Your cell phone has been through a lot: sloppy falls, intermittent sleep, never-ending activity and sometimes even not-so-fun slides down the toilet. Understanding our intimate relationship with our cell phones, Nina Cheng is set on dressing them up with accessories that will turn heads. Dear iPhone, meet Wild and Woolly!
Nina Cheng is Chinese by origin, hails from New Jersey and currently resides in New York. Graduating from Colgate University in 2008, Nina majored in International Relations and English. Later, she worked in investment banking and private equity, finally realizing that there was much more to life than numbers, data and a desk you spent your life on. With zero fashion experience, Nina tapped into her calling and founded Wild and Woolly to bridge her love for fur and fashion.
Today, the brand is made up of “unnecessary accessories” like fluffy iPhone cases and mink hoop earrings made with authentic furs, ranging from $325 to $415 in prices. Launched in September 2016, it has become quite the fashion accessory seen on the streets and among fashion influencers. And why wouldn’t it be? The cutesy yet elegant products made out of premium fur are all about making a statement, while hugging your iPhone tight in its toughest hours.
“I have always had a love affair with fur and have been wearing it since I was a teenager. It was a no-brainer to attempt and design a high-end fur phone case.”
The idea came into being when Nina repeatedly dropped her phone and one day shattered it completely. Like many of us, she went on a long hunt looking for a fun and functional phone case (you know you’ve been there too). Disappointed by the choices on the market and refusing to wear animal skins on her phone that she would have to touch all day every day, she decided to design a case herself.
One cold winter day, while fumbling around with her childhood love, fur, she created a rudimentary version as a phone case. When she took the case for a night out, strangers on the street stopped her and snapped photos with the hopes of finding a similar case for themselves. Within one hour, she received her first order and voilà, Wild and Woolly was born!
What’s in a Name?
Wild and Woolly’s name is inspired by the historical importance of fur trade during America’s expansion in the 1850s. It derives from a phrase that came into use at a time of fur traders and explorers, depicting a sense of adventure and lawlessness – something that our generation can definitely relate to. Each of her products is named after narratives from centurial native North American communities and fur trading posts. For example, one of the cases is named Mackinac, after Fort Mackinac in Michigan.
It may seem crazy to think that people are willing to spend more on their iPhone cases than the phone itself but come to think of it, in today’s selfie culture, a phone case is an accessory that keeps on giving. Plus, having real fur to touch every minute can be pretty luxurious, right?
The cases are as much modern craftsmanship as homage to historical cues that Nina has instilled in the brand. The fur is sourced from the highest quality suppliers in Europe and North America in addition to sheared beaver fur sourced from a Yup’ik Eskimo village in Western Alaska that uses traditional Aboriginal methods for fur handling as to not disrupt the ecosystem or over hunt. The remains of the animal are also used for food and clothing so nothing is wasted. You may be wondering if she actually went to visit the village before deciding. Instead, she received a video of their fur process and immediately knew that she had to help them preserve their heritage and traditions.
“I am a big believer in comfort and usability.”
The inner jelly layer of the case for protection took five months of design iteration and testing by Nina and a couple of industrial engineers. To stay true to its New York genesis, the jelly layer is 3D printed in Brooklyn and the furs are cut and assembled by professionals in New York City.
An outgoing fashionista, Nina’s first retail client was Opening Ceremony, thanks to one of her fashion stylist friends (she has quite a few!). Taking over the world one furry friend at a time, Wild and Woolly today is distributed across retailers globally including Opening Ceremony (NY & LA), Browns (London), Leclaireur (Paris), and Canary (Dallas). Soon, the products will also be available at top stores such as Aquagirl (Japan), Boutique 1 (London, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Beirut), Boon the shop (Korea) and our personal favorite, Bergdorf Goodman (NY).
Besides doing a global overhaul of Wild and Woolly products in the coming months, Nina would also like to work with more eco-friendly furs in the future. She is curious about nutria, an otter-like animal, which has been decimating the wetlands in the South, causing several states to call for its eradication. You go, girl!
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Photo courtesy of Wild and Woolly.