Working Mamas Rock Interview Series #2: Donna Tsui of Kensie Jeans
Interview with Donna Tsui
Q: Hi Donna, please tell us a little about you.
A: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I now reside in Queens with my husband, Ray and my two-year-old son, Miles. After I graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), I dabbled into a little bit of everything. I started in women’s sportswear then went on to designing for girls, and now I’m a denim designer for Kensie Jeans.
Q: Tell us a little about Miles. What about the hubs?
A: Miles just turned two years old and has the biggest personality. He loves to sing and dance. His favorite shape is the square. We call him our little “pistachio” because he such a happy baby. In Cantonese, pistachio literally means “happy nut.” I feel so lucky to not only have a husband who supports me in whatever I do and believe in my dreams, he’s also an phenomenal dad! Neither he nor I do more or less. If he could breastfeed, he would! I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.
Q: What was one piece of advice shared with you that really helped and stuck with you as a new parent?
A: Don’t feel bad about leaving your baby in the nursery the first night after you had just given birth. You will need to fuel up for the long battle ahead. Your neighbors in the hospital will thank you! I learned the hard way and stayed up with a crying baby all night.
Q: These days, how do you define success?
A: Family, friends and my career are all things that matter to me. That's why having a good work/life balance is on the top of my list. If I get to see some friends at least once a week, and get all of my work done on time so I can come home at a decent hour to hang out with my family, it’s been a good week!
Q: What’s your favorite children’s book? What’s Mile’s favorite book?
A: My favorite children’s book is "Journey." It's so beautifully illustrated. The book does not contain any words, so it encourages readers to use their imagination. Miles’ favorite book at the moment is "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." I think it’s mainly because he likes to put his little fingers through the holes.
Q: Where do you and yours vacation nowadays? Do you recommend it for new parents and their children?
A: My husband and I try to take a trip with my in-laws at least once a year. Last year, we went to Fort Lauderdale and Key West with my mother-in-law (MIL) and my sister-in-law and her family. This year, we took a trip to San Francisco, California mid-March right right before Miles turned two. It was his last free flight!
One of the best decisions we’ve made while booking our trip to San Francisco was renting a condo on Airbnb. We had most of our meals in the apartment; dining out with kids can be challenging. The apartment was fully stocked with kid-friendly entertainment. Our hosts have kids and with picky eaters, so we had access to a fully stocked fridge and well equipped kitchen, which made a huge difference! We had such a big group, so I don’t think we can travel any other way.
Q: Can you share your favorite DIY tip?
A: Ironically, I don’t really have any fashion-related DIYs. I think by being a part of that world already, I need a different outlet. Recently I’ve been really into those dummy-proof short cooking tutorials on Facebook. Most of my attempts have been successful!
Q: As a fashion designer, where do you draw your inspiration from? Any different from before you became a mama?
A: In general, some of my favorite source for inspiration comes from street art, craft fairs, people watching and window shopping. A few years ago, Crocheted Olek did an amazing installation all around Williamsburg (Brooklyn). She knitted over large objects like cars and bicycles with bright colorful yarns. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I think it’s wonderful that art has integrated into our daily lives. Nowadays, you don’t even have to go to galleries and museums to see art— you just have to go outside!
The Renegades Craft Fair (usually held in Brooklyn) is always fun to attend. It’s one of the largest craft fair showcasing independent designers. It’s so inspiring to see other designers doing what they love and making a living from it. One of my favorite finds at the show was a print studio call De Islas. Their prints are so eclectic and vibrant.
For work and moodboards, I pull most of my inspirations from Instagram, Pinterest and blogs. Some of my favorites blogs include "They all hate us," "The Sartorialist," "The Selby," "Design Sponge," "Vanessa Jackman," and "Tommy Ton."
Although I won’t be able to take Miles to see Van Gogh or Degas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yet because he’s so young, hopefully one day he’ll grow an appreciation for them when he’s a little older. For now, we can still have fun at these outdoor craft fairs and other more kid- friendly museums.
parenting and working just fit...
Q: After maternity leave ended, did you feel guilty about going back to work? What advice do you have for new parents who have to work?
A: I shed a few tears on my way to work the first day. I was mostly afraid that I was going to be replaced by my MIL. Transitioning from spending 24 hours a day with Miles to spending most my day away from him was difficult the first few weeks. But over time, I realized I missed interacting with people other than my family and I missed having my meals with both my hands (instead of holding Miles on one arm and eating with the other).
Two years later, Miles knows that I’m Mommy and greets me with the biggest hug when I come home from work every day. He understands that his daddy and mommy will be away for a few hours but will always return.
Q: What’s a day for you like these days? Your typical week?
A: I wake up at 7AM on most days (snooze to 7:15- 7:30AM if Miles woke me up in the middle of the night). On my way out, I drop Miles off with my MIL, who lives downstairs from us. On a typical day, I arrive at the office around 9:30AM, make myself a cup of coffee and dive right into emails. My job is about 50% damage control, 30% designing and 20% fulfilling requests from other teams.
Today, the design team spent a large part of the day in department stores on the Upper East Side to shop and research for Spring 2017. Since Kensie is a Junior Contemporary brand, what’s trending in high-end retailers now usually trends for us the next year. Once we finish shopping the market, we start to identify the repeating themes and trends that would be brand appropriate for our collection.
We went back to office around 3PM to follow-up on any pending issues with our cross- function teams (production and sales), respond to emails, and consolidate our findings from the morning. My work days typically end around 6:30 to 7PM. When I got home, I had dinner, and played with and read to Miles for about an hour before putting him to bed. Alas, I have one to two precious hours to decompress and take care of thing on my end (like completing this interview!) before I go to bed.
terrific or terrible?
Q: Are you looking forward to terrible twos or terrific twos?
A: Terrific Twos, absolutely! Miles can have bad tempers and be very stubborn but the personality he’s developing overshadows all of our growing pains. I’m especially proud that he’s already showing some form of empathy and compassion.
A: Miles is starting to form opinions about what he likes and dislikes and we want to encourage him to explore his interests. Since he seems to be musical, we just signed him up for Mommy, Music and Me classes. When I have days off, I love taking Miles to the local Public Library. They have free story time for kids; some branches even have playtime. It’s a great way to meet local moms and expose your kids to other personalities their age especially if they don’t go to daycare or school yet.
Thank you, Donna, for this wonderful interview! Please follow her at https://www.instagram.com/builtformiles/
If you know an amazing working mama (or are one yourself) who would like to be interviewed for this series, please contact us today! While all mamas are super, the focus of this series is on working mamas.