What is your love language?
If we go technical, there are five different ways of expressing and receiving love: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. However, if we go deeper, the list could go on to as many as a hundred (or even thousands). Love is a universal language, and regardless if you’re the giver or receiver, love is almost impossible to tuck away.
To Thy Nguyen, her love for learning is something her family and friends always knew. As a kid, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson taught her about bravery and friendship. “I started intently reading when I was eight,” she said. “Through books, I can watch and live a parallel life. So many stories exist concurrently with yours, and diving into them is fascinating.”
When asked what she dreamed of becoming, she proudly said, “an author and a professor.” Given her family background, it’s not surprising for Thy to also enter the world of art and education.
“I’ve dipped my toes into the former (author) with Origins and am working on the latter (professor) through my Psychology Master’s program at New York University. I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology to do research and dive into academia. Growing up, I was always a huge bookworm.”
It’s safe to say Thy is obsessed with learning — from academics and taking on roles at the family’s business to writing two books and launching a sustainable business — to her, everything is a puzzle she can’t wait to solve.
“I can get lost in researching a topic I like for hours, months, or years,” she shared. “It’s like trying to solve a puzzle, and you don’t want to stop until you’ve solved the whole picture (one can argue that you can never definitively solve life’s mysteries because knowledge is infinite).”
Her friends refer to her as an observant, curious learner, and sharp but also passionate, open-minded, and goal-oriented. “Thy is caring and resilient,” one of her friends said. “Always willing to put the needs of others before her own. A strong communicator and passionate about her work and the people she cares for.”
On top of her academic achievements, Thy has published two books, Origins: An Immigrant’s Journey in America and its remastered edition Origins: Tales of Having Two Homes, that talk about cultural and social impact issues. She’s also helped Nguyen Art Foundation change how young professionals see art and how it can be used to showcase the new Vietnam and social issues within society.
Thy’s passion for cultural sharing continued onwards and led her to launch Modens to pay homage to two sides of her identity: tradition and modernity.
Vietcetera talked to Thy Nguyen about her latest expression of love through fashion and sustainability. And this time, it’s addressed to both her homes — Vietnam and the US.
At this very moment, what is your goal, and how do you constantly empower yourself to embody that goal?
My long-term goal is to do my Ph.D. researching social psychology and open a research lab especially related to multicultural identities and ethnic differences. Cultural identity has always been a topic I am drawn to as a first-generation Vietnamese American who grew up between two cultures. I learned that viewing identity in a black-and-white, culturally separated way no longer worked in an increasingly globalized world. I wrote Origins to research this topic and founded Modens to pay homage to two sides of my identity.
I want to explore these interests further by going into academia, where I will have the research tools to conduct studies and gather data on these trends in the world. I strive towards this goal by joining research labs at NYU related to social psychology, one being SPAM Lab, spearheaded by Dr. Emily Balcetis. I am also taking social and clinical psychology courses to deepen my understanding further, attending workshops, like thesis workshops, to find my specific thesis research topic, and getting to know professors who are researchers in the field.
Outside of school, I am constantly learning and curious about articles and studies related to these topics, and I pick up small cultural projects on the side. I stay motivated by setting milestones, my desire to make a difference in the world, and my passion for learning and exploring new ideas.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Everyone who has touched my life has inspired me in some way. My insights and growth have been fostered by an amalgamation of sharp minds, loving hearts, movies, books, celebrities, food, culture, and more.
When I think of inspiration, I look to a thread that I’ve visualized in my mind that pulls me forward–a yarn that has been spinning my whole life through my experiences and knowledge. That thread is the past, the present, and most importantly, the future.
What constantly drives me forward is the future of a better world, the impact I can make, and the things I can learn and accomplish. So, I suppose my greatest inspiration is the world and me: years from now.
In your book, Origins: An Immigrant’s Journey in America, there’s a memorable line that says, “we are all hardwired to latch onto something — to find answers and belong,” what is that “something” to you now?
