Holding Up Brooklyn
Noy Keomeuangsong reinvents a staple of grandpa chic and makes suspenders cool for women.
WORDS BY Adam Matula // ART BY Vekonda Luangaphay & Adam Matula
Sitting in her confined, dimly lit home studio, Noy Keomeuangsong, 32, leans forward in her chair in front of her sewing machine. A small desk lamp shines like a spotlight on her workstation. Her signature side braid is tucked behind her left ear, and her sable eyes concentrate on the fabric as she pushes toward the needle, weaving together seams with precision. She’s putting the final touches on a pair of gold-chain suspenders, one of many suspender designs she’s created since opening Brooklyn Suspenders in April 2013.
Becoming the visionary and sole proprietor of her own fashion company, Keomeuangsong tapped into a fashion trend that’s the new “it” accessory for young, urban socialites. Now, the same statement pieces that Larry King, Steve Urkel, and your grandfather wore are spotted regularly on fashion-forward women at bars and coffee shops throughout Brooklyn. Suspenders have even become part of the identity and personality of female music artists and pop stars, such as Janelle Monae, Azealia Banks, and Selena Gomez.
That popularity is reflected in the company’s growth. Brooklyn Suspenders, which focuses on selling American-made women’s suspenders, has increased sales between 33 percent and 43 percent each quarter. Keomeuangsong — a Laotian refugee who escaped her homeland with her family at age 2 — will release her latest suspender line, a back-to-school-inspired design called the Varsity Collection in July. She sells her inventory online through Antoinette, a boutique in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, and is in discussion with larger fashion companies to sell her product wholesale.
As a product development strategist at children’s clothing company Gerson & Gerson Inc., Keomeuangsong is a fashion insider. “She knows what’s trending,” says Lexi Oliveri, owner of Antoinette, which carries Keomeuangsong’s suspenders. “They’re a lot more popular within the last few years. I think she opened her business at the right time.”
Keomeuangsong’s entrepreneurial spirit didn’t soar until she moved to New York City from California in 2009 to take an entry-level design job. While working as an assistant at a junior denim design company in 2010, she heard a director say that every time they sold suspenders with jeans, they flew out the door. At that moment she realized suspenders were a trend that she could use to create an identity. Within months, she made her first pair of suspenders at a craft day with a friend. They sold. She sewed another pair. They sold again.
Her distinct, practical, and hip suspender designs come from being fashion-industry insider and growing up in a working-class immigrant family without money to buy clothes. “I didn’t want to wear the same stuff to school. I wanted to wear something new every day. So I would have to make it myself,” she says.
When Keomeuangsong and her family fled their homeland, they traveled through refugee camps in Laos and Southeast Asia before settling in Dallas. She moved back and forth from Dallas to Sacramento, Calif., several times as a child and eventually found herself studying fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco.
Instead of leaving her heart out West, Keomeuangsong found her creative spirit in Brooklyn. “I haven’t met a city I feel so connected to,” she says, “I love Brooklyn because Brooklyn is everything.” She’s invested in being part of the community, an integral part of her business strategy, and buys all her supplies at local vendors and garment shops. “I love the urban culture. I love hip-hop. There’s just something I love about Brooklyn,” she says. “There are all these races. It’s grimy, but there’s glamour inside of it. It’s a struggle, and there’s art all around. There’s rawness about it, and it’s real.”
With Brooklyn as her muse, she hopes to cement her identity as “the suspender girl,” while developing new designs, items, and collections. “I want to do more than just suspenders,” she says, “I can make whatever I want. It’s kind of cool. I’m painting on my own canvas.”
One by one, customers flip through Keomeuangsong’s suspenders hanging on a rack at Antoinette. She approaches a woman at the back of the store and invites her to try them on. She helps snap the gold clips to the back of the woman’s jeans with the gold chains dangling over her shoulders. Keomeuangsong snaps the front clips in place right next to the first belt loops. The woman looks down, grabs the suspenders with both hands, and glances toward Keomeuangsong for approval. Keomeuangsong nods reassuringly and says, “You look cool.”
Featured image by Vekonda Luangaphay.
Keomeuangsong working on a design in her home studio. PHOTO BY VEKONDA LUANGAPHAY.
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