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Her handbags reflect her bright outlook

By Caroline Berg in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-27 15:21

Her handbags reflect her bright outlook

Wu Mengdi (right) becomes the youngest finalist to be nominated for InStyle's Independent Handbag Designer Awards.

Her handbags reflect her bright outlook

Glamorous gams

Her handbags reflect her bright outlook

Tailored for tots

Her handbags reflect her bright outlook

Time is money

Her handbags reflect her bright outlook

Designs for a beautiful life

No matter how many accolades or how much media attention Wu Mengdi receives, the up-and-coming handbag designer says she's really not all that artistically inclined.

"I'm much better with computer stuff and not good at sewing," says Wu, who is a junior at Parsons the New School for Design in New York. "My (tailoring) teacher wanted to kill me. She wanted to hunt me down each time."

During her freshman year at Parsons, Wu launched her first canvas tote bag collection for her personal lifestyle brand, mengdi3wu, in 2010. Her debut design, which she developed in the summer before starting at Parsons, was a cartoon face screen-printed onto a white canvas.

"I wanted to create a memorable, cute face," Wu says about her "Button Tote".

"I also wanted to make it simple and to be easily recognized, so I used basic shapes."

The face that inspires her brand's logo has big round black buttons for eyes, two small horizontal red ovals for blush and a red rectangle for a mouth with a chip in the lower right-hand corner.

"That's actually an error," Wu says of the missing corner. "I did intend to produce - my non-creative mind - a full rectangle, but then the computer, I don't know why, it always printed out with this corner missing."

In the end, an aunt and a sister of Wu's convinced her that the erroneous version was better. "The other way is just symmetrical and nothing special," Wu recalls.

Since launching her brand, Wu's designs have won the 2010 Coach Design Your Own Tote Award, and she became the youngest finalist to be nominated for InStyle's Independent Handbag Designer Awards. Wu's designs have also been featured in Teen Vogue, InStyle, Cosmopolitan China and on Yahoo News and television news.

Growing up in Ningbo in Zhejiang province, the 21-year-old Wu says she never thought she would become a fashion designer. At age 14, Wu moved to the United States and attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan.

Wu says about her education in China was more limiting in terms of her self-expression. "Coming to America helped me more design-wise, because I think the teacher is maybe more accepting to new ideas."

Wu didn't want to follow the typical career path her professors at Parsons outlined for her and her classmates: Study in the freshman sophomore years; find internships in the junior and senior years; work for a few years; and then finally start a company.

"I was like, 'I want to do it already,'" Wu says.

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