Right now, the “something” that I want to belong to is New York City, where I recently moved, and NYU, where I am starting my master’s program. I also want to belong to the field of psychology academia, as I am pursuing a Ph.D. in this area. This includes participating in research labs, getting to know professors and students in the community, and actively participating in the academic community. Being part of these communities will allow me to continue my journey of discovery and learning and provide me with a sense of belonging and fulfillment.
Tell us about Modens.
In the fall of 2020, I moved back to Vietnam for two years after living in America for the past decade. When re-assimilating into the country, I was very inspired by all the new boutique stores and coffee shops, the lively energy, and the fashion style people have. I was struck by the contrast between the casual athleisure wear I had grown up with in Texas and Boston and the trendy and put-together style Vietnamese young adults had. I also observed a lot of fashionable influencers in Saigon who often take photos in quaint coffee shops. There was also a significant rise in local fashion brands–the local brands are cute online stores or alleyway shops, little shops in apartment complexes with unique styles. It also seemed like people weren’t afraid to start their local brands, explore their style, and share it with others.
My lightbulb moment came during my senior year of undergrad at Babson College, where I decided to do my scholarship project on Modens. I was a Natalie Taylor scholar (scholarship for social change and impact at Babson), and senior scholars do a senior project of choice for a socially focused project. I chose a cultural brand based on my inspiration from Vietnam: The more I shopped in local Vietnamese stores, the more ideas I had for outfits and clothing items. I was very interested in curating a style and a cultural mission, and one day I just started imagining my pieces in my mind. I decided to draw them all out and design clothing myself. I realized I could create what I wanted to see and weave in the narratives I was drawn to.
How hands-on are you in developing Modens?
I was involved in every step of the process and had advisors and collaborators to help me in an industry I was new to. After I designed my initial sketches, I collaborated with award-winning designer Linda Mai Phung to create technical drawings for my designs. She helped me draft the clothing pieces and check them for practicality, flow, and style. I then collaborated with a fashion consulting company, Arrow Project, which advised me on materials, sourcing, and sustainability requirements. They helped me find the all-natural fabrics that Modens clothing proudly has today. After the initial designs and materials were settled, I went on a long sampling process to get the pieces to look nice and fit. The hands-on sampling process took eight months to complete due to multiple rounds of sampling and editing and COVID delays.
Post-production, I created the Modens website myself and am also handling the media campaigns. As the sole founder, it took a ton of work to handle everything myself, so I am grateful for the support from many advisors, friends, and family.
How do you source your silk and linen materials, and what’s so special about Vietnamese fabrics that the world must see more of them?
I aimed to find silk and linen that were all natural. Modens materials are created from natural fibers. This means the fabrics have a longer lifespan, increasing the overall durability of the clothing; less water output and chemicals during production; and is more biodegradable than synthetic materials–when dumped in a landfill, the harm to the environment and the soil is decreased.
People can spend less long-term on clothing and reduce waste with sustainable clothing. It creates a world of pointed shopping for timeless styles that wouldn’t be thrown away the next time a trend comes along. Besides sustainability, silk and linen are common fabrics in Vietnam. They are two fabrics that are very durable and are a perfect blend of elegance and form.
What are your long-term goals for Modens?
I launched Modens with the vision of a capsule collection with a small and limited number of pieces. It is a personal love letter from me to my Vietnamese American identity and a celebration of milestones such as exploration, transition, and accomplishment. My long-term goals with Modens have to do with knowledge and exploration. As a cultural brand, I want to see how people respond to this motif, the social media campaigns, and their demands. My personal goals are for my future psychology academic pursuits, and I plan on involving Modens and Origins in my future research.
How do you move forward when everyone tells you your idea is not good enough?
I ask them why they don’t think my idea will work and get as much knowledge from them as possible. I assess their opinion for validity, constructiveness, and benefit, and then also evaluate my idea and see what areas I need to improve. My mentality is to stay curious, persistent, and growing.