Rosa Ng doesn’t need to ask for permission to do awesome stuff. She just does it.
She’s only 24, and she’s already launched a sophisticated e-commerce site selling local, small, and sustainable designer offerings, including apparel, jewelry, handbags, accessories, lingerie, bath and beauty products, and even a few carefully chosen home decor objects. While not everything is expressly sustainable (the plastic purse, while interesting, is not something I would buy) everything is from teeny tiny designers.
Young & Able is emblematic of the new way of doing things: Don’t beg for approval from the on-high arbiters of style and commerce. Instead, find a way to support your friends and put beautiful stuff out there together.
After I attended a party celebrating the new site and its young proprietor, I wanted to find out more about Ng. She suggested we meet up in the quiet little backyard of Saturdays Surf, a coffee bar/casually hip boutique on Crosby Street. (There’s another in the West Village.) Surrounded by other people Getting Cool Shit Done, I asked her about what drives her venture.
Originally from Cupertino, California, Ng came to New York in 2007 to attend FIT. She spent time abroad–a year in Florence and six months in London, where she attended Central Saint Martins. “That opened up another world for me. FIT was very technical, and abroad it was completely different,” she says. “There’s a lot of research behind everything. It helped me figure out what I want to do as a designer.”
She decided to specialize in knitwear. “I love making textiles. I love the idea that you pretty much start from scratch,” she says. “You develop the fabric. You can choose the yarn and you can choose the color. The possibilities are endless.”
By the time she graduated in 2012, she had interned and freelanced for several companies, and knew a full-time position wasn’t for her. “I love meeting new people,” she says. “When you freelance you really get to see how a company works early on.” She’s done work for Kate Spade and Calvin Klein, popping in before Fashion Week to help make the knitwear samples for the runway show.
And her designer friends went their own way, too, staring their own lines. “Watching what my friends did, I felt very proud of them and very inspired. The market is so saturated, I felt like there was a more of a need for a platform to showcase these designers. ” She saw a need that wasn’t being filled.
“There’s so many incubator programs popping up, and it’s helping the designers. But these designers will work out of their home. They need somewhere to sell. It doesn’t matter how great the products are if no one are going to see them. That’s why I started Young & Able, so we could all collectively promote each other.” You’ll see some designers you recognize, like Dusen Dusen and Gamma Folk, but many more that have so far flown under the radar.
She’s clearly of the latest generation, exploring Instagram to find new designers. “I’m on it so much, clicking away—a person will bring me to another person. I’ll screenshot brands so I can come back to them later.” (That’s actually how we originally met: on Instagram.)
But she’ll also give designers a second chance if she finds the pictures online unattractive. “Especially with new designers, the fit isn’t always good,” she says of the cobbled-together photoshoots by bootstrapping designers. “Or it’s not on the best model. Styling is really important. So I like to see it in person. If they have a showroom, I’ll try to meet them.” If she likes what she sees, she’ll take a few pieces on consignment so she can photograph them, and put them up on the site.
Her customers aren’t just in New York City, either. Like many sustainable fashion business owners, she gets a lot of love from Australia, and has some customers in Canada, too. The whole enterprise is financed and run by her, but she’s got big dreams, like a brick and mortar store. She’s got a pop-up in her sights for the holidays.
As for her own style? “I’m super basic. My uniform is a t-shirt and a pair of black jeans. I don’t shop.” And she definitely doesn’t do fast fashion. “I don’t go into these stores, it makes me sad. Why is it so cheap? I would rather save my money and invest in one of the designers I carry. Everlane I shop at,” she concedes.
For now, her own knitting machines are dormant while she pours herself into the site. “I am itching to create! When I meet these designers and go to these studios—I want to do this too! I will launch something. I don’t know when. I’m not going to do a collection just to do it.”