Saigon. New York. Seattle. Tuscany. Taiwan. Jasmine Quyen Tran has been living her best life. Back to Saigon after her worldly wanders, Jasmine Quyen Tran attempted to continue traveling in her own fantasies through her loveable fashion brand The Freckles Studios. “Freckles was my insecurity,” Jasmine Quyen Tran laughs about the inspiration behind her startup. “Now it’s become a daily reminder to empower myself and others with self-love. We express our identity through fashion.”
Who would have thought that this young fashionista was once notorious for having bad taste in clothes? “I remember when I was a teenager, my dad and mom would stare at me from top to bottom every time I went out! I guess they were ‘processing’ my outfit choice,” Jasmine Quyen Tran shrugs.
But practice makes perfect. After innumerable attempts to improve her ability to put an outfit together, eventually, she got better and even learned to enjoy the process.
Jasmine Quyen Tran is also a small-town girl. But her growing fashion obsession led her to embrace her wanderlust. “I love wandering around in new countries, trying new food, absorbing the culture, and watching the people,” she marvels at her passion for exploration. “It’s crazily entertaining and eye-opening to travel to a new country. You see people wearing different styles, bringing different vibes. Then in the next destination, people have different styles and vibes again.”
She settled for some time in New York. There, at college, she would make collages from vintage magazines she bought from thrift stores. “And I spent lots of time doing ‘thrift-lifts’ where I turned clothes from those stores into something new to wear. I still have an extensive vintage t-shirt collection from those years of collecting,” she says proudly.
“I love thrifting simply because I do not like to look like other people. I always want to wear something unique. People would come up to me and ask where did I get my clothes or they’d do a double-take checking out my cool outfit.”
“That’s what I miss the most about NYC. You walk on the street and become mesmerized by other people’s looks. I can’t remember how many times I must have seemed like a creep when I stared at people’s outfits and tried to memorize the details so I could find the brand later on,” she laughs.
When she wasn’t checking out the street fashion Jasmine Quyen Tran was hustling, working as a creative for a fashion brand and as a waitress at the same time. “I would say during my waitressing time, I made some great connections. I even served a couple of celebrities like Ali Wong, the Asia-American comedian that has a Netflix show called “Always Be My Maybe”. I also had a few coffee dates with a creative director at 88Rising. He was super-duper cool and inspiring. Plus he was Vietnamese-American. And he was making some dope music too!”
Professionally, things got really intense during New York Fashion Week. “We would spend days at the studio to make samples for the runway, do production and run around the city for models’ fittings, and to support them live on the runway. But those were happy days.” Jasmine Quyen Tran recalls fondly.
We wonder if she truly loved the hustle and bustle of life in New York. “I would say it’s a love-hate relationship. I can’t deny the energy that it brings but the nature of New York is to stress you out,” Jasmine Quyen Tran nods. “At least I know that if I can survive there, I can survive anywhere.”
“I have taken lots of trips, but I love to stay in new countries or cities for longer, living and even working. For example. I spent three months backpacking around Europe, two months living in Siena, Tuscany where I had my very first glass of wine! And it’s also where I got my first tattoo. Later, I spent a couple of months living in Taiwan as a local.” The hard part was moving back. “It took some time to readjust,” she shakes her head.
Transitioning from the no-days-off intensity of New York to her hometown was especially hard. “Life was definitely slower!” she exclaims. But the change of pace helped her reflect and it planted the seed of an ambition to start a business that became The Freckles Studios. “My shopping experiences in Saigon were never that pleasant. So many local brands, yet too limited options of items I really wanted.”
“Something was missing in the fashion scene in the most happening city in Vietnam.” Jasmine Quyen Tran continues. “People are less expressive right now. If I walk around the city on the weekend, lots of people wear the same outfits. People follow the trend simply because it’s the trend.”
“The problem I observed and experienced was that lots of local shops release the same looks at the same time, the size is made for all sizes to wear, and every store has already set a defined style for their customers the moment you walk in.”
And so that’s when she started The Freckles Studios, “to bring more styles and individuality to the fashion community in Vietnam”. She’s quick to remind us that clothes are one element of looking good. “I think style depends heavily on our personality and the culture we grew up in. Also, are you comfortable in your own skin yet? Are you confident about who you are and your own beauty? So much of our vibe and style comes from within.”
