Kayla Wong on how fashion inspires self-expression

Fashion is more than just clothes; it’s a form of self-expression that can inspire and connect people from different backgrounds. Kayla Wong talks to Chae Eun Son about how her newly launched Los Angeles concept store Lang “ ” helps elevate smaller independent brands from the Asian market while inspiring a community of inclusivity in the fashion industry

Kayla Wong is nothing short of a powerhouse. With her keen eye for photography, passion for spreading awareness as an LGBTQ+ activist and astute entrepreneurial mindset, she had already made her mark in the world of ethical fashion with the launch of Basics for Basics. But that wasn’t enough.

In September 2023, Wong was determined to make a greater impact with the launch of Lang or “靚”, a concept store with a mission to uplift the Asian creative scene through fashion and storytelling. With the launch of the Lang store, Wong shared her intentions behind starting the brand and the vision she is working towards.

Shots from the Jeremy Lee SS24 ‘Sisterhood’ campaign.

The word lang may evoke different meanings for different people. As Wong explains, for those who understand Cantonese, it may remind you of leng lui, meaning “beautiful”, or leng zai, meaning “handsome”. However, she also recalls her childhood when the word was used in “snarky cha chaan teng diner jargon when the waitress aunties described a female patron”. Despite all the meanings this one word embodies, in its most literal sense, lang or 靚 means “beautiful” inCantonese. Wong explains that they chose this word for their brand because it is “simple and abrupt, phonetically plain and unassuming” yet it carries a weight of cultural significance.

To Wong, fashion is not just about the clothes we wear. As the 31-year-old entrepreneur explains, “Fashion is all about self-expression without the need for words. It’s something we decide to put on every day depending on our mood and that in itself tells a story.” To her, the brands you choose to wear reflect your values and beliefs, making fashion a powerful tool for promoting inclusivity and breaking down societal norms. “When you support an AAPI brand or an LGBTQIA brand,” she says, “you are helping move the conversation forward.”

Wong’s passion for storytelling and self-expression is at the heart of everything she does, and it’s no surprise that Lang embodies these same values. The store is on a mission to “uplift the Asian creative scene through fashion”, with a focus on elevating independent brands and sharing their stories with customers.

Wong’s launch campaign for Lang showcased a grungier side of Hong Kong, in contrast to the opulent image the city is known for. The backdrop was the Causeway Bay indoor food court, which Wong chose as it embodies the culture she grew up in. Just as she has her own story, Wong believes that every person and business has an authentic story to share.

The Lang launch party at LA Chinatown’s Pearl River Deli.

At Lang, the importance of self-expression is paramount, and the selection of brands is curated to ensure that every customer can find pieces that speak to them. She explains to me the variety of styles available. “From skate culture to minimalist ’90s, we believe that there’s something for everyone,” she says. And as our preferences constantly evolve, the team at Lang believes that being a good listener is just as important to the way they curate and update their offerings.

During our conversation, I couldn’t resist asking Wong about her favourite pieces from the collection
so far. Her choice reflects her impeccable taste as well as the aesthetic of the Lang brand. One piece that she cherishes is Aeri Go’s Lula Ring, which she describes as “simple and elegant but not average”. Wong also shared details about a special project with Raw Emotions, in which a capsule collection was created featuring her father, Michael Wong, an iconic Hong Kong actor in the ’90s.

Kayla and Irisa Wong in the Jeremy Lee ‘Sisterhood’ campaign.

The launch of the Lang store, located at the heart of LA Chinatown, is a significant milestone for Wong and her team. She explains that the location is significant to her as it’s an area that has recently been overlooked. However, she draws inspiration from the other small businesses in the area that are working to bring the neighbourhood back to life. “It’s a great feeling to know that you are surrounded by people who want to uplift the same community,” she says.

For Wong, opening a brick and mortar store was always part of the plan. She believes that having a physical store not only allows the customers to feel the garments but also interact with the team and create a sense of community through the in-store experience. To her, being able to interact with her customers and tell someone “Have a good day!” carries more weight than selling them something. It’s all about creating and connecting with a community where everyone can share their authentic stories and inspire others.

The entrance to the LANG launch party.

As Wong continues to showcase the stories of independent brands and spread the message of inclusivity through fashion and storytelling, she aims to empower the next generation of designers and entrepreneurs by letting them know that “there is a place for them”.

“As a queer Asian woman, a lot of people might say that I have the odds stacked against me,” she says. “But from what I’ve seen so far, people are craving shopping experiences like Lang. Fashion sometimes feels unattainable or impersonal and I hope more designers and entrepreneurs will be able to look at the industry with a different lens. Continue to be different and think outside the box.”

A shot from Ken Ngan’s FW23 Hong Kong campaign.

Even as my conversation with Wong comes to a close, she never ceases to convey her passion and determination for the future of Lang. “A vision set at the beginning of a journey is ever evolving but, for now, our focus is on the in-store experience,” she says. “And one day, we’ll be able to occupy a bigger space with more community events.” At Lang, the goal is not scale. Rather, the team is determined to find and collaborate with more people to share their stories because everyone should be seen and heard.

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