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Fashion & Style

Designer aims to fund Fashion Week show via Indiegogo

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / March 12, 2014

indiegogo fashion weekAfter 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."



JR / March 12, 2014 at 03:46 pm
And why should we float the cost and not him?
Frank Underwood / March 12, 2014 at 04:07 pm
He should get a line of credit. F*$# Crowd-Sourcing
Mr bowtie / March 12, 2014 at 04:16 pm
I don't understand any of this!
Go get a business loan like the majority of business owners. Stop begging for strangers to find your idea or concept.
Show some real initiative and do this on your own, or don't do it at all.
Why should ppl give you our hard earned $$?!

Honest question. WHY?
snowday / March 12, 2014 at 04:43 pm
Reality check. People support artistic endeavours of all kinds (e.g., crowdfunding for the Veronica Mars movie, which is about to come out in theatres thanks to fans). Designers without deep-pocketed backers struggle to survive in a small market like Canada - does that mean they should just quit? Big fashion labels outsource production to developing countries with questionable practices. Here's a talented designer doing great work and trying to keep production in Canada. We need to nurture our talent. If you support any of that, contribute. If you don't, nobody's forcing you.
Jordan / March 12, 2014 at 06:22 pm
Crowd sourcing rarely works - unless your product is extremely compelling.

If you want to survive in design - you really need to move to a bigger market where the money and culture is available to sustain it.
Josh / March 12, 2014 at 11:41 pm
I think he could probably use a year or two of business school. If the business is running a debt - you need to change the business - not beg others for money.

He should design a great one off product - a purse, etc - that's affordable for a wider audience, and let the profits from that sustain his fashion business.

And one thing is for sure - there's no way your business will grow by bringing clients to a dodgy apartment complex in the village. Who wants that? no one. There's relatively affordable retail space in the city if you look carefully - and folks would be far more likely to buy a product - if there's a legit place to buy it.
Sharky / March 13, 2014 at 01:20 am
Good luck! Agree with everyone's points. Being a designer myself I spent 98% on the business side and 2% actually designing. I suggest change of marketing and positioning till it hits.

But with fashion it's that one or two things that tip it off and set everything in motion. I don't actively work on my line anymore, fun industry but too risky http://juzd.com.
Sunny Fong / March 13, 2014 at 04:52 pm
Hi Sunny Fong! Good to see you hard at work. I have the exact same name and live in Toronto so please do your research before you contact me for his inquiries.

Anyway, just wanted to drop a line to say that since you have some male fans, the person above who commented about having some It coveted items would be a smart idea. I absolutely agree. And I would also suggest a tiny small line of men's stuff. Scarf, tie, bowtie, pocket squares with VAWK logo... Ionno, I'd buy a bunch of that stuff and a lot of fashion's fanbase are stylish gay men who would make these purchases. I would just that on Etsy or Bay.com . My 2cents since I'm mostly interested in menswear.

Sunny Fong, don't know if you've received some of the emails I sent you over for interview requests. People in journalism need to not be racist (we don't look that alike) and do a quick fact check.

Regardless, looking forward to seeing your new stuff. Best of luck.

- The other Sunny Fong
Kaz / October 19, 2015 at 02:46 am
I loved the things this designer showed on project runway Canada. Send a quick email to the purchasing department of saks fifth avenue in Mexico City. Carlos slim owns the franchise of this store in Mexico and they are always on the lookout for new and luxurious clothing brands from all over the world!
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