That’s not to say Jasmine Quyen Tran is irrepressibly confident all the time. “In real life, every single one of us feels insecure sometimes,” Jasmine Quyen Tran admits. “In my case, if you talk about beauty, I have so many little brown dots on my skin, which definitely did not live up to society’s beauty standard. But as I grew up, I learned there’s no such standard that can measure your beauty and who you are…”
Even running the super-cool studio creates doubts sometimes. “Like two weeks ago, I cried my eyes out just because I thought I wasn’t good enough. Then, the very next day, I would show up to work filled with self-belief again. You need to have bad days in order to appreciate the good days!” she concludes. “So I guess The Freckles Studios was born to remind me and the girls to always find love in ourselves during your toughest days. And support the people who are in the progress of attaining self-love.”
And somehow, The Freckles Studios founder has a day job for headhunters Michael Page. So is she more dedicated to the corporate life…or the creative life? “How do I see myself in five years?” Quyen Tran Jasmine talks about her future. “Being a girlboss!”. But for now, she is sharing her favorite items that keep her inspired along the way…
A Well-Worn Notebook
I have my days (and even my years) planned ahead in this notebook. I got it from a stationery store in town. I usually start my day by jotting down all the tasks needed to be done that day, just so I can cross them off at the end of the day! My notebook also records all purchases and expenses, and it allows me to randomly draw and doodle when I’m stressed.
All my business plans and collection ideas are also inside this notebook. Not long ago, The Freckles Studios was just a dream. Its plan was written on the first few pages of this same notebook. Jotting the ideas down felt like wedding planning when I was a kid, all wild ideas and aspirations. Well, now this dream has come true.
A book: Little Fires Everywhere By Celeste Ng
Balancing a full-time job and a side business is not easy. The nature of my work requires me to be on my laptop and my phone a lot when I’m at the office. When I’m out of the office, I’ll be on the road most of the time to sourcing and producing for Freckles.
If I can find down-time in a day, I’ll read a book. It’s a form of escapism for me. Reading books is very relaxing and I feel like I always have to read more to learn stuff too since I decided to start a business with not much experience.
I just started this book called Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’ve been chewing on it during Tết. I’m not sure what the key messages are behind it yet but it does feel like I’m watching a TV show about an American family’s life. Surprisingly it’s good enough to hook me in. Or maybe I just miss the States a little bit…
A reusable tote by The Freckles Studio
I also have this tote that I made from leftover fabrics from previous collections. I carry it in my bag just in case I spontaneously buy something, and to reduce plastic waste. Even in my small way. Totes are a must-have summer item in my shop. They’re always sold out. Spacey, trendy and they bring out such a summer vibe. Perfecto.
I like to keep things simple. So I only carry a lip tint from Benefits and a blush with different shades from Glossier so that I can change my look faster from day to night. They are my essentials! And I carry a perfume because I love things with a nice scent. If I could bring my scented candles to a coffee shop and light them up, they’d be in my bag as well!
A Fuji film camera
I’m a nostalgic person. I like collecting film cameras. And I prefer film rather than digital. I carry my Fujifilm camera with me sometimes to take some random lifestyle photos. I shoot often at Saturday markets and thrift stores. I also like to capture people with different styles on the street. Remember when I told you I would spend my days off back in the States just walking around the city observing people with their unique and self-defined fashion taste. This is how I began to record those styles. And now I’m kinda missing those days in New York…again!
This camera was a special gift from my boyfriend when we visited the MET, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, on my birthday. We took our first birthday photo together on that roll. Kinda cute?
There’s are a must! I love music. I listen to it almost all the time while working. My go-to is lo-fi hip-hop and RnB, with some jazz for Sunday mornings.
But my all-time favorite artists are Travis Scott and ASAP Rocky. I love ASAP’s outfit choices, so beautiful. I’ve seen them both live too. Those were good times. For RnB, I like to listen to 2000s hits like Dilemma, Hot in Here, Ignition, that kind of stuff.
Photos by Nghia Ngo for The Dot Magazine at Wink Hotel Saigon Centre