Behind the Brand: Pissenlit
Finding a winter coat in your favorite colorway that's dense enough to keep out a nippy breeze and versatile enough to live in your closet for the indefinite future, is the stuff of legends. But finding a coat with all of those features, and an incredible backstory? *chef’s kiss*
Pissenlit is one of those brands. Founded by Wei Da, the idea for this outerwear brand came when she grew tired of struggling to find the perfect coat to keep her warm during the winter months in New York City. Made from naturally dyed cashmere, these coats are hand-sewn with all of the details you immediately check for when you try on an outfit: roomy pockets, an intuitive tie to keep you snug, and a warm inside, no chilly liner, thanks to their double-sided cashmere. The best part? The price tag. Other coats with the same caliber of cashmere, retail two to three times more than the price of a Pissenlit coat.
We asked Wei about her journey from business school grad in Manhattan to founder of an innovative outerwear brand, why quality materials matter, and the power of intimately knowing every part of the supply chain.
Wei Da, Founder of Pissenlit.
Everyone is familiar with the joys of hunting for a winter coat. Either they're too expensive or made of cheap material or you can only find them in varying shades of black. Wei Da experienced these dilemmas as a business school grad, preparing for a New York City winter. Later that same year, when she went home to Baoji, China to visit her family for Chinese New Year, Wei told her mother, JunYing Liu, about how difficult it was to find a quality coat with an affordable price tag. She suggested that Wei should start her own brand, making coats from the same factory JunYing Liu used to work in.
Wei and her mother, JunYing Liu.
Growing up in a small village in Northeast China, Wei has memories of her mother, who was a skilled tailor, hand-sewing coats for a local factory. Some days, Wei would even travel with her to the factory if she was out of school. Wei watched JunYing Liu create stunning pieces by hand and admired the talent it took to create a finished product from scratch. And although she devoted her life to making beautiful things, JunYing Liu could never wear what she was making “because of the price.” For Wei, Pissenlit wasn’t about designing clothes, it was about creating something beautiful and accessible enough for everyone, from skilled tailors to business school grads, to enjoy.
For this line of outerwear, Wei didn’t have to shop for a supply chain or hunt for fabrics, everything she needed was woven into the background of her childhood memories. Pissenlit’s coats don’t have lining, like the pieces JunYing Liu used to sew because the method for making durable, warm fabric has improved over the years, but they still are manufactured out of the same factory her mother worked in and the cashmere used is sourced from the same family-owned facility in Inner Mongolia which provided fabric JunYing Liu once used to sew. The cashmere is processed with natural dyes and methods which enhances the fabric instead of degrading it. This leads to Pissenlit coats being breathable, soft, and warm due to the natural benefits from cashmere- no synthetics needed. Every coat is made the same way JunYing Liu used to make them. And Wei says, “you can’t go wrong with that.”
Concerning manufacturing, every woman responsible for creating a Pissenlit coat is given the flexibility to work on their own schedule, at home, while still being able to care for their families, while being paid 7% over the market rate. In a way, they are all small business owners, able to ask for more or less work when they need it and tailor what they take home to their life. This is the same factory and flexibility Wei’s mother had when Wei was growing up.
There is a reiterative quality in how these coats are manufactured. The same cashmere from Inner Mongolia is used, the same natural dying process, the patterns are cut in the same factory, and then the coats are allocated in the same way to working mothers who can then finish hand-sewing them at home.
While Pissenlit has an incredible brand story and impeccable styling, it's the attention to details and connection to the process that makes them stand apart. During this interview Wei kept bringing up her focus on two things that the Pissenlit philosophy revolves around: 1) quality and 2) the women behind every coat. She feels a connection to every stage of the manufacturing process, not because it’s the traditional way of doing things but because she knows what it’s like to be a little girl and to wake up with her mother to travel the long distance to the factory. She knows the journey home and is familiar with the daily ritual of watching JunYing Liu sew rich fabric into coats as she would work on her homework. Rarely does one have such an intimate connection to the beginning, middle, and end of a product, but for Wei, Pissenlit isn’t just an outerwear brand, it’s a symbol of her life.
Classic Wrap Coat in Ivory - $350
The word pissenlit [pronounced piece-on-lee] means “dandelion” in French. Wei chose this name because: “It’s a kind of plant that can be planted everywhere. It’s beautiful and soft, but resilient. It reminds me of my journey to the U.S. I didn’t take a penny from my parents; I was an international student. My education, my career, and now this brand, is like a dandelion. It can survive anywhere-- and bloom.”