Street | Cover Story

Start-ups: WICK

After an evening of dancing under the Class of 1983 tent during Reunions last June, Liz Lian ’15 realized that the 90-degree weather had caused her to sweat through her dress. Frustrated, she went to visit her friend Sanibel Chai, a Princeton resident and junior at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I just went over to hang out and for the air conditioning, really,” Lian said during a recent interview. “And I told her about it, and she was like, ‘Don’t you just wish that we could have dresses made out of Dri-FIT or activewear fabric?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’d be awesome.’ ”

By the next morning, Lian and Chai were owners of a registered limited liability company that would soon become WICK. The goal, Lian explained, was to create party dresses that were stylish, comfortable and practical. Most of the dresses, skirts and tops Lian and Chai have in the pipeline boast functional elements such as zippered pockets big enough to hold a phone, ID and credit card, attached shorts that provide coverage and banish the dreaded “visible panty line,” or a built-in bra that eliminates the need to wear a separate undergarment with pieces that feature low-cut backs.

“Comfort is such a huge factor in confidence and happiness,” Lian said. “I feel like that’s something intangible that we’re trying to make happen with our clothes. It’s not so much how you look, it’s how you feel, and that’ll affect also how you look.”

Staying true to the brand’s name and original inspiration, WICK pieces are made of a moisture-wicking knit-blend fabric. The company’s cofounders tested a number of different fabrics, Lian said, and eventually settled on one that was comfortable and performed well during a test run at the gym. For now, all WICK pieces are black because the color is universally flattering and conceals sweat stains well. However, Lian and Chai have not rejected the idea of eventually expanding into other colors.

Neither Lian nor Chai had formal training in fashion design or business, but they learned by working and outsourced what they were unable to do themselves. A freelance designer created sketches based on Lian and Chai’s original vision, and the subsequent process included feedback and revisions. After the designs were finalized, the freelance designer created a more technical drawing called a techpack, which a patternmaker in the New York City Garment District used to create a sample that Lian and Chai tried on and helped adjust.

There are currently six WICK pieces at various stages of production. The first-round shipment of fabric is being made in China, and, after that fabric has arrived, production will start on the first line of products. WICK will debut with a top, a skirt and a dress.

“In a month or two, if all goes well, we’ll be on the market,” Lian said.

Lian attributes much of WICK’s success thus far to the support of family and friends, who have provided funding, legal advice, modeling skills, makeup artistry, photography and encouragement.

Like some of the other student entrepreneurs Street spoke to, Lian said that one of the biggest challenges she has had to contend with is balancing the demands of WICK with her schoolwork and activities. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she added, “because I’ve been having so much fun and learning so much stuff. I love doing this.”

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