Interior Design

Outward success flows from inner strength, says fashion leader Amable Yalong

Though he was always into fashion, even as a kid, designer Amable Yalong got into the industry kind of by accident. Working in marketing, he needed something stylish to wear to the events and launches he staged with celebrities. He wanted to look and feel good to perform well, but faced “the short man problem”; he would go shopping and then have to make all sorts of alterations.

“I figured that, by the time I had done all that, it really wasn’t worth it,” he says. “So I started making the stuff I would wear to these events.” He did so with his brother, a menswear graduate who is “the true fashion designer of the family.” With no school background, Yalong describes himself as “just a fan” who would ask his sibling for help.

“We started to make these things I would wear and people began to ask me where did I get that suit or that jacket?” Then social media started getting big, and Yalong would post a selfie here and there. A New York fashion designer saw some of them and reached out because she thought Yalong was a new brand. “She wanted to know where my showroom was,” he recounts. “She said she had a spot on stage for me at an event because she had lost a designer.”

Hearing that Yalong was just making things for himself, personally, she said that was too bad; he seemed to have potential. Six months later, she reached out again and asked if he wanted to do a show with her—and could he come up with 10 looks in the next three or four months? “I decided to give it a shot,” says Yalong. “When I got on the stage with my small collection, we had some great feedback, and that was how it all started.”

Amable Yalong's Photo

THE GIFT AND THE GRIT

Other than his brother’s help, Yalong has been self-taught: Google and YouTube videos. “In the beginning it is tough, because you are doing everything yourself,” he says of starting out. “Then I found my tailors. I had a friend who owned a factory in the Dominican Republic, and I met fabric suppliers. Things started to come together.”

Reflecting on how he has been able to make a name for himself and his styles in a relatively short time, he acknowledges “a gift, because there has been no formal training. It has all been me watching my older brother because he went to a fashion school.” But giftedness can take you only so far, he adds. “What has brought me to where I am is passion. You have got to be a fan of whatever it is you want to be, and then you have to have the drive.”

Focus is vital. “Rather than be a jack-of-all-trades, I want to be the master of one, because if I am all over the place, that is going to slow me down. Even though there are a lot of things I could do, what is the one that I need to focus on? I believe that if you master that one thing, it’s going to lead you to other opportunities.”

Money helps you to get started, of course, “but you don’t need a million dollars.” Yalong advises: “You don’t have to start big. I always tell people, You have to learn to walk before you can run. You have to have a sense of purpose because without that you don’t have a goal when you wake up in the morning. You could have given me $5 million, but if I didn’t have the drive, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Family is a hugely important factor too, he believes. “If I’m a happy person, I am going to walk out of the house confident in what I am setting out to do. And you can’t really love others unless you have self-love first.”

“In the new corporate world, as long as you look clean, that’s enough.”

Amable Yalong's Photo

“Taking some care about your appearance is a sign of respect for others, wherever you are.”

THE CHANGING FACE OF FASHION

It’s his passion for what he does that has kept Yalong motivated over the past year, as the fashion industry, like so many others, suffered tremendous impact from the coronavirus pandemic. He had to make tough decisions as a small-business owner, including shutting down his popular Y2K Collection.

Now he is focusing on having a smaller but stronger collection. “Things that speak louder,” he says. “I’m going less on ready-to-wear and focusing more on limited edition; it’s not wise to pile up a lot inventory, because no one’s shopping.”

Another example of the effect of COVID-19 has been in the wedding industry, where Yalong works with grooms who want something special for their occasion. Typically hosting 80-90 weddings a year, he saw around 90% of them postponed for last year and 2021. A few even postponed for 2022, “and probably 10% got frustrated and just canceled their wedding all together.”

Then there were all those people who stopped going into their offices to work, staying at home on their sofas or at their dining tables. “So they weren’t coming in to us to buy anything new because they were working out of their house.” That has affected workwear attitudes and purchasing.

“I know men that used to be strictly suit-and-tie who now say, ‘Hey, I don’t have to do that all the time. A nice blazer and button-down shirt will work,’” he says. “In the new corporate world, as long as you look clean, that’s enough. Ties are optional. A sweater is an option. It doesn’t have to be the full top-to-bottom thing.”

How you dress for work still matters, though. “If you are Zooming or FaceTiming with colleagues you can afford to be a bit more casual,” Yalong observes. “But if you are in some sort of executive meeting, I think that you need to be on the same level of game as you would be if you were with them in person. Maybe that’s a suit and tie from the waist up and shorts below; I’ve seen people do that.

“I’m certainly not a fan of people just being in sweats for virtual meetings. To me, taking some care about your appearance is a sign of respect for others, wherever you are.”

While “business attire” may be getting less common, Yalong maintains it essentially hasn’t changed: a two- or three-piece suit, button-down shirt, tie. “Business casual” is a little more loose, he believes: “There’s a broad range of ways people describe it. Maybe it’s a blazer and button-down on the top with jeans below. Or it could be slacks with shoes and a nice sweater instead. You pick and choose: half and half.”

“Sportswear” is about looking good but feeling comfortable—“it may be sweatpants but they are tasteful, not an old threadbare pair.” “Casual” for Yalong is “when I am around the house, or when I go to the grocery store, or ‘Hey, let’s have coffee.’ Maybe it’s just a T-shirt and jeans, you can still look great with Chelsea boots or flip-flops; it’s all about how you carry yourself.”

From an interview with Louis Carr

Changing things up. With buying patterns disrupted by COVID-19, Yalong is shifting to limited editions

Style still counts. Your work-from-home Look shouldn’t be too casual, Yalong says.