Liliana Mei Wu On Her Journey To Product Development

Following a stalled start as a Fashion Design major, Colombia native Liliana Mei Wu found a new direction, pursuing a degree in Product Development. An underappreciated component of the fashion business, product development involves the creation of garments, collections and other products that appeal to consumers. Wu found her way to the major after three years in Fashion Design. “I got into level three, and at that point, I realized that fashion design was not what I wanted to do,” she said. “I took a break for a year or so, taking electives and other classes to figure out a better career path for myself.”

Wu prefers a cerebral approach to fashion and likes to challenge herself by consistently learning new aspects of the business. For her, the turning point came when she realized that her style was more reserved. “You do some design while you are in Product Development, it’s just that I didn’t feel as creative as my Fashion Design classmates,” she said. “I was more focused on the market, what people will actually wear, whereas in design, you tend to think more outside of the box.” She talked to Product Development Program Coordinator Andrea Skillings and decided to embrace a new direction. “I actually didn’t know what Product Development was because, in reality, you know that the designer basically does all of the work,” Wu said. “However, what I learned is that product developers are the ones behind the scenes. They are the ones who get the actual product to the market. I like that part of the business.”

Portfolio excerpts courtesy of Liliana Mei Wu.

Her transition hasn’t been smooth, as Wu essentially had to fit four years of classes into two, yet she feels that she has grown in the process. She would, however, advise future students to consider multiple angles of the industry before getting heavily involved in a degree program. “Think about what you really want to do in terms of fashion. I feel like Product Development is underestimated,” she said. “We actually do a lot of work. Maybe we’re not as creative as the designers, but we are the ‘brain.’ We are the ones who organize everything in order to get the product done.”

Wu feels that the support she has received at Academy of Art University has helped develop her talents and will help her succeed in the future. “I feel that there is a lot of support on their part,” she said. “Right now, they are also working very closely with us to get into the portfolio review and the spring show, because we’re such a small group. They want us all in this event; they want us all to get a job and be in good positions in the industry.”

Portfolio excerpts courtesy of Liliana Mei Wu.

While designers are all about putting on fashion shows and being creative, Product Development focuses on the intricacies of the business. Wu enjoys classes that offer real-life experience and allow her to translate concepts into practice. She highlights her experience with sourcing and manufacturing. “In this class, we do research for different countries and sourcing strategies,” she said. “We have to do some research about where we want to source our products and get our products made, so it’s actually a real-life project, because you have to contact the manufacturers getting the lead time minimums or the quantities and actually negotiate if we want to place an order with them and continue the process of getting the product done.” 

Some may view three years in a major that doesn’t speak to them as wasted time; however, Wu feels that the experience has helped her become more rounded. “I think it has helped me a lot to have a background in design and now a strong foundation with Product Development. I feel like I can get into both sides of fashion.”

Many students don’t consider fashion product development, because it is not as visible as other aspects of the industry. “Product developers aren’t the people at New York Fashion Week,” said Wu. “I feel like those shows are more handmade, high end or couture, whereas product developers make clothing that is more targeted toward the market.” Following the summer semester, she will be done with her classes, ready to bring her knowledge into the world. Wu is looking forward to being part of the future of fashion, and, also hopes her future industry slows down a little. “I hope that there is more value given to the artistic part of it, and designers make more meaningful collections.”

Words by Alaina Brandenburger, MA Fashion Journalism student