Myth & Symbol on Taking Risks and “Just Doing You”
- July 15, 2014
- Written By Timothy Nguyen
My first encounter with Chau and Trang of Myth & Symbol was at a social media branding talk hosted by The Class Room for their Lifestyle Class Series.
Myth and Symbol is a women’s boutique located in Rice Village near the heart of Houston, Texas whose mission is to bring expertly crafted works of style and beauty — especially from independent and responsible sources — into their patrons’ lives. They carry brands such as Demylee, Ilana Kohn and Steven Alan displayed in a beautifully curated space.
Walking into the store I met Trang, one of the co-owners of Myth & Symbol. Having no idea what I was getting myself into, Trang helped me buy a “just because” gift for my girlfriend whom I would be visiting in Colorado later that week.
I flipped through the hangers trying to see if there would be anything for her. I failed miserably at finding anything so I asked my girlfriend to find something using the Myth and Symbol website.
She was instantly drawn towards a blue quilted jacket by Valentine Gauthier. Not knowing if the jacket would fit my girlfriend, Trang offered to try it on for me to see how it would look. Luckily enough, the two have about the same measurements and I ended up buying the jacket.
Interview with @SmthngBespoke today. We first met Tim when he stopped by to buy his GF a “Just Because” gift. How cute is that? — Myth & Symbol (@mythandsymbol) July 9, 2014
Impressed by the customer service and what they carried, I reached out to Chau and Trang for an interview.
How did you get started and what drove you to open your own boutique?
Chau: We got started when a friend of ours was looking to invest in a business. We come from different backgrounds like business, retail and fashion. BJ, my husband has a strong interest in graphic design, magazines and branding. So we combined all of our strengths when we noticed that there was a need in the Houston market.
July 7, 2012 was when we officially opened.
Trang is on the left and Chau is on the right.
What is your greatest fear when it comes to owning your own store?
Trang: For me it was stability, its great being your own boss but I also love corporate jobs. Leaving a really stable job where I was growing was scary especially for my parents because it was a big risk to take and I am glad I did it because you just have to go for it.
Chau: Risk is definitely the biggest thing because its really hard these days for brick and mortar shops. It’s an uphill battle when you’re competing against stores that can buy in bigger quantity and put stock on sale sooner. As a small business, it’s mostly the two of us making sure we have enough inventory, get payments in on time, and hire people, whereas bigger stores have a large team of people who are handling that.
I am also full time high school art teacher, and in the summer I am able to work at the shop more, but a lot of work is done for me at home, reading emails, looking at line sheets and trying to look for new items and staying in touch with designers. I handle most of the buying and Trang does re-orders and the huge task of the day to day operations, accounting, training etc.
Where would you like Houston’s fashion to be in 5 years? Are you doing anything to help it get there?
Chau: I would love to see people be more willing to support smaller lines, have fun, and put less stress on big luxury brands. Take a risk, feel confident in what you like instead of what is popular or trendy.
Trang: It’s so brand driven in Houston. Chau: Maybe wear less gym clothes everywhere and fast fashion. The price can be so tempting, but it’s important to support brands with ethical sources and buy items that would last for hopefully many years. Hopefully we provide space where people feel welcomed to continue to discover smaller brands.
Buying online can sometimes be hard because it looks different on the models and there are tricks that they do to make it look like that as well. Some of our clothes may not have the best hanger appeal, but when people try it, like this dress Trang is wearing for example, on the hanger it looks like a bag but when they try it on it looks great on curvy people and small people.
Do you see anything stunting Houston’s fashion scene?
Chau: There’s nothing that seems to be stopping the growth, but Houston’s sprawl can be a hurdle. People having to drive somewhere to discover something versus being able to walk around is a challenge especially in the summers. You walk out the door and you’re instantly dripping with sweat! Commercial developments with mixed use properties definitely helps smaller businesses like ours. We often have people coming into the store for the first time because they were at the local fabric store or tailor on our street.
I think people look to LA and NY to see how people are dressed there but those things don’t work for Houston. It all comes down to taking risks and finding out what you really like and what works best with your lifestyle.
