Some people may cower at the idea of working in close quarters with their other half, but UNIF designer Christine Lai gladly welcomes the scenario as she consistently creates magic alongside co-owner and boyfriend, Eric Espinoza. The dynamic duo are the proud parents of one of today's most blogged about fashion brands, as well as two very adorable pugs. With fans hailing from all over the world and an impressive list of fashion editorial cameos, it's no wonder the brand has created such a viral epidemic, spreading like wildfire over the interwebs.
Christine Lai: the 5'1" trap-loving, tie-dye enthusiast has been the style muse of countless fashion blogs and designers over the years, so it was only natural that she and her equally talented boyfriend, Eric, broke out into creating their own brand. With an irreverent attitude and occult themes showing through in each collection, UNIF has this generation of fashion stalkers completely enamored with its clothing, as well as its witty, fearless leader. We followed Christine through her tireless day-to-day life at the UNIF headquarters, while talking fashion and 1st date rules with her infamous pup, Nightmare. Find out about all of Christine's secret shopping hot spots, and how she made the transformation from computer science student drop-out, to high-caliber designer in this month's edition of This Miss KL.
Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Christine, and I'm ½ of UNIF.
Many girls look up to you for style inspiration, but is there an individual you look up to? Who and why?
I look up to everyone. I'm 5'1.
Where do you usually go for inspiration when designing a new collection?
Vintage and thrift stores mostly. But our customers inspire me a lot, actually. I mean, we make clothes for them, so it's important to be in tune with what they like.
Who is the "UNIF" girl?
Hmmm…that's hard. I feel like I used to know but with the growth of our following, it's hard to pin point. Sometimes we're surprised by who our customers are…pleasantly surprised by them. I've always felt UNIF was like a thrift/vintage store. You're not going to like everything, but there's something for everyone.
I noticed you travel quite a bit - where is your favorite place to go? Favorite spot to shop?
I pretty much go to the same places multiple times a year: China and Japan. China to work. Japan to shop. A lot of stuff I wear is vintage, so whenever I travel to Japan I always like to stock up. The Koenji area of Tokyo is by far my favorite place to buy vintage pieces. Most of the stuff comes from the States, so it feels a little weird paying for it in Japan, but definitely worth it.
Tell me a little about your career path. How did you first get started in fashion and how did you end up where you are now?
See, I'm sort of like my grandma in a sense that I refuse to buy clothing that I could make for myself, or alter somehow. Growing up watching her sew and rip clothing to her liking made me naturally interested in design. I ended up going to a university for computer science (weird, right?) but dropped out after two months. Those two months were just what I needed to realize how badly I wanted to make clothes. I enrolled in FIDM. to learn the basics and the rest is history.
What's been the most exciting thing you've encountered since launching UNIF?
There have been many "moments," but I think the most exciting/rewarding thing is just seeing the brand grow. Sometimes I take a step back and am surprised at how many people like our stuff.
What spawned the creation of your own line?
There's not a non-cheesy way to put it...it just came naturally. Not having my own line per say, but making clothes. I've always made clothes for myself so having my own line was kind of a no brainer.
Were there any specific struggles you had to overcome when starting out your collection?
Oh man, were there. Money, space, money, doing the work of five people, money. Growing pains is all I can say. It would take forever to list all the shit we've been through to get to this point, and all the shit we're still going through, as we're still growing. I embrace it, though. I mean, it's better than stagnancy pains, right?
How does your personal style reflect the designs of each collection?
I think Eric and I have always put a piece of ourselves into the collection. Throwing in that one super weird piece that would never sell keeps us sane. Eric comes up with all the witty verbage, and I help out…mine are usually the worst ones.
What is it like working with Eric? Do you guys ever butt heads when designing/working?
Living and working together isn't actually as bad as most people would think. We don't take ourselves very seriously so it's pretty easy to overlook differences. Of course, we are constantly disagreeing on something, but I think that's what keeps our creativity churning.
Tell me a little bit about your team.
Everyone that works here, we've known for a long LONG time. We've either worked with them in previous jobs, or known them as friends, so it's a pretty close-knit group. We're very lucky to have a team that works hard without complaint, and is just as excited for growth as Eric and I am.
If you weren't designing, what would you be doing?
I'd probably own a pug boarding joint. If I could have it my way, I'd be covered in pugs all day everyday.
Is there any advice you'd give to girls looking to follow the same career path as yours?
Oh man, save your money and swallow your pride. It's going to be an expensive and looong ride. Of course, knowing Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop helps too.
So what's next? What new exciting projects do you have in the works?
Nothing we do is super pre-calculated. If we come up with something then we just do it, so I'm not really sure what's next. I treat every season as a new project so I guess we're just on the next.