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Business

The Ming Wang Dynasty

In the fickle world of fashion, knitwear giant Ming Wang is firmly planted in tradition. That commitment carries through as the next generation takes control of the multimillion-dollar brand.
| |Portraits by Sean Berry; Product and historic courtesy of Ming Wang
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Matriarch Ming Wang with, from left, son Eric, husband Eddie, and son Steven at the Grapevine headquarters of their family enterprise.

Steven Wang’s parents have trusted him to carry the baton for the family business into the future; his focus every day is not to drop it. Since he joined Ming Wang, a women’s knitwear company that’s now a foundational part of a $45 million group of brands, he has had his work cut out for him—just based on his last name. 

Steven joined his parents’ then-fledgling company in 2002 as a sales rep after earning degrees in economics and Asian studies from the University of Michigan and doing M&A work in Chicago. Sitting in his first sales meeting, Steven braced for how the others would react to him. “I remember getting hazed in the beginning because I was the owners’ son; they called me ‘college boy,’” he recalls. “Any ideas I had were immediately shot down.” 

The ribbing didn’t last long. 

Steven, now 47, took over as CEO of the organization in 2012. Today, he also sits at the helm of Meison, which encompasses the knitwear giant and four affiliated brands. (See sidebar on page 41.) In the pressure-filled world of fashion, no one puts more heat on Steven than himself. 

“I come to work every single day not wanting to be the guy who runs his parents’ business into the ground,” he says. “I know the business has evolved into a completely different organization from the day I started. But I also realize that I get to be a part of something here. It’s the legacy I want to protect for my parents.” 

A Brand With Staying Power

Steven’s mother, brand namesake Ming Wang, started the fashion line with her husband Eddie out of a two-bedroom apartment they shared with another family in Queens, New York, more than four decades ago. Even though he was very young at the time, Steven remembers his parents worrying about how they would make money after emigrating from Taiwan.

They decided to pin their hopes on fashion. Eddie, now 72, and Ming, 74, began attending classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology—one during the day and one at night. At the suggestion of a friend, Ming took up knitting to earn a living and found that she had a talent for designing knitwear. Eddie sold the custom products she made door-to-door, and the small hustle turned into Ming’s eponymous clothing brand. 

These days, Ming continues to work at the company about four hours a day, but Eddie has since retired. They’re content to let Steven run the enterprise, wherever he may take it. In 2006, that trust in his leadership brought them to Dallas. Twenty years earlier, the company, which was mostly manufacturing for other fashion brands, established its own Ming Wang label and moved from New York to Miami. The Wangs were comfortable in South Florida, but the cost of doing business in the Sunshine State caught up with them.  

Following Hurricane Katrina, flood insurance premiums worsened real estate prices in North America’s hurricane alley. What’s more, the location at the base of a peninsula was less than ideal for Ming Wang’s distribution chain. However, Ming wasn’t keen on relocating the company or the family out of Florida, and the debate resulted in a clash between Steven and Eddie. “Dad was like, ‘Alright hotshot, alright big guy, where do you suggest we move the company?’” Steven says. “But my mom felt comfortable enough that if my dad and I could hash it out, that was enough for her.”  

Steven focused his search on Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Atlanta, Memphis, and Dallas. Almost immediately after landing in North Texas, he knew it would be the right fit for Ming Wang’s new home. “I got here, and it just felt different,” he says.

Meison now employs about 80 people in North Texas, New York, and Atlanta. About half, including Steven’s brother Eric, who serves as president and director of administration, operate out of the headquarters and distribution center in Grapevine. The rest are spread out among New York and other locations. Manufacturing is done in China, India, Vietnam, Portugal, Indonesia, and Turkey, but some final inspections are done in Grapevine before the garments are shipped to retailers. 

Building an Empire in Women’s Fashion

Led by its signature Ming Wang brand, Meison has grown to include five different lines whose pieces are carried by top national retailers.

Ming Wang

High-end knitwear that is designed, manufactured, and distributed in-house.
Retailers: Dillard’s, Nordstrom, and Von Maur

Misook

Knits and signature wovens, distributed through a 15-year licensing agreement signed in 2013.
Retailers: Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom Rack, Saks Fifth Avenue

Masai Copenhagen

Contemporary and fashionable clothing sold through a U.S. licensing agreement signed in 2020.
Retailers: Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Von Maur

Jones New York 

Essential wardrobe pieces sold through a 15-year licensing agreement that was inked in 2019.
Retailers: Belk, Dillard’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom

Kasper 

Timeless pieces ranging from dresses and office attire to weekend wear sold through a 15-year licensing agreement signed in 2021.
Retailers: Amazon, Belk, and Macy’s

Innovation Within Tradition 

The Wang family has watched countless trends come and go. And although the temptation has been high—and opportunities plentiful—to enter different segments, including loungewear, men’s apparel, and even shoes, Ming Wang hasn’t veered outside the lines of high-end women’s fashion. 