Favorite brand(s) or aesthetics? Why?
Trang: Dusen Dusen and Black Crane. Dusen Dusen currently dominates my closet. My style is a bit loud and Ellen (the designer) has a knack for bold colors and prints (without being too over the top) .
I love Black Crane since the line is very affordable. They also work with cottons and linen-blends, which are easy to wash and ideal for Houston’s humidity. Silk just isn’t practical for me to wear everyday since I’m always at the shop and usually cleaning or moving around boxes. I love silk but I save it for special occasions.Chau: I also like Black Crane for everyday wear. The designers are both Japanese and that translate into their aesthetics. It’s minimal, but it has interesting cuts, drapes, treatments to the hems, etc. And I’ve washed and worn them over the past couple of years and each piece still holds up well.
Rachel Comey is also carried in the store and I’m a sucker for her prints and patterns. They aren’t too loud, and I love the range in her line and its appeal to a variety of customers. Some of her styles are more eccentric, but I’m drawn to more of her simple cuts and muted colors. I usually have to save up for her pieces, but wear them out on special occasions. She also pays attention to textures and little details like trims and pockets.
I really like APC for basics especially when I’m teaching. I can move around easily in their dresses, but the store, Steven Alan is a great brand for everyday wear too.
You meet a guy without any preferences who is willing to follow your explicit instructions. What is your advice to him, in order to transform his wardrobe?
Chau: Make sure your pants fit.
Chau: My husband had his pants tailored and it made a huge difference! We went to Alan (from The Class Room) and he showed him how to get the fit better (Thanks Alan!). It just makes you look longer and presentable. Personally I notice pants first, but I’m generally clueless about menswear.
Trang: The sizing and fit for women’s apparel is more precise. Most men definitely need to get their clothes tailored, especially their suits. Just a few inches in or out makes a huge difference. I think lots of guys are afraid of their clothes being too tight. The skinny look that is in right now isn’t for all body types so you don’t necessary need a skinny fit. You just need clothes that fit.
Chau: I think it’s harder for guys to buy clothes.
Tim: It’s probably because there are stricter rules when it comes to how things are supposed fit whereas with women’s clothing its more open to interpretation as far as fit goes.
Chau: I don’t really like v-necks.
Trang: What? I love v-necks, on guys and girls.
Chau: Like really deep v-necks where you can see chest hair.
Trang: That, I agree with.
What are your fashion rules, guidelines, and parameters for women?
Chau: Honestly, I really don’t have any. As long as you are comfortable and it makes you happy, wear it! I break “rules” all the time, I always mix black and brown. For women, I just feel like you should dress to feel comfortable in your own skin versus looking at the size number of the clothes.
Trang: Exactly what Chau said. I often get people asking me “does this look good on me?” or “do you think I can pull this off”. I always tell them the the truth but no matter what I say or anyone says, they should dress for themselves and wear what they
Chau: I think it’s important to do able to be a little active in what you’re wearing. Like walk and bend down without flashing anybody – then you are good to go!
Trang: We always get people that will sit on the couch, walk around or pretend to pick something up to make sure they aren’t flashing anybody.
Any advice for those with a budding sense of self and fashion? Anyone who is just starting to care about their own wardrobe.
Chau: Pull inspiration from a variety of sources. Don’t just look at one blog or one person. I think you should try everything out and not get stuck in one way. I like looking at Pinterest and seeing what other street style people are posting. Its kind of like art, sometimes you have to copy and try things out before you figure out your own style.
Trang: Experiment. I feel like I have gone through so many different phases and styles. I wouldn’t know what I really liked until I tried it. People are always afraid of pulling something off but anyone can pull off anything as long as they feel confident.
What is the story of how you became interested in clothing and fashion?
Chau: Growing up I read Baby-sitters Club, and there was a character in there named Asian American character named Claudia. She was a free spirit, and they always made sure to describe what she was wearing at meetings and what not. I use to draw her outfits, and sometime I would do the same for the different characters. I guess that’s when I started really realizing what style meant because they always described Claudia. Plus, I felt connected to her because she loved junk food and would hide it in her room. I may or may not have done something similar. After being introduced to the BSC, I would draw dresses during class and my down time.
