Canadian Creatives | Wei Dong Yuan: Fashion, Function and Funding
Episode 7 of Canadian Creatives features Wei Dong Yuan, Co-Founder of AEON Attire, who went from dancing on the street to owning a business.
Starting out as a trio of professional break-dancers, they used their talents to fund their fashion dreams nickels and dimes at a time.
Debuted in 2012, the trio founded AEON Attire, a unisex fashion accessories design firm focused on innovation and functionality.
Today their business has spread to 30 retail stores worldwide, with coverage in the Huffington Post, Mashable, the Globe & Mail, and more.
AEON wrapped up 2013 with their first Kickstarter campaign, raising over $52,000 – over 20 TIMES their original goal.
Tell us about your background.
W: It started somewhere really random. We were all break dancers in the dance community, in Toronto. Me, my brother and Patrick, we started out dancing, but then we used our dance to do more professional career-oriented things, like professional performing, but then we wanted to take it to the next level. So, we thought ‘Why don’t we use our dancing to fuel on of your other passions, with is fashion?’. We had the idea to one day go to Yonge & Dundas square, get some busking licenses, and raise money for an idea that we had, nickels and dimes at a time, and that how Aeon Attire started up.
What exactly is Aeon Attire today, and what does the name stand for?
W: The word aeon is a word in latin, and it describes essentially a billion years, which is basically timeless, thats what we wanted our clothing and accessories to be mean, and thats where aeon comes from, and then we wanted to include a word or two indicating it was meant for clothing, and we saw companies that are like American Apparel and like Urban Outfitters, so we were like ‘What about Aeon Attire?’, so that is how the name came to be. For where we are now, we now describe ourselves as a fashion design firm, like we create accessories that are not only fashionable, but also uniquely functional.
Why is creativity and innovation so important to you?
W: In terms of innovation and creation, in terms of us we’re pretty lucky to be exposed to dance, and fashion. Both of which are very self-expressive and it’s about innovating, taking something of your own and flipping it. It’s what we want to preserve, also as a company, we can really proud ourselves to do really unique stuff that bigger companies might not be comfortable doing because they are so big and they want to take safer steps. I think it’s also really good just to develop as people. If you’re not innovating and creating something different, then how are you growing with your life?
What was that process like when launching that kickstarter campaign?
W: We actually had experience to crowdfunding prior to our campaign on Kickstarter. We originally used Indiegogo when Kickstarter wasn’t available to Canadians and the process is pretty extensive. You had to create an idea, you had to create a video, you had to contact people to let them know about it, launch the campaign, and then try to gather that kind of interest, and fulfill your campaign and raise the money and get the stuff out to the people.
If you had to give a couple of tips based on your experience, what would they be?
W: I think one of the most important things is the product, like if it isn’t going to provide more value than what people are paying for, it might not do that well. That is the first thing, and after that would be contacting everybody, whether it’s your friends, family, bloggers, all that is an essential part of the entire process because if nobody knows about it, who will be supporting it? After you have your product idea, it’s important to get the information and the campaign out to the people, getting different people involved
So how does it feel like to have exceeded your goal dramatically on Kickstarter?
W: It’s a great feeling that we are 2100% funded. It was a lot of work, I think that it was paid off. Also, it’s something nice to have under your belt. In terms of what we have to do now, we’re working on shipping over 600 packages over the world, to get people their products, we’re trying to get it in before Christmas, so we are really busy with that.
Tell us about the full circle project. How did it start, and where is it at today?
W: Last winter, we started working on a campaign, called the Full Circle project. We have created these circle scarves, and for every one that we sell, we donate a brand new one to homeless youth in Toronto through organizations like United Way. The inspiration for the idea was really when we were dancing on the street, we were more exposed to the situation of people living on the street. We realized that these people were in this kind of situation and as it got colder, they would be in a very dire situation, so we wanted to do something about this, and we decided to create the campaign, and we are aiming to donate over 200 scarves in about two weeks time, for the campaign.
How do you keep your innovation fresh?
W: I think that our involvement in the dancing, hip hop, urban environment is always creating fuel to make creative ideas. We are also always trying to forecast how technology is being integrated with thing like fashion. One of the biggest ways we inspire is to look at things that are common items in fashion, and we kind of think to ourselves if we can make this different, updated, things that we want, that’s really where it comes from. In terms of the gloves, we wanted leather gloves in the winter, and we looked for a way to improve them, in the same way we take a lot of things and look at the processes of things that are current, and interesting.
What is next for AEON Attire?
W: We are coming up with a couple of different ideas. We are coming out with a line of watches, something to start the new year off. We are also thinking about involving a new technical aspect to these watches, so that’s on our radar, that’s about it. Of course, we are also pushing our other different accessories.
Can you tell us one obstacle and/or challenged you have faced starting this business?
W: One of the biggest challenges is creating an idea that is proprietary, different, and marketable. We sat in Patrick’s basement for weeks just trying to come up of random ideas, thinking of ways to provide to the people, and that took a long time. It was only when we went back to our roots, we went to see what we could do to help the people or the kind of person we are the most familiar with, dancers. It was only then we had the idea to help them. That was one of our biggest hurdles, and after you have an idea, how are you going to fund it, bring it to life, get into market? That requires a lot of money, well not too much money, but it requires money. Whether it’s from investors, loans, whether you have to work minimum to make that, that was our second biggest challenge we had, and we were lucky to have a different kind of funding our company and we are very grateful for the opportunities that we had.
What is the best way to keep in contact with you guys?
W: If you want, you can contact us, talk to us, ask us questions. We love that kind of stuff, we love giving back to entrepreneurs. You can reach us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, just @AeonAttire, or if you would like to go on our website, aeonattire.com, or you can just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.