Alumni Interviews – Vincci Ching
A Career By Design
Vincci Ching (BA, Psychology & French 2000) is the founder of the Hong Kong design company Dodo Island, and creative director of ANGEE W. and Heritage ReFashioned. She is an eco-conscious accessories designer, on a mission to divert old materials from landfill and reduce fashion’s carbon footprint. Her designs, which combine traditional craftsmanship with innovative materials and techniques, have been featured in such influential fashion and wedding publications as ELLE, Aspire Magazine of Hong Kong Airlines and theknot.com. Heritage ReFashioned, her line of sustainable fashion clutches upcycled from vintage fabrics, won several Hong Kong Smart Gifts Design Awards in 2016, and was included in the much-coveted Golden Globes goody bag. Before turning her passion for design into a career, she worked for 10 years in educational fundraising and alumni affairs. She volunteers on the executive committee of the University of Toronto Alumni Association (Hong Kong).
A&S: I understand you grew up in Mauritius. What were your family’s circumstances there? When did you leave?
VC: I was born in Hong Kong, and moved to Mauritius with my family when I was five years old. My mother worked in one of the largest garment manufacturing factories in Mauritius. I lived there until I graduated from secondary school. I left the island after my GCE O Level, and went to Canada to study.
A&S: Why did you choose to study at U of T?
VC: I have relatives in both Toronto and New York, but my mother felt that Toronto was a much safer city. So that’s why I came to Toronto and enrolled at U of T. Plus, as the first in my generation to study overseas, getting accepted at U of T was a major achievement in the family.
A&S: What did your undergraduate studies teach you that was essential for your future careers?
VC: Growing up on a small tropical island where the community is relatively small, I’d say that the U of T campus, classes, academic and social interactions groomed me from being a small fish to a fully-grown fish who wanted to make an impact on people’s lives.
For me, the most helpful thing was the friendships I made during those four years. I was an active member of the Psychology Students’ Association’s executive team and, being a commuter student, the PSA office in the basement of Sidney Smith was like a home on campus. In my third year, a friend from French class helped me get a part-time job at the Laidlaw Library at University College. Twenty years later, the former librarian and library colleagues are still in touch!
A&S: What took you (back) to Hong Kong?
VC: My first job interview after graduation and a sense of adventure. I could speak Cantonese, but never really “lived” in Hong Kong. So that was my ticket back, and I’ve been here ever since. To this day, Hong Kong still amazes me. It’s very unique to have so many U of T grads living and thriving in one small city, and this serves as my motivation to give back to my alma mater by serving on the executive committee of the University of Toronto Alumni Association (Hong Kong).
A&S: You’ve had an interesting career trajectory, moving from advancement in higher education, to marketing, to design and entrepreneurship. What did you take from each stage that helped you become the success you are today? What were the challenges you needed to overcome?
VC: Every stage of my career is built on top of the previous one. Sure, the nature might be different, but the fundamentals are the same. Every stage and every relationship is built on honesty and mutual respect.
There are challenges of course. But challenges are not dead-ends, and I’m a believer in “whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” For example, I am an introvert, but I had to do public speaking in my job in the field of advancement. So to do my job well, I practiced the heck out of the delivery so that my fear didn’t get in the way of the message. I’m now grateful for all these uncomfortable opportunities of speaking in front of crowds of strangers, as they have prepared me for all the pitching, trade shows, press and television interviews that I do at this point in my career.
A&S: Tell us about your new line of business, Heritage ReFashioned. What motivated you to take it up? What has the response been?
VC: Heritage ReFashioned is a collection of fashion accessories and handbags upcycled from vintage textiles. I grew up with textiles manufacturing, with my family owning a small embroidery factory in the 80s. Eventually, as manufacturing moved out of Hong Kong, my family moved to Mauritius. I remember playing hide and seek on stacks of fabric rolls inside the factory, as well as making daisy chains with off-cuts as a child! Having seen first-hand the pre-consumer waste generated from mass garment manufacturing, my goal through Heritage ReFashioned is to create sustainable fashion accessories through upcycling pre-loved Chinese goldwork embroidery and vintage Japanese kimono textiles.
A&S: So how does it feel to have your work in the swag bags at the Golden Globes, the Oscars and the 2018 FW Fashion Week in New York?
VC: It feels pretty surreal, and of course I’m beaming proud to be able to say, “I made her bag!” But in all seriousness, this also tells me that sustainable fashion is now and here, not just in the eco-conscious green fashion circles. This is especially important to me personally because I was raised with money earned from the fashion industry, the second most polluting industry on our planet. I believe that through conscious design and choice of materials, we can change the way we make and consume fashion.
A&S: What advice would you give a student who is considering a career as an entrepreneur?
VC: Being an entrepreneur may sound glamorous because you get to be your own boss. But for me, starting out in a traditional job propelled me to where I am today. I’ve had great teachers, and there are so many invaluable lessons, work ethics and connections you can get from the traditional line of work. So why not learn from others and enjoy the feeling of getting your first paycheque or first bonus? If you still decide to jump into building your empire right after graduation, be ready to supplement your passion with grit. A lesson I’ve learned early on is that passion alone won’t feed you.