Veronica Chou On Her Mission To Promote Fashion Sustainability For All
Veronica Chou needed a break. It was 2014. She was fast approaching her 30s and had already achieved enormous success in fashion, the same industry conquered by her father, Silas Chou, and his father before him. Since founding her company in 2008, she had brought at least a dozen mainstream brands, like Ed Hardy, London Fog and Candie’s, to China during the blossoming of the nation’s middle class that drove enormous demand for western brands across the country.
“We opened up 1,000 stores, not so much in Beijing and Shanghai, but in the second-, third- and fourth-tier cities,” Chou says, recalling a breakneck pace of working that, in her family, seems to be hereditary. “But the experience there really was eye-opening: every time I stepped out of the plane and walked into a sand cloud. For anyone who’s lived in Asia, we remember everyone was talking about the air pollution back then. After a long day of work, I’d go home and wash my face and hands and they were all black.”
Chou decided to go on a seven-day trek in Nepal to clear her mind, and her lungs. She meditated and spent her days practising yoga, and one night she woke up and experienced a moment when she knew that whatever she did next would revolve around sustainability. In March 2015, she sold her stake in the company, Iconix China, to its American joint venture partner for US$56 million.
“I had this epiphany that whatever I do has to have a bit more of a purpose,” she says.
Until then, Chou had largely followed in the footsteps of her father, the Hong Kong tycoon whose investments in the American sportswear labels Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors transformed what was already a substantial manufacturing business into a global powerhouse of fashion. His influence was so prominent that Chou was named honorary chairman of the 2015 Met Gala, celebrating the exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass, and his portfolio grew to include stakes in numerous brands like Karl Lagerfeld and Pepe Jeans.
Now 36, Veronica, having worked in various roles at her father’s companies since she was a teenager, has witnessed the transformation not only of the family business, but also of an industry. She recalls the impact of having visited her grandfather’s knitting and denim factories as a child, asking why they were so smelly and dusty, and what happened to the runoff of vibrant coloured waters from the dyes. Today, she sees a future that is very different, and instead of promoting the sort of fast fashion and mass consumerism that made her family very rich, she wants people to approach shopping more responsibly.
A little over a year ago, Chou launched her own brand of clothing, called Everybody & Everyone, that’s both eco-friendly and size inclusive, the latter important to her because she also recalls facing her own body image issues growing up at a time when most designers prized “models who were literally size zero, and mostly blonde”. While sustainability and diversity have since become critical elements of any socially responsible brand, Chou’s new-guard business model seems especially prescient of shifting attitudes towards clothing in general since the outset of the pandemic, and also among young people, who are far more critical of brands that behave in ways they see as unethical.
We know that people care even more about sustainability after Covid-19. I’m not making party dresses. If you want a dress, go rent one or buy second-hand— Veronica Chou
Her Own Brand
Scrolling through her site, a viewer encounters clean and simple, but also interesting and versatile, designs that broadcast their eco-credentials over their trendiness. A “disco sweatshirt” in navy velour, US$80, comes with slightly puffed sleeve and an asymmetrical neckline that makes it adaptable for Zoom calls or lounging at home. A wool and cashmere sweater that comes in colours like “dusty lavender” and “sweet corn”, US$138, comes with a removable turtleneck collar, and also a longer back whose appeal will be obvious to anyone who sits for very long at a makeshift office chair. Since launching in the US, the brand has seen orders from customers in all 50 states.
“Our best-selling item right now is a pair of trousers made from fermented sugar that are almost wrinkle-free,” Chou says. “They’re also adjustable at the waist and the hem, so you can wear them with high heels or you can wear them with flats. Or, if you’re like me, and you fluctuate in weight from month to month, you can just adjust the waist a little bit, even after a big meal.”
Chou returned to Hong Kong last year, along with her five-year-old twin sons, from her home in London where she has been based for the last several years, in order to be closer to her family and siblings throughout the ordeals of 2020. The impact of Covid-19 on the industry, including her own business, has emphasised the critical need for companies that are more sustainable and nimble than the megabrands of her youth, she says.
Sustainability For All
When she was a teenager, interning at her father’s factories, one of her jobs was to send samples back and forth to designers at Michael Kors in New York, so that they could check the fits during production. “Every time, it was three iterations of the same thing,” she says. “I was like, ‘I just measured this a couple of days ago—why am I measuring it again?’ And they said no, it’s a new one.” Today, Chou uses 3D technology to visualise garments and eliminate much of that waste.
Chou and her family have invested in material sciences businesses, like Modern Meadow, which grows leather in labs, and Carbon Engineering, which transforms carbon dioxide into other products like jet fuel. Along with Emily Lam Ho, Chou is an investor in the sneaker company Thousand Fell, which makes fully recyclable non-leather shoes and allows customers to return their old pairs to be made into new ones. Her cousin, Ronna Chao, who appeared on the August 2019 cover of Tatler Hong Kong, is also a passionate environmentalist and introduced a waterless textile upcycling process last year at Novetex Textiles, where she is chairwoman.
Not long ago, in haute fashion, the notion of sustainability was greeted with a sniff by anyone but Stella McCartney. Today, Tom Ford is making sneakers from pineapples and Prada offers a vast array of products made from recycled nylon. Last October, Tommy Hilfiger launched a circular fashion initiative, Tommy for Life, to refresh old pieces from the brand, as Gucci, Levi’s and others have done. Chou is also a major investor in the Karl Lagerfeld brand, which she teases will have more exciting news on this front in the spring. Still, it’s not clear that consumers will ever go back to their former ways, which portends a major reckoning in the fashion world, one that bodes well for a brand like Everybody & Everyone.
My father was all about making as much money as possible. For me, making some kind of positive impact is also important— Veronica Chou
“Just based on our data, we know that people care even more about sustainability after Covid-19,” Chou says. Even in Hong Kong, where shopping malls are a way of life, she has noticed friends buying clothes online, and mostly loungewear. “I’m not making party dresses. If you want a dress, go rent one or buy second-hand.”
Chou, like everybody and everyone, says she’s had a lot of moments of “doom and gloom” over the past year, but she has also reconnected with nature, and discovered a side of Hong Kong she had once taken for granted in the city’s incredible hiking trails, beaches and landscape, even though she laments the persistent pollution and the lack of a sophisticated recycling infrastructure that contributes to so much waste in the surrounding waters and environment. In the future, she says, conversations about sustainability will be normal, and consumers will gravitate towards “micro-brands” that share their values.
“Now a small brand can reach any customer globally,” she says. “That also allows people to have more creativity.
“I grew up with a father who worked really hard and always believes in the value of hard work. That was true for both my grandfather and my father, and myself. But I think the difference is that my father was all about making as much money as possible. For me, making some kind of positive impact is also important. That’s why sustainability is such an important part of my life.”
- Set DesignChristie Simpson
- HairCooney Lai
- Make-UpKamen L
- StylingRosana Lai
- Stylist's AssistantAngela Leung
- PhotographyRoni Ahn