07.02.2016 - Anna von Stackelberg




Himself a first generation US immigrant, his story is both inspirational and defiant, going against the expectations set for him by his own cultural background as well as those imposed by the society he grew up in.


Phillip Lim’s early life would not seem out of place in the chaos of migration and the search for new beginnings that dominates the news today. Born as the youngest of six children to Chinese parents living in Cambodia, already his ancestors had left their Chinese homeland to flee the invading Japanese troops of world war two. But far from securing a safe environment to raise their family in, it was not long after his birth that Lim’s parents were forced to flee again. Lim’s mother Hannah tearfully recounts to this day, how following Pol Pot’s rise to power in 1975 she and her husband grew increasingly fearful of their sons being drafted into the Khmer Rouge army as child soldiers. Not willing to put their family at risk they packed their children, all under the age of 13, into a small fishing boat, leaving Cambodia in the middle of the night to seek safety in a refugee camp in Thailand. Phillip Lim was barely one year old at the time. With the help of a Christian Aid organisation, Lim’s family finally managed to relocate to the USA, settling down in Orange County, Los Angeles.


Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Phillip Lim’s life was not exposed to any fashion or luxury. Instead, his mother spent up to 20 hours a day working as a seamstress in a local factory and his father lived day-to-day as a professional poker player and peddler of odd jobs. Phillip Lim often describes how, like many immigrants, his parents sacrificed so much of their own lives to give their children a better chance. When the time came for him to go to college it was expected of him to choose between law, medicine or business, as these were the only respectable career choices in the Chinese-American community. Not feeling drawn to any of the options but also far from realising that fashion was even remotely a possibility, Lim decided to go for a degree in business, finding this the least restrictive choice. After three years however, he secretly dropped out of the course, realising that he could not conceive of a future in this field. Instead he enrolled in home economics, being drawn to the sowing machines and textiles that accompanied a large part of this course’s syllabus. When, upon graduation, he revealed his secret career change to his parents, the disappointment and outrage was enormous. Lim describes how his mother broke down in tears, not believing that after all the hours of hard work she had endured to provide her children with a better future, her youngest son would choose a life that to her seemed to echo her own unimpressive foot-steps. For years after that, Phillip Lim experienced a rift with his parents. It would be almost 20 years in fact before his parents would come to see and appreciate that the path he had embarked upon at that time was indeed worthy and successful.


Upon completing his degree in home economics things started moving fast. Having spent his summer holidays as a stockist at Barney’s, Lim had grown fond of the designs of Katayone Adeli. Being accepted to do an internship there, his talent as a watchful and dedicated assistant got him noticed, so that he would spend the next four years with the label. Yet even at this point the idea of becoming a designer himself was far from his mind. Only slowly, towards the year 2000, did Lim attempt the first sketches and designs of his own. Joining up with a friend and working at night from their garage while maintaining their day –jobs, he and his friend decided that if they would make a profit of three thousand dollars from their first collection, they would risk everything and focus solely on creating their own label. When the first sales figures came in north of thirty thousand dollars, Phillip Lim embarked on another decisive career move and together with his friend created the label Development. It is as this point that his life as a designer in his own right was born. Even though this venture only lasted four years, it had given him a taste of the business and an understanding that not only was fashion his calling but that he was good at it.


While working for Development, Lim had become good friends with a fellow first generation Chinese-American immigrant. Wen Zhou was a successful Textile merchant and had spotted his talent early on. When loosing his work with Development, Wen invited him to New York and within two days she had persuaded him to create his own label with her backing. As they were both 31 at the time, the choice of name came easily. Thus in 2005 3.1 Phillip Lim was born with the aim of producing beautiful but accessible clothes for the modern working woman. Since then the label has steadily ascended to the highest heights of fashion, proving itself not only a commercial success but also gaining recognition for its quality of design and workmanship. In the 10 years since its creation, the label has grown into a multimillion-dollar business and has expanded to include both men’s and children’s wear. Being represented in more than 400 boutiques worldwide and with more than 5 flagship stores across the globe, Lim is today considered one of the most influential young designers and has been listed amongst the top 40 young business people of our time. It goes without saying that his parents have since come to realise that their youngest son’s daring departure from the norm was not only worth any sacrifice, but also a testament to the spirit and possibilities of staring over in a new world, adapting and merging assets from more than one culture and experience to create something great and new.

Short Facts


Phillip Lim has become know for the functional and versatile clothing he produces for his label 3.1 Phillip Lim. He produces fashion that embodies youthful elegance and that can easily be adapted from day to night, week to weekend


Phillip Lim stands out for decidedly positioning his clothing within an accessible price bracket, without loosing any of the quality or workmanship that goes along with high fashion. Based on his history as the son of immigrant to the United States, and every dollar being hard earned, he has never been able to justify or support some of fashion’s mind-boggling price tags.


When loosing his job for the label Development, his friend, successful textile merchant and fellow first generation Chinese-American Wen Zhou bought him a one-way-ticket to New York. He arrived on a Thursday. She allowed him one day of misery. “By Friday she said, ‘Okay. That’s enough. I’m tired of you crying. Let’s start a company.’ ” On Monday, she put up $750,000 from her fabric business for Lim to get started.

Phillip Lim together with models backstage at his SS16 show


1973 – Birth

Phillip Lim was born as Pheng Lim on September 16, 1973 as the youngest of 6 children to Chinese parents living in Cambodia.

1975 – Refugees

After the rise of Pol Pot and the outbreak of a blood y civil war in Cambodia, Phillip Lim’s parents fled with their six children to a refugee camp in Thailand.

1976 – USA

With the help of a Christian Air organization, Phillip Lim and is family arrive in the USA, settling down in Orange County, Los Angeles

1997 – Graduation

Phillip Lim graduated with a degree in home economics from the University of California, Long Beach. His parents did not know that he had dropped out of the business major, he had enrolled in for three years, until Lim confessed the career change after this graduation.

1997 – Internship

Phillip Lim interned and later worked for the designer Katayone Adeli in LA

2000 – Development

Phillip Lim embarked on his first own label called Development, together with a friend.

2005 – Wen Zhou & 3.1 Phillip Lim

After quitting his work for Development, Lim gained the financial backing of his friend Wen Zhou, together with whom he created his own label entitled 3.1 Phillip Lim reflecting their mutual age of 31 at the time.

2007 – Emerging Talent Award

3.1 Phillip Lim is awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Emerging Talent in Women’s wear award together with Thakoon Panichgul and Rodarte

2007 – Men’s And Children’s Wear

3.1 Phillip Lim branches out to include men’s and children’s wear.

2010 – Fortune Magazine

Fortune Magazine lists Phillip Lim as one of the world’s top 40 business people.


© 3.1 Phillip Lim


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