By Isabella Schneider
March of 2020 did not appear as an opportune time to start a business. It was the beginning of many states’ lockdowns, and the economy was beginning to suffer.
However, to Ducal Hoang, founder of athleisure clothing company Penguyen, the surrounding events in the world did not alter his decision. The motto of Penguyen is “Not if, but when?” and Hoang knew that his “when” to start his business was now.
Although starting his own business didn’t follow in Hoang’s planned career path it was always a dream of his. After four periods of attempting to start a business and flopping, he finally had the strength to follow through with his dream last December after receiving the full support of his parents.
“I set the launch deadline for March first,” Hoang said. “Although it was pretty premature, because I set that date I pushed really hard to fulfill whatever was needed to get done.”
What was meant to just be athletic wear such as shorts, sports bras, and leggings soon proved to be more difficult than expected due to the onset of the pandemic. With that being said, Hoang reevaluated and scaled down to just hoodies, t-shirts, and stickers in hopes to expand once things began to pick up.
Penguyen is so much more than any specific line of clothing. The name Penguyen is a pun on the traditional Vietnamese last name “Nguyen” and much of Hoang’s initial orders came from the Asian community. However, Hoang is branching out to diverse audiences and is building a community of supporters who fit into the culture of acceptance.
“When I started I had Asian inspired designs but I had customers reaching out to me asking if I was going to have any other designs,” Hoang said. “It made me upset that I wasn’t able to cater to everyone. If I wanted to buy from a brand but they didn’t fit my needs I’d be upset too. I’ve been more aware of that so everyone feels welcomed.”
Penguyen has since grown to be a group of customers and influencers on TikTok and Instagram who stay engaged with each other and with Hoang long after they’ve made a purchase. For example, he recently sent out a pack of Penguyen stickers with a handwritten note to all of his customers who have been supporting him since the beginning.
“I don’t want my brand to be like other brands where you purchase from them and that’s the end of the story,” Hoang said. “My customers got me to where I am today by interacting with me and as I grow I’m never going to unfollow them.”
One member of the Penguyen community, Titus Bonifacio, agreed that his experience with Penguyen was unlike anything he’s experienced before. He was able to model for Penguyen on Instagram and said his connection won’t stop there.
“Penguyen feels like more than just a brand because you can see all of Ducal’s hard work through his illustrations in his clothing,” Bonifacio said. “I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from both my followers, friends, and Ducal of how I promoted the brand. I enjoyed working with them and will still continue supporting them.”
Likewise, Instagrammer Autumn Truong appreciated the positive experience she had representing Penguyen on her page. She said they included her in every aspect of editing, sent her additional items for free, and made her feel valued for more than just modeling.
“The biggest thing I would like to point out about Penguyen is that they approached me with this opportunity despite me not being a big-time influencer,” Truong said. “I don’t even have 1000 followers, yet they still picked me out of the big community they have. It’s not about clout for them, it’s about engagement!”
Hoang is using his platform for far more than building a community and allowing small influencers to shine, he’s also using it for advocacy.
For every order placed in September, Hoang will be donating five dollars to To Write Love on Her Arms, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people find counseling sessions and the resources they need.
Hoang got inspired to donate in hopes of helping bring awareness to suicide prevention after recently going through a depressive episode. He said he posted a video about it to TikTok and really appreciated the positive support he got.
“A lot of people miss out on having a support system,” Hoang said. “Even though I haven’t broke even yet I still want to make a difference, especially for Suicide Prevention Month. I want to raise $250. Hopefully after I break even I have more opportunities to help out different charities and make an impact on the community.”
Hoang’s other future plans include a line of Bucket hats and pushing out more athleisure items. However, he’d also like to continue building community beyond the clothing by hosting fundraising events to donate to charity.
“Penguyen has given me the opportunity to explore this passion of mine,” Hoang said. “I’d rather be working on my business than playing a game and it makes me feel good to see that it’s growing and that I’ve been able to make an impact on others.”