I am not a designer, but I know what beauty is, and that helps me connect easily with my clients.
Economics major aside, it was curiosity that landed Tina Wang her first job. “Taiwan is small, so I wanted to find a job to explore all over the world,” she says. That first job involved global trade for the textile industry — and, as it turns out, it was the perfect fit. “I have tried different industries but found I love fabric and the textile industry so much,” Wang says. She’s been working in the space ever since.
And for Wang, working is innovating. The Taipei, Taiwan–based company she founded and leads, Hyperbola, specializes in unexpected blends — not only of synthetic and natural fibers but of fashion and function, too. “The traditional fabric and textile industry focused too much on manufacturing and technology — and the design and beauty of textiles were overlooked and neglected,” Wang says. “So we developed this team to combine fashion and function. I don’t think anyone was doing this when I first started.” That was 16 years ago, while Hyperbola’s three major Taiwanese competitors have all been in business for more than a century. Since then, Wang and Hyperbola have supplied fabrics for dozens of brands, including lululemon, Patagonia and Canada Goose.
Wang’s vision is unusual in its combination of keen design sense with functional newness, resulting in fabrics that are flashy (vividly reflective prints, for instance), cozy (such as soft “function wool” that’s both windproof and waterproof) and sustainably high-tech (one weave incorporates charred coffee grounds to help retain warmth). Hyperbola fabrics are the key ingredient in garments for pursuits that range from hot yoga to high-altitude trekking to simply hanging out. “The products in the medical, fashion and outdoor fields are all different, but they all need textiles,” Wang says.
In most cases, fashion is the common thread. “I often stress the concept of beauty to our Hyperbola team,” Wang says. “Many other manufacturers try to adapt original designs to fit their manufacturing standards. But we try to figure out a way to meet the designers’ original ideas.”
Another differentiator is Wang’s relentless commitment to R&D. New fabrics are born during brainstorming sessions with her team of 30 at the company’s loft workspace in Neihu, the tech-hub neighborhood in Taipei where she’s been able to “find the talented people who have an international view” she needs to build her team. “Some of our team members have a background in textiles, some with Ph.D.’s in that field,” she says.
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From Start to Finish in a Flash
Many other manufacturers try to adapt original designs to fit their manufacturing standards. But we try to figure out a way to meet the designers’ original ideas.
Bringing retailers’ designers’ ideas to life means collaborating closely with subcontractors who have the expertise and leading-edge equipment to quickly mill the products to Hyperbola’s exact specifications. Speed is essential every step of the way, Wang says. Retailers’ design teams — always looking to move quickly to get new items to the sales floor — will often start choosing their fabrics as soon as vendor samples begin to arrive. If Hyperbola’s samples are in the first package to land on a designer’s desk, that could be the key to landing a major customer. “Time is crucial for our clients, so they can be competitive in the market,” Wang says.
Time is also crucial when Hyperbola is shipping samples to trade shows all over the world, where Wang meets potential customers face to face — and where she lived an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare when a previous courier lost a shipment in a snowstorm. Instead of meeting prospective clients in Hyperbola’s custom-designed exhibit space surrounded by hundreds of fabric samples, she had to meet them in a totally empty booth. After that experience, “we’ve become very careful to select our delivery company,” Wang says. “With FedEx, we never have these kinds of problems. If issues do arise, we can count on FedEx to help us to overcome them.”
Staying True to Yourself — and Taking a Chance
Looking back on her experience, Wang remembers how Hyperbola’s early days as a start-up weren’t easy — but she didn’t give up. “Don’t be afraid of failure,” she says. “The earlier you start, the earlier you will fail. And the earlier you fail, the better.”
Through it all, Wang has been true to herself. She even traces her appreciation for beauty — a key factor in Hyperbola’s success — back to childhood calligraphy lessons. “It helped me develop a feeling for beautiful things,” she says. “I am not a designer, but I know what beauty is, and that helps me connect easily with my clients.” Having the courage to do what she loved helped lead to something bigger, she says. “You must be brave and do what you love to do,” she says. “That is the No. 1 thing.”
WATCH: Go behind the scenes with the innovators at Hyperbola.
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