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A chat with Amanda Hsiao, designer, Baby Gap.
With nearly 20 years of experience in the apparel industry at brands including Ralph Lauren and Gap Inc., mother-of-two Amanda Hsiao says childrenswear has been (by far) the most rewarding category as a designer. “When I was working for Ralph Lauren in menswear, I found myself reflecting on my purpose, asking ‘What does this all mean?’” Hsiao says, explaining that she was never able to come up with a satisfying answer. That is, until she became the design director for Baby Gap in 2006.
“When you design for babies, it becomes so much more about function,” Hsiao says. “There’s a greater focus on necessity and safety—a level of thoughtfulness and awareness you don’t encounter in adult fashion.” From making neck openings wider so toddlers can easily dress themselves to adding reinforced knees for inevitable tumbles on the playground, Hsiao loves each challenge that comes with executing safe and stylish duds in sizes newborn to 24 months.
This year, Hsiao was appointed by the Fashion Institute of Technology as a childrenswear critic for the graduating seniors’ annual Future of Fashion runway show. “Working with the students has been so inspiring,” she says, adding that she can tell a strong designer by one key quality: consistency. “They are given flexibility to create whatever they want, but still maintain a specific idea or point of view throughout the collection. That’s very hard to nail down.”
Hsiao tells the students to enjoy the freedom while they can. “When you work for a company in the real world, you have to design around their brand standards,” she says, noting that school is the perfect time to experiment and figure out who you are as a designer. With that, Hsiao advises students to always stick to what they believe in, even through the pressures that come after graduation. “It’s important to hear everyone’s ideas but maintain your vision during the process,” she says. “If somebody disagrees with you, talk through it, see their point of view—but never lose yourself.”
What’s trending in infantwear? The mini me trend continues to perform well. Whenever we drop something that looks like scaled down menswear, it’s always a hit. Critters are another huge trend. Critters on pockets, on knees, on butts. We love designing fun graphics, 3-D features or textural elements for the behind—probably because baby is the only category where that is completely acceptable.
Where do you look for inspiration? Runways, the street, television shows, movies, my kids—everywhere! I just finished Stranger Things (I know, I’m a little behind), but I have to say that show did an amazing job interpreting retro ’80s with a modern twist. That’s a great example of taking elements from an established trend without copying the vibe verbatim.
Are your daughters interested in fashion? Yes, they are both girly girls who love to be princesses. The more glitter the better! There’s glitter everywhere in my house, which has me constantly bringing out the vacuum.
What celebrity child would you love to dress? Well, I’m obsessed with pretty much all of them, but I’m going to go with Blue Ivy. She’s going to be phenomenal when she grows up. Some people complain she goes a little too far, but honestly what do you expect? It’s Beyoncé’s daughter!
How would you describe your personal aesthetic? I’m definitely a feminine tomboy. My whole life is rooted in denim. I love collecting vintage jeans. And when I’m not in jeans, I’ll wear outfits like army green cargo pants and a floral top or a dress with Air Max sneakers.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you? I could sit all day and just knit. My dream is to open my own local knitting shop in upstate New York. I’d love to teach knitting.