For Erbert Chong, fashion is much more than glamorous red carpet events and trend-driven fads.
The 33-year-old designer is a renaissance man who treats the industry like a well-preserved craft.
‘All art schools are very competitive. I went to Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. When I was in Parsons and F.I.T it was very much about business and retail and how to maximise your collection with the best profit margin.’
Not content with just an American education, Chong, who travelled extensively as a child, also studied in the City of Lights.
‘In Paris, it was very much how to be creative and how to have a strong brand identity and how to build your image. It was how to maximise the use of fabric, with the best garment.’
Chong knew very early on that creativity and design held the key to his future but his parents took some convincing.
‘During my teenage years, I was always quite rebellious. I always had an interest in art. Of course, when it comes to Asian parents, being in an art related profession does not fulfil all their hopes and dreams but at the same time they let me do what I wanted.’
‘My parents were in trade. They saw what I was doing still had a connection to business, even though it is fashion, it was like a comfort to them. Some of the best advice they gave me was trademarking. In design school, they don't talk too much about trademarking for protecting your identity.’
This strong business acumen, coupled with an impressive education, led Chong to work for the home of luxury brands, LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton).
‘I worked for LVMH, the fashion division, which is a division that manages Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs and Kenzo. At that time, I wasn't doing any design at all, what I did was talent scout.’
Chong’s job was to find ways to rejuvenate stagnant brands and short list designers for the different fashion houses.
‘I helped review the current designers they had in the business. For example, with Opening Ceremony going to Kenzo. Kenzo had been kind of floating and it did not have any media attention at that time, back in 2010. We short listed the designers and matched the designers who best suit the aesthetic of the house.’
‘In the end, LVMH we're very happy with the decision because KENZO became a success, and people are talking about it again.’
In 2013, Chong decided it was time to break out on his own. Armed with knowledge in strategic and change management, and design background, he launched his self-titled label Erbert Chong.
‘Originally the business plan was to be in Hong Kong for two years and then go international. We decided we wanted to go for a more internet approach and we moved the company from Hong Kong to a New York and Paris within a year.’
‘When you're in such big cities such as New York and Paris it becomes a bigger and more competitive market. Right now, our plan is more crossing over from apparel to accessories and hand bags and small goods.’
For the international designer, the customer is always front and centre when it comes to his products.
‘In a way, fashion has changed so much in the last decade; from the workload to the price point, it has fluctuated so much.’
‘I'm so used to the price point of Zara, UNIGLO and H&M that when you go to a department store and see you a pair of jeans that’s worth more than a thousand dollars you're like, ‘I could get it a lot cheaper at Zara’.’
Not only is price point an important consideration to the Erbert Chong label but so is the philosophy of the company.
‘We think of ourselves more like a tech company than a fashion brand. We model ourselves as a tech company and how they are doing things and what kind of ways they are communicating with their consumer, and we're modifying it to a fashion brand way.’
‘Google and Uber for instance, these companies are succeeding because they are thinking outside of the box. We're also trying to move away from the traditional side of business and we're moving to a more fluid model because things aren't the way they used to be anymore.’
‘What's happening to fashion is what happened to records. They sold CD's and they kept on selling CD's, and MP3 arrived and oh we are not catching up to MP3, and once they caught up to MP 3 and iTunes, streaming came along. I don't want to be one of those companies that get left behind.’
It’s evident that the 33-year-old is in full control of his business empire with the fashion forward brand growing organically.
‘Right now, we're quite comfortable being the size we are. I think profile wise we want to become a household name, at the same time we don't want to grow so fast we consume ourselves with unnecessary things.’
Chong, who employs six full time staff, is not complacent with just being at the head of the table. While global domination is high on the priority list, the international designer wants to do things his way. And judging by his credentials, he’ll be a household name to remember.
‘I'm actually hands on with designing. I don't really like people designing for me, that's why each collection is so small. We always limit it to eight to ten looks per season.’
‘I don't think I'll be one of those designers who sit at the top and wait for others to do things for me. I like designing too much. In five to ten years my biggest hope is that we have a good foot hold in the U.S and Europe.’
You can follow Erbert on his Instagram.