Designing Her Story: Khanh Nguyen

Khanh Nguyen 
Founder, Creative Director and Designer of Nha Khanh

Born into the fashion world, Khanh is now using her keen sense of detail to design some of the most beautiful dresses that we have ever seen. Her days are spent working with her ever so supportive husband who is the CEO of Nha Khanh, instilling her same love of fashion into her 4 year old, Nha-vy and investing herself in both her staff and her family. At Akola, we love Khanh because she knows in her heart that your team matters and she leads with a humble strength.

Photography by Chelsea Q. White

Describe your life's work:

My life is all about work. First of all, I basically do what I love to do. I sleep, I eat, I breathe and everything else is about fashion, designing and making dresses. It’s my first love. I was born into a family of apparel in Vietnam. My grandparents were tailors and seamstresses, mainly making women’s suits, and were in the business for 60 years. My uncles and mom were born into it, too. Out of my family, my mother was the first to break into the bridal business and made more European inspired dresses in the 80’s and 90’s. I grew up watching her design and when I was about 5 or 6 I really began to love helping her with dresses, seeing her and new designs. When I was 12, my family moved to the United States. As I grew up, I began to love fashion more and more but my parents didn’t want me to go into a career in Fashion because they believed we had too much opportunity here in the United States and saw it to be a common career that anyone without an education could walk into. I started school and tried to stay away from fashion, but it ended up taking me 8 years to finish because I changed my major in year 5. My dad refused to talk to me or care about what I was doing for two years, but I worked very hard, proved myself and caught up. I was committed and focused. I ended up winning the Fashion Group International Career Day competition and was given the opportunity to go to Paris and learn from successful brands in the industry like Chanel. My eyes were open to so much while in Paris!

During that time, my then boyfriend flew to visit me and proposed in Venice. I almost dropped the ring in the water, but was so inspired to make all of my own wedding dresses! I came back from Paris and ended up designing four dresses to wear throughout the day, designed both of our mother’s gowns, two flower girls and all of my bridesmaids. I documented the whole process on Facebook and people began inquiring about custom made dresses. My husband saw the potential and helped me launch the line in 2010. He is now the CEO and helps manage the company in order to allow me more freedom to be creative and do what I love! One of my wedding dresses ended up being the dress that launch Nha Khanh and is now the “Milace” dress and makes an appearance in every collection that we make!

Walk us through a day in your world:

I wake up and get my four year-old daughter, Nha-vy ready for school. She loves fashion and dressing up - she wants to dress up every day! After I drop her off, I spend 8-10 hours designing and then I go home and research what to do next, what styles are trending. Every day when my husband picks Nha-vy up, she wants to come to the studio so I have paint and paper for her to do her own sketches on. The fashion business is very busy, so sometimes it can get a little chaotic. At the studio, everyone is doing their own thing. I do mostly design, but I also help answer all questions and edit all details. In a regular week, I take meetings on Monday, focus on technical things and help my staff on sewing techniques, fabric for designs, ect. On Tuesday and Wednesday, hold client meetings on Thursday and then Friday is mainly dedicated to relationships with my staff - we usually go out to eat as a team and have a more laidback day.

Khanh with her daughter at Akola's Neiman Marcus launch event.
Photo via Instagram @nhakhanh.

Where do you draw your motivation from?

Lace is what I love the most and what I draw motivation and inspiration from the most. Looking at it can pretty much spark 1,000 different ideas. I love it everytime we get new lace and fabric - the patterns, the delicacy - it brings me back to my wedding day and I remember why I started. I also draw motivation from nature, flowers, the sky, the ocean and the wind. Sometimes, my clients bring inspiration that I don’t think I will use, but end up drawing ideas from it. There lifestyle influences the way I work, the way I design and helps me to aspire to be the kind of woman I want to become.

How have you surprised yourself?

I still surprise myself today and often think “What am I doing here?” I am definitely living a dream come true. I am grateful and try not to take my work for granted. It is a blessing to wake up every day and do what I love. Because of fashion, the difficult days are not as hard and even in the hardest times, I still wake up and think “What can I design today?”

What is the most valuable realization you have had in your work?

Building relationships with your staff is huge. I think that it is the most important thing in any business. When you don’t have relationship, you don’t see eye to eye and it is harder to build things as a whole. A dress requires a lot of things to make a final product. I can have a vision, but cannot see it to completion without my team. Understanding your clients AND your staff are the most important parts of business, but I have to take care of my staff before I can take care of anything else. It is a challenge, but if my staff are happy then I am happy. When they are happy, they are doing their job and it results in happy clients. I still learn every day that relationships have a domino effect, and it starts with me.

What personality traits play an essential role in your work and growth? Why?

I am a positive person in any environment or situation. There is so much trial, error and challenges, but I have learned that when you are positive and optimistic, it sends out a good vibe and affects everyone. Being positive is something that I have developed over the years, but it works so well for me, those who work for me and those around me. I always say nothing is the end of the world, so let’s just enjoy life. Everything is always okay at the end of the day. Enjoy the moment and do not sweat today over things that you have no control over.

Looking forward, how do you want to spend yourself?

My husband recently asked this same question and it’s funny because he always jokes about selling the business and asking me what I will do. He tells me you can travel and see the world, but I always say no! I am designing forever. I truly see myself designing and being surrounded by making dresses every day. This is what makes me happy. Even if I don’t have my own business, I will design, make patterns, sew, whatever. Just let me make clothes!

What advice do you have for those trying to design their own story?

You have to passionately love what you do! That’s when things get easier. If you don’t love what you do, it will just get hard. Focus on doing what you love, and that will make a difference. I always say that it doesn’t matter the glitz and the fame, I have to do what I love first and it doesn’t matter who notices. My hard work has got to go into my product and then I can let my product speak for itself.

You may have the vision, but you will need so many great minds along the way. Your team is everything that you need to build your career. Building your team is the most important thing - If you don’t have that chemistry, things will get very hard for you. You have to think through how you will bring others together and show them how to love what you do. A lot of people lose track of their focus, but the thing is, when you come together you build better teams. By yourself, it’s a hard, hard ride.

What outfit do you feel the most confident in and why?

I have to wear jeans, a t-shirt and flats to work. It’s what I feel most comfortable in. When I am meeting with clients, I love my wide leg pants. I have 5 pairs in every color! When I wear them, I wear the same t-shirt and throw on some heels and I feel perfect.

Favorite Coffee Order

I used to drink a lot of coffee. I would always get a hazelnut latte if I was getting a hot drink and a coffee frappuccino with extra shots if a cold drink. About four months ago, I stopped drinking coffee. Now, I have an early gray tea every morning and every afternoon after lunch and I am ready to get going!

Where do you find the most joy?

My daughter! Other than that, my office at my studio. That is my great joy room and I spend a lot of my time there.

What is your favorite Holiday Tradition?

I am not Catholic, but my husband is, so for the last 12 years, I have spent Christmas Eve with him and his family. We go to mass, open Christmas gifts and have a big dinner at his parents place.

What are you most looking forward to this Holiday Season?

I look forward to spending Christmas Eve with my husband’s family every year and look forward to time with my family. I love Nha-vy having great memories built with her grandparents every year!

Photography by Chelsea Q. White

Shop Khanh's Looks