I first met Jenny Ton during CAAMFest, the Asian American film festival in San Francisco, where Retrofit Republic debuted their collection of traditional Asian garments mixed with contemporary pieces. I was in love with her styling so much that I can even remember her outfit that night: a shift dress with black and white panels, a white collar and a bright red skinny tie. She knows what’s up, I thought.
Her work made a big impression on me, and her passion is truly inspiring. She has gone through a number of tribulations, but has always remained true to her mission to empower women. Since I last saw her, she had left Retrofit Republic and is now the co-founder of an online clothing company called ACMIST.
Audrey Magazine: What is ACMIST and how did ACMIST come about?
Jenny Ton: ACMIST is an empowering online women’s clothing retailer focused on validating and cultivating your inner Boss self. ACMIST is inspired by our love for social good and fashion, the strength and celebration of womanhood, and the transformative nature of fashion on one’s inner self. We hope you’ll feel your best, like the Boss Lady that you are, in our clothes.
Shop these looks and more at ACMIST.com. Photography by Abraham Espiritu. Design layout by Christine Joy Ferrer.
The stars serendipitously aligned into the birth of ACMIST [ak-mest], co-founded with my college buddy and serial entrepreneur, Angela Suh, and extraordinary fashion maven and renaissance Boss Lady, Eileen Yu. Angela had started another ecommerce fashion site during the same time I had co-founded my first clothing retailer and styling firm, Retrofit Republic.
With the timeliness of our business transitions, an undeniable voice told us we needed to join forces. It was the ideal time to put into practice our lessons learned from our first fashion companies into a new venture with a ton of purpose and promise.
Eileen Yu & Jenny Ton at Kearny Street Workshop x ACMIST’s Celebrate Your Body 2015. Both are wearing ACMIST
AM: What was it like growing up? What sparked your interest in fashion?
JT: I grew up in a predominately immigrant and low-income community. We didn’t have very much growing up, which I believe was a catalyst of rich imagination and creativity for my family and me. From a necessity to survive, creativity and resourcefulness are byproducts of scarcity. I’ve seen some of the most creative individuals and ideas from the most under-resourced people in developing countries, which is where I believe my parents’ creativity and resourcefulness stems.
My mother, born and raised in Vietnam, is incredibly resourceful. She can and will repurpose almost anything. My father, also born and raised in Vietnam, is a talented construction worker. He is a self-taught architect and structural engineer, but without the formal education and fancy titles. He couldn’t afford them. He can build pretty much anything from scratch and retrofit old throwaways of any kind into something beautifully utilitarian.
As for me, we had no choice but to thrift shop. My mother was a stay-at-home garment worker, receiving five cents per garment she sewed. I learned my basic sewing skills from her. I was also a voracious fashion magazine reader. I would literally read every word in a magazine from cover to cover, admiring and critiquing a world that was vastly beyond the financial means of my family.
Although I couldn’t have what I saw in magazines, I had second-hand clothing with rich history and stories. I saw endless and exciting possibilities in styling and wearing these clothes but, shamefully, I also wanted to creatively conceal my poverty too. This was a time when thrifting wasn’t in fashion. It felt like everyone saw thrift clothes through an unsightly brown lens, yet I saw them through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of color. Via my style, I wanted to cultivate this kaleidoscope lens for others too. It wasn’t until college (when thrifting became fashionable) did I proudly share where I got my clothes.
AM: Who inspires you the most?
JT: My mom. She’s had an extremely turbulent life. I’ve thought about writing a book inspired by her life. Yet despite it all, her resilience and hero-like strength has been utterly inspiring.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article included a quote by Ms. Ton about her departure from Retrofit Republic that was unclear, and we therefore removed it.