Even with uber-casual clothing and loungewear leading the charge during and after the pandemic, Steven says the brand was not swayed to add what were then wildly popular items, such as yoga pants and hoodies, to its line. Others have approached Ming Wang over the years with opportunities to enter new niches and expand overseas. Steven says some of the propositions excited him at the time, but the answer was always no.  

The first yes, however, came in the form of its first-ever licensing agreement in 2012 with New York-based Authentic Brands Group for the knitwear brand Misook. Steven says the decision required much deliberation. But licensing ended up dovetailing so smoothly with Ming Wang’s business that the company later entered into similar agreements with Masai Copenhagen, Jones New York, and Kasper. In 2021, the corporate entity Ming Wang was rebranded as Meison.
“The change was made to prevent any confusion with our strategic partners, ensuring clarity in how we communicate as a brand and a corporate entity,” Steven says. “Drawing a parallel, in 2017, Coach rebranded to Tapestry Inc. when it acquired Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade. Our move was similar to theirs.”

Initially, Ming Wang handled wholesale licensing for Misook. But after just two years, Authentic turned over the online side of the Misook business to Ming Wang, too. Jarrod Weber, group president of lifestyle and chief brand officer at Authentic—which has more than 1,500 partnerships—says Ming Wang’s management of the Misook line has been “nothing short of remarkable.” 

“Steven looks at the business from 10,000 feet above,” Weber says. “It doesn’t matter what the item or widget is; he looks at it with a methodical approach.” 

That careful approach has held Ming Wang within specific parameters over the years; the company is quick to stay on top of trends but with its own refined twist. In response to the loungewear craze during the pandemic, for example, Ming Wang added more casual touches to its existing lines. The Misook line rolled out a “cozy cashmere” collection that included cashmere sweaters and cashmere wraps paired with more casual pants—a far cry from stretchy pants and athletic-fabric T-shirts that were gaining in popularity.

“After Covid, there were a lot more relaxed and loungewear products across most of our brands, and we did have to change and really get after it to provide that solution because that’s what our customers were looking for,” Steven says. “All of the brands that were exclusively focused on that are not nearly as viable today as they were three to four years ago. We see it as our job to maintain what’s true to the brand.”

The pandemic put other pressures on the company. Many of the stores that carry Ming Wang and Meison’s licensee brands were shut down for months, forcing the business to rely on e-commerce sales. Although Ming Wang has never taken on outside funding, the financial strain required the company to trim its workforce and take on PPP loans from the government to retain as many employees as possible and stay the course. Steven says the experience was a stark reminder that no matter how good success feels, companies must stay humble.

Never Losing Its Edge

Even with subtle adaptations, Ming Wang  has always stayed true to its key customer base of women between the ages of 35 and 55. The brand’s high-end pieces—a jacket or blazer can run upwards of $360—range in size from XXS to XXXL. 

Jay Rodgers, a Dallas founder of nonprofit Biz Owners Ed and more than 20 companies, has served as a longtime mentor to Steven. He believes that part of what has made him successful is his willingness to seek out advice from others, even though Rodgers believes Steven is frequently the most intelligent person in the room. “He is so smart, yet he is so open to learning,” Rodgers says. “Instead of accepting problems, he jumps at them. He is wide open to accept the thinking of others.” 

It was counsel from others that led Steven to hire Meison’s first-ever brand and integrated marketing manager to spearhead its social media presence and spark and maintain relationships with fashion influencers. The goal is to heighten its respected brand awareness across more consumer segments. 

With Ashley Bevans in the newly created role, Ming Wang is working on an agreement with a Dallas-based social influencer to help elevate the brand. Bevans, who has served as social media manager for Sally Beauty and Beauty Bio, says she has been surprised by the 45-year-old company’s willingness to understand and embrace the importance of social media’s role in fashion. “I can honestly say that the ideas have been so well-received, and, more importantly, the company has been quick to take action,” she says. “That is not something you come across very often. With a lot of leadership, there can be dragging of heels because influencer marketing can be pricey.” 

In the early days, the Wangs ran their company on a shoestring budget—it was launched with less than $20,000 borrowed from Eddie’s father. But the popularity and staying power of the Ming Wang brand—and the lucrative licensing agreements—have transitioned Meison into a fashion powerhouse that generates $45 million in annual revenue. Steven says the company has seen year-over-year double-digit growth through retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, even as consumers remain nervous about inflation and the economy. He credits that growth to the ability to boost engagement via online platforms as well as maintaining sales with brick-and-mortar retailers, all while identifying and filling in brand-aligned gaps based on customer demand.

Steven never wants the company to lose its edge. “I still view us as a startup,” he says. “Who we are today is not who we were five years ago and five years before that … We can’t lose focus.”  

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