Phillip Lim was born in Thailand in 1973 to Chinese immigrants who later fled to Southern California to escape Cambodia’s civil war, where his mother found work as a seamstress and his father became a professional poker player. While his mother clearly had an early influence on his ethos, Lim didn’t fantasize of being a designer. Instead he studied finance for three years at California State University of Long Beach, but soon found himself switching to a degree in home economics.
Phillip Lim debuted his eponymous brand, 3.1 Phillip Lim, in the fall of 2005, with business partner and friend, Wen Zhou, bucking the ostentatious runway trends of the time. His line of youthfully elegant wardrobe classics with a twist, was an instant sensation and adored by critics, fashion editors and customers alike. Widespread recognition of Lim’s talent and accolades quickly followed, including the 2006 Fashion Group International Women’s Designer ‘Rising Star’ Award, the 2007 CFDA Swarovski Award in Womenswear, the 2012 CFDA Swarovski Award in Menswear, and the 2013 CFDA Award for Accessories Designer of the Year.
After nearly fifteen years in business, Lim as creative director and co-founder of 3.1 Phillip Lim, finds himself at the helm of a pioneering modern luxury brand, designing women’s, men’s, accessories, and footwear – making him one of the most talented and successful young designers today.
Wen Zhou serves as President and CEO of 3.1 Phillip Lim, the company she co-founded together with Phillip Lim in 2005. Zhou spent her childhood in Ningbo, China, and arrived in New York City at the age of 12, settling with her family in Chinatown. She spoke no English, but possessed a challenger spirit, a love of fashion handed down from her mother – a seamstress – and an entrepreneurial drive to succeed, all of which informed her future success as a business leader and entrepreneur.
By the age of 26, she had founded a fabric selling company and an offshore clothing production company. Later, through a fateful meeting in Paris, Zhou met Phillip Lim, who was himself prepared for his next design endeavor. The two went on to form a partnership, and in the Fall of 2005, launched 3.1 Phillip Lim. They were both 31 years old at the time. As the brand looks ahead to its 15-year anniversary in 2020, their partnership remains one of the most fruitful and successful ones in American fashion. The company’s vision of cool, easy, chic wardrobe essentials for today’s global citizen has become synonymous with an understated modern luxury, while reflecting the brand’s and founders’ core values in all aspects of the business. A commitment to social values and sustainability has become increasingly important to the brand narrative, both as a way of connecting with customers and creating long lasting positive impact industry-wide. The brand’s ethos of ‘sustainable balance’ stems from the belief that sustainability is about balance, not perfection, and nthat in taking small steps, we can all reduce our environmental impact while sustaining creativity and humanity in our workplace.
As President and CEO, Zhou has grown 3.1 Phillip Lim into a global fashion brand offering womenswear, menswear, footwear and accessories. She has been recognized for her leadership and business acumen in such publications as The Business of Fashion, WWD, Vogue, and several international titles.
In 2019, she launched i-see, an online platform that seeks to create a community to unite and inspire Asian American women like herself. Zhou is proud to serve on the Board of Directors for the Nest organization, New Yorkers for Children and Apex for Youth.
She juggles the roles of CEO, business partner and friend, with her most important job – being a mother to her two children, Ming and Zen.
What inspired you all to create this company?
“When we first started 3.1 Phillip Lim, we didn’t have a lot of means, but we had desire. Our philosophy was built on making the most beautiful clothes we could make – clothes that were accessible to me, to my colleagues, and to my peers. It was this idea of young professionals – we were going places, we were doing things, we were on the move. And we wanted clothes that answered that call.” —Phillip Lim
What distinguishes your company and product in the market?
The 3.1 Phillip Lim brand was built on accessible luxury and playful curiosity, and continues to define the space it pioneered with its ‘cool, easy, chic’ wardrobe for the modern global citizen.