Designer aims to fund Fashion Week show via Indiegogo
After 10 years, Sunny Fong is trying to finally kick VAWK out of his apartment. Through eight seasons at Toronto's fashion week and a Project Runway Canada win in 2009, Fong -- one of Canada's best-known emerging designers, and a perpetual critical darling -- has been running the line out of his living room.
Two days before Fong's model fitting and six days before his show (featuring a "Middle East meets street style" fall/winter 2014 collection), the parquet-floored home near Church and Wellesley is a flurry of activity. Four of Fong's assistants (some part-timers, some interns) bend over workspaces and sewing machines, cutting fabric, stitching black tulle, and painstakingly slicing patterns into leather -- piece by piece -- with an Xacto knife.
"It's funny, because on Instagram, people are like 'Oh my god, your place is a lot smaller than I thought!'" he laughs.
"I'm not afraid to tell people I work out of my apartment. Because the reality is, when I went on the show, that's how it was, and that's how it is," he says, adding he has celebrity clients come on up for fittings. (When you dial up, the buzzer's screen reads "VAWK/FONG".)
"I'm trying to keep the costs low. It's part of running a business."
Fong and his feminine, luxurious pieces shot to Canadian fashion fame in 2009, when he won the second season of Project Runway Canada -- an honour that came with a $100,000 prize. But the fashion world is an expensive place -- especially when you're trying to sustain a small business.
"I think people think that I 'made it' when I won that $100,000 on Project Runway," he says. "(They're thinking) 'You showed at Fashion Week eight times.' But if you divide that 100 grand by eight -- and then I said on the show that I had debt already, like 40 grand, so I lost half of it."
That six-figure sum, Fong estimates, only carried the line for about a year.
Recently, he's been keeping the line going through collaborations -- most recently, a capsule line for eBay Canada and lobby uniforms for the Shangri-La Hotel. He also does custom work, including wedding and event dresses (notable folks he's dressed include Katy Perry, Serena Ryder and Elisha Cuthbert). But those don't make for a reliable income source, and the line has trickled out of stores due to a few missed buying seasons, drying up the brand's revenue further.
On the advice of a friend, Fong launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in advance of VAWK's F/W 2014 show Monday night. He's hoping to recoup funds he's floated to put this collection together, put new pieces into production, open an e-commerce store, and reach a larger buyer base in the U.S. and internationally.
Fong set a $30,000 target for the campaign, a sum he calls "not too crazy". (For comparison, he estimates an average runway collection costs $10,000 to produce.) "That would help launch e-comm, covers my costs for the shows, and then possibly take the line overseas, build the next collection" over the next six to 12 months.
Perks include $20 for a leather key fob, $60 for a keychain and a ticket to next week's show, $150 for a scarf, and $3,000 for a custom-made gown.
But despite Fong's profile within the industry, the response to the campaign has been slow; 18 backers have pledged $1,420 with four days to go at the time of this post.
Though it's a considerable shortfall, Fong says he's "not surprised", though he voices some disappointment at the gulf between the enthusiasm people show for his line and their lack of willingness to actually help it get off the ground.
"I mentioned I was showing at Fashion Week, I had over 300 likes (on Facebook). So I thought, maybe, at least those 300 people..."
Fong says he's learned that while cash prizes can be boons to young designers (at the very least, he says, you'll get back what you spent creating the collection you were just judged on), the non-monetary benefits of those awards can be just as helpful, if not more.
"If (young designers) just got half the money and got a business manager or somebody in business to do sales, Canadian fashion would be a lot further," he says. "It's easy just to (give someone) a lump some of money and say 'Here, you're on your own'."
He points to the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund awards that boost new designers in the U.S: "If you have Anna Wintour's stamp of approval, or that type of mentorship that they get, I think it's more valauble than money sometimes. Cause then you can take that and leverage it -- that's why I get the opportunities I get.
"We don't help each other enough in our industry."