Trang: I’ve always done retail my whole life and even though I don’t have a background in fashion its always been something that I have been interested in.
How has your initial interest transitioned into your current clothing choices?
Trang: I think I dress like a guy sometimes. I am very menswear inspired.
Chau: Where I went to college, there wasn’t that many places to shop. There was one mall with a few of your big box store, but it was hard to find something unique. Online shopping wasn’t big back then, so it was just trying to combine different things together and be resourceful. I really had to try to combine things on my budget. Now I try to buy only a few special things each season and items that would work year round if possible.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Trang: Pinterest and Instagram. You can search for and find anything a lot quicker and easier, especially with the use of hashtags.
Chau: I like seeing how different people dress, especially the designers we carry. Then there’s street style on Pinterest, and sometimes I will browse shows on Style.com but its hard to keep up. Whenever we travel to large cities, the way people wear basics always catches my eye. I guess they stand out more because it’s so simple, but the drape, cut, etc makes it unique.
Any items you REALLY want but haven’t pulled the trigger on?
Trang: I want a pair of Rachel Comey Mars Boots, but a wedding and needed house renovations are stopping me from getting them. I was going to pull the trigger on a pair of Lanvin shoes. I may use the excuse of needing them for my wedding.
Chau: I already pulled the trigger on a pair of APC boots last fall. It’s hard because I want everything! But now I’m focused on getting pieces for my work wardrobe. Unfortunately my everyday wear is a bit too casual for work.
What is your most embarrassing fashion related story?
Trang: That’s a hard one. I’m really klutzy and prone to accidents so whenever something embarrassing happens, I don’t remember because there are just too many. I do have an issue with forgetting to take my clothing tags off. I am the type of person who gets so excited about a purchase that I have to wear it now. I have gone out in public still wearing my tags. In junior high, I forgot to cut the tags off my shoes, the one that holds both feet together so yes, I fell over.
Chau: I like to wear loose silhouettes and the wind is my enemy. I wore this dress to a friend’s wedding with a wider cut at the bottom. Right as I walked towards the ceremony seating, the wind kicks in, and I was so afraid of flashing everyone I just stood in place, cross legged, hands straight to the side until BJ could grab my purse and I could put on a pair of shorts from the car. They luckily they almost looked like bloomers. That always seems to happen to me …
Other than clothing, are there any other hobbies and arts that you enjoy?
Trang: I’m cooking now which is something that I was never good at or cared for. It’s been quite fun experimenting with recipes and tweaking them to my liking. My fiance is diabetic and we have a wedding approaching so I am trying to find more enjoyable ways to stay active. We love biking around Montrose.
Chau: Yeah Trang is pretty good at being active. I am trying to find time to do my own artwork. It’s so easy to get consumed with just teaching it, and at the end of the day I just want to crash. This summer I’m trying to pick get into the habit of creating more and practice what I preach – to know that you will often make really bad things and hopefully get to the good stuff. Besides art, we did started cooking, but we kind of stopped. I would like to pick it up again!
Why should someone come into Myth and Symbol?
Chau: I think that’s really important to support local businesses. It’s been sad to see some great shops close, and when people lament about them being gone, it’s too late. If Houston wants to continue to be diverse and have character, small businesses need support. I think our shop is a good place to discover new designers which includes local brands as well. And I love that our space is a place where people can get more individual help with picking out special pieces, gifts, etc.
Trang: Our products and brands are what differentiates us. You can find unique items that you typically cannot find when you’re shopping at the mall.
Chau: And boys are definitely welcomed! We’re always helping guys pick out gifts.
In celebration of Myth & Symbol’s two year anniversary they are offering an extra 20% off both online and in-store purchases! To get the discount online use the code TWO at checkout.
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Chau: Instagram – Trang: Instagram
Photos by: Levi Lemaster
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