After a decade working for one of the largest investment institutions in the world, Eugena Delman faced a personal challenge: continue growing within Goldman Sachs or leave her career behind to pursue an entirely different field. She dwelled on it for six months, but eventually decided to go the latter route—no gig lined up, no real plan… Just a ticket to go back home to Hong Kong. She would come home a month later, bringing with her an idea for a brand-new fashion company.
“I owed it to myself to at least try something different, especially given that I was in my early 30s and still had the energy,” Delman tells Glamour. “If I wanted to do something different, this was my chance to make that pivot.”
While she was in Hong Kong, Delman started to notice something about her sister’s wardrobe: Whenever they went shopping, there were hardly any options for her size-14 frame—an “experience I can only sum up as horrific,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe that there were times that we would walk into a store and [salespeople] would take one look at my sister and be like, ‘Oh, no size.’ We’re paying customers; I have my credit card and I’m ready to spend money in your store and you can’t even make the effort to check the back. My sister was like ‘This is my daily experience. I don’t know why you’re so upset.’”
This was something that Delman, who usually falls between a size six or eight, had never noticed. Growing up in Hong Kong, though, she says she remembers her size always being perceived as large. Yes, she would find it difficult to find clothing that fit correctly, but it wasn’t something she dwelled on—she was more concerned with her math and science classes, which eventually led her to major in aerospace engineering and management science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Delman always had her sights set on coming to the United States for college. After graduating, though, she realized that she wanted to do something more practical than aerospace engineering—that, and she needed a company to sponsor her visa to stay in the country. So, she turned to investment banking. That’s how she got to Goldman Sachs, first as an analyst and eventually becoming a vice president. Fashion was never really on her radar… until that fateful trip to Hong Kong.
“I totally took it for granted, the ability to just find nice clothes for myself whereas somebody who’d be considered [a straight size] in the U.S. is still really struggling in Hong Kong,” Delman says now.
Seeing her frustration, Delman’s sister recommended she start a wholesale or import business, bringing U.S. or European fashion brands—and more inclusive sizes—to Hong Kong. But when she started her research, Delman found that even in the U.S. there weren’t many brands that catered to her target audience of women in corporate environments. Before she could look internationally, she thought, it would be worth getting a sense of the market stateside.
That was precisely the motivation she needed to start Ava James NYC, a line of versatile, professional dresses made for the modern woman. “I wanted to create pieces that were not trend focused… that a grown woman could wear to multiple functions,” Delman explains. “Because, especially spending a lot of money, you don’t want it to be so special that you can only wear it to one type of event.”
Delman officially started Ava James NYC with longtime friend Saena Chung back in April—by August, only four months later, they had debuted its first collection. The range is simple and sophisticated, meant to go from the office to after hours. Every dress is available in sizes 8 through 18 (with more coming down the pipeline.) Prices start at $315 and cap out at $385.
According to Delman, the two were able to get Ava James NYC off the ground so quickly because of the project management skills she acquired from years in investment banking. That same experience also gives her a more intimate understanding of what professional women want from their clothes: “Because I spent nine years in corporate America, I know how [they] dress. I spent nine years with my potential customer demographic and I know what kind of outfits will work in an office setting and won’t work. These women, they want to look good and they want to feel good and they want clothes that are stylish, but they’re not super bogged down by what’s happening in the fashion world.”
Delman, with her background in finance, can also see how large Ava James NYC’s potential for growth is: She’s analyzed the brand’s early sale data, as well as the customer feedback, to reaffirm how important it is for shoppers to have access to elevated womenswear and professional dresses that aren’t fast-fashion or extremely high end—clothing that falls somewhere in the middle.
The team has also spent extra time and money on the fitting process, to ensure that the garments compliment larger frames—a consideration that, though “very expensive on our part,” Delman says she was adamant about: “One of the complaints that I’d heard from my sister was that a lot of the options that were available to her were really oversized clothing…I know that the worst thing you can do when you have a curvy body is drape yourself in fabric.”
There’s another, less talked-about challenge Delman has identified about starting a fashion business—specifically, an inclusive brand: finding an industry standard of size, which essentially means there’s a lot of variation between brands and how they do their sizing. (Someone who might wear a size 14 in one brand may wear a different size in Ava James NYC. Because of the variation in sizing, Delman has made shipping and returns free of charge, allowing shoppers to not pay extra to find the garments in their correct size.) “We ended up putting together an Excel spreadsheet of different brands, specifically for size 14 which is our sample size, and took a look at the variation,” says Delman.
Her sister back in Hong Kong is the brand’s unofficial sample tester: “The first time she wore [our Madrid Dress], she actually told me that she never, ever thought that she could feel sexy in her life. That, to me, was straight up validation.”
“There’s that saying, don’t dress for the job that you have, dress for the job that you want,” Delman says. “As corny as it sounds, it’s not just about looking good—it’s about feeling pretty darn fabulous, too.”