an experience the designer looks back with nostalgic delight.

One of the judges was an impressed Lei Ann Shiramizu, who is owner of Momo, a Japanese fashion boutique with European influences.

Shiramizu then suggested Peoples to join the Wing’s planning committee.

Along with other working fashion devotees, Peoples met with fellow volunteers once a month for a year to organize an exhibit called Workroom to Runway.

After Workroom to Runway had opened in the summer of 2012, host and producer Nancy Guppy, a patron of the arts, featured Peoples on Seattle Channel’s Art Zone.

“To have an installation in the museum, to have been able to meet with a bunch of like-minded designers, to have a supportive community…was a huge boost,” Peoples said.

The Wing also held a fashion show hailing local brands such as Luly Yang Couture and Maiden Noire on Jan. 19.

“The fashion show was such a cherry on the cake. I don’t know if it can get any better than this.”

It can. Lady Konnyaku, Peoples’ dream-made-into-reality brand, arrived at Seattle brick and mortar outlets such as Pretty Parlor on Feb. 28 and Sassafras on March 8.

Konnyaku is a block of sticky jelly, a notorious Japanese treat that has a reputation for making its customers choke.

On hindsight, Peoples said she wished she could have chosen a name that would speak more to her American clients for her women’s wear line.

Her initial plan was to set up a store in China and sell exclusively to Japanese, because Peoples is obsessed with Japanese pop fashion.

However, she brushes off that regret with a smile.

A Lady Konnyaku woman, said the creative director, is a youthful woman who lives in the metropolitan area.

Just like in high school when Peoples who wore PVC clothes and colored hair, a Lady Konnyaku woman is not afraid to wear glitter, dye her hair, and most importantly, feel good.

“She likes to be the point of conversation,” Peoples said. “So [she is] not a wallflower-type.”

Peoples has moved onto menswear too, which will be available alongside Lady Konnyaku soon. She calls it, Other People’s Polyester or OPP.

OPP is a collection of color blocking shirts that are composed of, as the name indicates, polyester.

Before all of this dizzying success, Peoples had to travel halfway around the world to discover her true calling.

Peoples earned a bachelor’s degree in Chinese Literature at the University of Washington.

Her passion for all things Chinese led her to move to New York City and intern for China Labor Watch.

CLW, according to its official website, is a nonprofit organization that “[collaborates] with unions, labor organizations and the media to conduct a series of in-depth assessments of factories in China that produce toys, bikes, shoes, furniture, clothing, and electronics for some of the largest U.S. companies.”

The experience strengthened Peoples’ connection with her native culture.

“It was very interesting and very eye opening, because to see firsthand pictures and documents smuggled out [is] a lot more meaningful than just reading some report in the Wall Street Journal,” Peoples said.

“To be the actual person filtering through some of these select documents…hits home a little harder.”

Alas, the internship ended and Peoples returned to Seattle, this time working for a Taiwanese corporation called Yageo – a major electronics supply-chain.

Colleagues at Yageo praised Peoples for her ability to translate so well; she showed great promise.

However, “[It] turned out to be a dead-end desk job, really,” Peoples said.

“A lot of the times [I was] sitting in this cubicle, in this gray office, and I just wasn’t being challenged. I felt like I was in a dead-end, and I thought, ‘What am I going to do? I’m too young to die.’”

So she wondered. What could she do to incorporate some creativity, color, and interest that made people feel great?

She turned to the left; she turned to right; and then she found it: Fashion.

With her parents blessing, she enrolled into the New York Fashion Academy in 2005, and she faced a challenge indeed.

“I was completely out of my element,” she said. “[Fashion design] is harder than learning Chinese.”

For a person who had no professional sewing experience, Peoples still managed to rise above the occasion, receiving attention for her creative work from the likes of Seattle Magazine and The Stranger.

Peoples is truly a people’s designer. She adores Seattle and prays it will avoid the snobbery and coldness that arises from loving fashion.

“I’m a really inclusive person,” she said. “I don’t like people to feel left out.”

This story was originally published by The Thunderword.

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