Our new series In My Shoes will tell the story of one impressive woman and her successes, failures, life moments, outfits and the all-important shoes that have made a difference along the way.
Mia Kang's biography reads like a fantastical film script. The former teenage model, winner of a Sports Illustrated competition, pro Muay Thai boxer, ex-commodities trader with a master's degree in financial law, motivational speaker and advocate for body positivity recently returned to her roots to serve as the face of Amazon's lingerie line, Iris & Lilly. She has worn many different hats throughout the career, and she credits her wardrobe—from the favourite skirt she wears to castings to her go-to sports bra—for getting her through her remarkable journey.
"I have a black skirt I refuse to stop wearing or get rid of because I wore it to the castings of so many cool jobs I've gotten over the years," Kang says of the outfits that have punctuated her career. "I have a lot of outfits I keep that I will never wear again, like the bathing suits from my first Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot, the dress I wore when I got to ring the bell and close the New York Stock Exchange, and the dress from my first red carpet."
Working as a commodities trader in a bank with only one other woman employed in the trading house might sound overwhelming, but Kang says male-dominated environments never intimidated her. "I grew up with a strong, successful father and two amazing brothers, and I always thought I can do what they do and probably do it better," she says. This environment did, however, require a certain uniform.
"I liked it because it was something new for me," Kang says of her banker wardrobe. "I remember going shopping for corporate clothes, and I liked waking up and having to be creative within the guidelines. As a model, you [also] generally have to keep it simple and dress like a blank canvas. Pencil skirts and blouses were my go-tos. I also got out my late grandma's cardigans and wore them, which I loved."
Muay Thai boxing now plays an important role in Kang's life. "I tried Muay Thai about five years ago, and as soon as I put the gloves on, I remember thinking This is cool! It was a definite personality fit. I only started taking it seriously about two years ago, though. I was in a low point in life, under a lot of pressure from the fashion industry to lose weight and get my measurements down. I went on vacation to Thailand and ended up moving into a training camp for nine months. I not only watched my body change, but it gave me the strength to love these changes. For the first time in my life, I was healthy, strong and happy."
This part of her life also requires another distinct uniform—one Kang now associates with strength. "Whenever I put on my Muay Thai shorts, I feel indestructible, even though I actually dislike shorts—I never wear them and think they're unflattering," she says. "When I put on my sports bra, I feel like I'm putting on a shield of armour, like I walk a little bit taller with it on."
It's not just in the ring, however, that she uses clothes to give her that extra fighting confidence. "Every day, I wear a beautiful matching set of bra and undies," she says of dressing to feel empowered. "Not for anyone else; just for me. I wake up in the morning and put them on and feel beautiful, and I carry that feeling throughout the day."
Kang believes that what we wear on a day-to-day basis can spread a powerful message. "I have a few shirts I wear that give me an extra pep in my step," says Kang. "More than acting as a walking billboard, I think it's more about the feeling and confidence that clothes give you, and that carries forward into everyday life and rubs off on to other people."
Given that this series is called In My Shoes, it was only fitting to end our conversation by asking Kang what pair she would wear to conquer the world, and her choice is certainly fitting. "A pair of bitchin' thigh-high boots" was her brilliant answer.