Jules Feng reinvents her life as a successful fashion designer
She’s going for her piece of the American Dream.
- Written byTanya Monaghan
- Photographed byLauren Pres
A product of two different cultures, Jules Feng always felt a bit different. As a young girl she felt the pressures of trying to fit into the group, but through life experience and much self-exploration she found out who she truly is. “And being different is a good thing and something to celebrate,” she says.
As often is the case, adversity allowed Jules to truly appreciate so many of her blessings. At the age of 6, she emigrated from South Korea to Chicago during “the Blizzard of 1979” with her mother and younger brother. Her father, the youngest of 10 children, came to America for education and stayed. Jules suddenly found herself transplanted into the Midwest suburbs, learning English and getting quickly acclimated.
As a freshman in college, she returned to South Korea on a foreign exchange program. What was supposed to be a one-year stint turned into a four-year adventure. She majored in English with the desire to teach immersion students—specifically kids who were transitioning to America from Korea.
Recalling her own difficult transition (her first English words were “she hit me first”), Jules believed it was her calling to help other children in similar circumstances. Those years as a teacher proved to be incredibly rewarding.
Driven and entrepreneurial, Jules returned to the U.S. at 22 to earn a second bachelor’s degree in communications at the University of San Francisco. While studying for her GMAT with hopes to earn a master’s degree at Stanford, fate stepped in. She met her husband, Greg, and promptly moved to L.A. to be with him.
A few years later they welcomed two children, Brandon and Maddie, and moved to Manhattan Beach when their eldest son was ready to go to preschool. Jules stayed at home with the children for about 11 years.
As her kids became more independent, she encountered a self-identity crisis. “What am I going to do?” she thought. “Is this it? I haven’t worked for 10 years. What am I good at?” She knew something was out there waiting for her, but she didn’t know what it was yet.
“I also think just being from two different cultures, two different countries, two different worlds and two different mentalities on pretty much all aspects of life … I am always bouncing back and forth and figuring out which one is the most appropriate for that situation at this point of my life,” she shares. “I was conflicted with picking up again and doing something that required me spending time away from my kids.”
Now looking back five years wiser, she thinks she was at a place in her life where the journey was more about identifying with her true self and gaining the courage to take those first steps. She adds, “Sometimes what we seek is already seeking us.”
Jules started her first fateful steps when she started working at a local fashion retail store in Manhattan Beach twice a week. Paid in clothing, she got a crash course in fabric, wholesale and retail. From this experience she got the idea to fuse together all the styles of her favorite fashion designers—Helmut Lang, Raquel Allegra and Vince—and create upscale looks that could be worn to school pick-up or the farmers market.
Visiting Downtown L.A. with her mom, she discovered the textile and garment industry was heavily populated with Korean people. Popping into one of the factories, she introduced herself to the owner, who in turn connected her with a fabric manufacturer.
She started designing patterns, first with a luxuriously soft MicroModal fabric made from beechwood. With the new fabric in hand along with some of her makeshift samples pulled from her own closet, she revisited the factory owner with a proposition to create her own design.
“Some samples were cut with scissors, and some were pulled up and sewn with my own needle and thread. Some I even stapled together!” Jules laughs. After the owner looked at her work, she replied in Korean, “You really have never done this before, have you?” Jules responded, “I have not, but I AM going to do this.” And JulesLA was born.
Boldness, versatility, beauty and flow are a few of the qualities Jules admires most about women, and she deeply wanted those themes to translate to her clothing line. Personal in nature, every design is named after a woman of significance in her life.
In December 2012 one of her biggest breaks came when the popular retail store Blvd. in Manhattan Beach offered to throw a pop-up launch party for JulesLA. Despite little to no advertising and only 412 pieces to show, the store packed in customers with an overwhelmingly positive response.
Later another network of connections led her from Manhattan Beach to the Four Seasons in Maui. Looking for a designer to bring into their spa store, the resort hosted Jules’ initial trunk show in August 2013. She returns to Maui twice a year, eternally grateful for the relationship.
Jules attributes her success to surrounding herself with professionals who know what they are doing, and only doing what feels right to her … in her own time. She feels that the most rewarding part of it all is getting to understand women through her fashion. She truly connects with her muses who helped teach her the gift of empathy.
“There are so many puzzle pieces,” she says. “Everyone has their story. I love those stories.”