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Q&A with 12-Year-Old Design Prodigy Ashlyn So

The youngest Asian-American designer to exhibit at NYFW, So turns heads with chic styles for women and tween girls.

Photo by Arun Nevader/Getty Images

In 2017, Ashlyn So was the youngest Asian-American designer to participate in New York Fashion Week (NYFW) at nine years old. Since then, she has appeared on the runways of Kidfash San Antonio Fashion Show, San Francisco Community Fashion Show and Sacramento Fashion Week. Most recently, So returned to New York last month to present her 2021 collection at The Angel Oresanz Foundation Center, bedecking unorthodox silhouettes with cosmic elements.

“When I go to the fabric store, I’m not sure how, but I know exactly what I want,” she says. “I like to reimagine simple things, like the patterns on a wooden door or silhouettes of trees, into figures and fantasies, and these will transform to be part of my collection.”

Fast Favs

  • Food: any type of fruit

  • Beverage: apple cider

  • TV Show: “The Office”

  • Movie: “The Devil Wears Prada”

  • Book: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

  • Song: “Everything I Wanted” by Billie Eilish

  • YouTube Channel: 5-Minute Crafts

  • Animal: Corgi

  • Celebrity: Billie Eilish

  • Game: Life

  • Place to Visit: Manhattan

  • School Subject: Art/Photography

After admiring her latest designs for women and tween girls, Earnshaw’s connected with the 12-year-old design prodigy to learn more about how she fell in love with fashion, the challenges she’s faced as a young designer and any advice she has for other little girls with big dreams.

Photo by Arun Nevader/Getty Images 

How would you describe your personal style? My everyday style is more streetwear. I don’t usually wear my own designs every day but if there is a party, I would want to wear one of my own designs that are unusual yet appropriate for the occasion.

Do you have a favorite outfit? My favorite outfit to wear is my crop-top I upcycled out of my dad’s old shirt. I embraced the fact it was oversized, and I cut the bottom of the shirt shorter and made a scrunchie. I also added two yellow zippers across the shirt, making it unusual.

What brands do you prefer? My favorite brand of pants is Lululemon because they are very comfortable with great quality. I don’t have a favorite brand for tops, but I prefer oversized boxy styles. I like to get women’s crop tops, so the length is just right at the waist.

How about your go-to place to shop? My favorite place to shop is Muji, a Japanese brand. They have very nice aluminum mechanical pencils and pens and all kinds of stationary.

Do you mostly shop online or in-store? I mostly shop online because it is easier to find things. There is also a wider selection. I don’t always shop online for clothes though because it’s hard to tell whether something will fit. And I always do my fabric shopping in a store, so I can touch and feel the fabric.

Is there a certain trend you’re obsessed with lately? Just like trends for women, there are many different styles for different kids’ personalities. I see Billie Ellish’s style influencing streetwear now. It’s gender-neutral quality is especially appealing as a lot of kids don’t want to be defined by what a girl or a boy traditionally wear. Overall, breathable tops are a must for kids. Metallic color and flippable sequins are also very trendy right now. Kids love some bling and some fun!

What’s your design aesthetic? When I was younger, I liked elegant designs. I also used different color fabrics for my designs, and I loved making them flowy. But today, my style has changed. I love avant-garde and unusual designs now, and I don’t use colors as much. I also make my designs very sculptural. What’s more, I want to use my designs to give back. Last year, I was able to offer my custom design dress services to the highest bidder at a live auction for Samaritan House, a local San Francisco Bay Area charity. I was proud to be able to raise thousands of dollars for them!

What inspires you? Everyday objects inspire my designs. I also feel inspired by museums and fashion exhibits. One of my favorites was China Through the Looking Glass at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2015. I am also very inspired by Pierre Cardin’s Future Fashion Collection. Even though the collection is from the ’70s, it still feels very futuristic.

Who else do you admire? Ben Taverniti, Alexander McQueen and Sarah Burton inspire me. I love their creative and edgy styles. Collaborating with them would be a dream come true. Ben Taverniti’s Unravel Project is my favorite collection.

If you could dress a celeb, who would it be? I want to do a look for Lady Gaga. She is experimental and has a great eye for dramatic appearances on stage on point costumes.

What are some lessons you’ve learned as a young designer? I think my biggest personal obstacle is that I still have to overcome my shyness. I like to design and let my drawings and design show how I feel or think. I am not very good at explaining myself or speaking in front of people. Because of that, most people don’t know what I do.

What advice would you give other girls with big dreams? Never give up and know that you can make a difference—don’t let anything or anyone stop you. Being scared is just another reason to try harder. When you find out you love designing don’t hide it, continue doing it and never stop.

For updates on So’s personal and professional life, follow her on Instagram!

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