Arriving with a mission to bolster the appreciation of art and individuality in fashion, Dawn Nguyen – like her name – appeared like a ray of sunshine on the emerging designer scene in California. After discovering her love for design after an experiment as a makeup model in Vietnam, Dawn moved to the US, studied at FIDM, and opened a retail store to begin building her brand, Dawn Sunflower. Learn what motivates this California designer to keep manufacturing in the USA and why she wouldn’t have it any other way.

How and why did you start designing?

In life, success demands hard work, potential, natural-born talent and strong dedication.

However, I do believe in destiny. Sometimes, you don’t choose the career – the career chooses you. Destiny took me into this career and made me become a fashion designer. Things happened for a reason and at the right time, it just happened with such good news sometimes. It made me feeling such best luck of my life in this career.

I loved anything related to clothes and fashion runway shows since I lived in Vietnam. Since that time, I always thought one day I’d finish College and open a boutique selling clothes. For fun, I did a casting for a model at a Korean/Vietnamese makeup brand’s show. I joined the show but my parents did not want me to go down this path but to stay focused on studying instead. They believed there are too many dramas in this career and it did not fit me. I was too young at the time and did not realized in my heart that I actually wanted to become a fashion designer.

I bought a sewing machine and started teaching myself off of Youtube videos. I started making a few bathing-suits for fun. Eventually, a friend helped me get my bathing suits on models for Maxim and Playboy. The event producer liked my swimwear but I did not like swimwear as much as ready to wear clothing. I made bathing suits for fun and practiced my sewing skills in order to go to FIDM.


What is your fashion philosophy?

My fashion philosophy is “creativity, heart, and emotion.”

It means all of my designs are inspired not by other designers’ styles, not by the trend, not by history, but that they all come from my, feelings and emotions. My emotions create my art. When I look at pieces of art (Abstract or Surrealism or Architectures,) for my latest collection, Musical Instruments in Abstract, I get inspired. Mostly I love Abstract and Surrealist art and always get inspired from these to make them relevant in current styles that everyone can wear.

What is your brand aesthetic?

The appreciation of beauty, means “it is real and best.”

I would rather spend much more money investing into the best quality materials than spending a lot of money for marketing and PR.

Great designs and GOOD quality of work are everything.

How has your design changed over time?

My design changes all the time. I hate to repeat things. It is so boring. Even I change my style.  My hairstylist loves me because I always give her new looks to experiment with my hair color and cut. That is why I am a fashion designer, it is a way to satisfying to myself with constant change.

What inspired your latest collection?

Musical instruments in life through the inspiration from music and a guitar imagined in abstract. I sketched from this inspiration.

But just an abstract guitar is too simple, it calls for music along with melody so that’s why I used a stanza fabric as a shell fabric in contrast to black and white fabrics. This collection is for buyers/clients who love to wear unique pieces and celebrate art and music.

What is your biggest hurdle building a brand today?

Being a new brand is the hardest thing, especially in retail. I set up in goals and if I can’t accomplish them this way, I target new ways. We all doubt whether this thing is right to do. Starting a business is not a safe bet. If it was, everyone would be doing it. That’s the difference between me and other business people. Fashion is like a hard cookie that is not easy for to bite. But I love the hardest cookie.

Everything will fall into the right place if we do not give up, so building a brand is the same way. Be patient, be smart and keep moving forward. Building a brand demands patience but it is my life, and I am doing this because I want to be my own boss. I am doing this because the thought of spending my days doing anything that I hate is worse than the risk I am taking in pursuing my love and passion.

What do you think about fashion today?

Fashion today is very general. Made in the USA versus not made in the USA is a huge difference. There are so many copycats not MADE IN USA that are now selling online and wholesale. Even local tailors have to close their own business because the cost of quality tailoring is too high compared to the cost of the product. People lose business because of these copycats.

I urge shoppers to consider buying from emerging designers in good quality fabrics and unique styles.

If stores took risks to work with new talent emerging brands all MADE IN USA, this could change the fashion market, promote new talent, and make it LESS boring.

I have a client who loved to shop at Neiman Marcus before she knew me. She is a very high end client from Italy. She was willing to spend her money in the same manner whether buying at the Neiman Marcus or purchasing my custom made from Dawn Sunflower. She takes risk to experience new things and is a big proponent of my work. These people exist more and more.

If the fashion industry can do all MADE IN USA and the department stores would prefer to re-scale the ideas by discovering new talent then I think fashion today would be better.

Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?

Abstract and Surrealism paintings and soft-love songs. They can keep me in the mood of feeling and emotion. Sometimes I’m touched by fabrics and textile patterns. It’s about how I feel with it.

Any tips and tricks of the trade?

Research before you select a show. Be nice and respectful to anyone you talk to during the show. I have been to two trade shows so far. I think the less you bring, the better.

Want to wear music in the abstract? Shop Dawn’s latest collection now.