Greenwich designer takes on the big city

Greenwich native Katie Fong is going places quickly and here she poses in her working space in the elite New York City Fashion District.

Greenwich native Katie Fong is going places quickly and here she poses in her working space in the elite New York City Fashion District.

Fashion designers the world around would kill to have their own design space in the heart of New York City’s Garment District and that’s just what Greenwich native Katie Fong has done — at the age of only 22.

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) last year, Ms. Fong immediately set up a design studio in her Greenwich home. It was there that she began to focus on the business aspect of entering the fashion industry as a professional, marketing herself as much as possible and taking on freelance projects that involved special occasion apparel and lingerie, her specialties.

It wasn’t long before Ms. Fong elbowed her way into the cutthroat world of fashion in Manhattan, securing a position in the design department at a company where she worked with the fabric and print directors and increased her knowledge of fabrics and sourcing, two critical components of running a fashion business, she said. Despite her success, however, Ms. Fong grew restless working for others when her own label had yet to be fully established.

When Ms. Fong couldn’t find enough hours in the day to complete a project for a private client of hers, she knew it was time to start her own company, she said. With a handful of fashion connections already established in New York and plenty of business guidance from a part-time consultant she’d worked with, the young designer said she couldn’t think of a better time to start making her dreams come true.

In January, Ms. Fong hired her first full-time design coordinator and by March she had acquired a working space in New York’s Garment District and an apartment on the Upper East Side. Motivated by her passion for fashion, Ms. Fong had finally built her own company, but it was also an outside source that gave her the final push she needed to make it on her own, she said.

Shortly before Christmas, Ms. Fong’s grandmother passed away. Always a major supporter of her granddaughter’s career, her grandmother often spent time trading ideas with Ms. Fong while she sketched designs. In a way, Ms. Fong said, starting her own company was something she did for her grandmother.

“She was my motivator, she gave me this passion,” Ms. Fong said.

After all her grandmother had done for her career, Ms. Fong said, she felt she needed to find a way to give back to her. Accordingly, she will donate a portion of the proceeds from her spring collection to the American Cancer Society, specifically for pancreatic cancer, which is what her grandmother ultimately succumbed to.

“Doing this every day makes me remember her,” Ms. Fong said. “It makes me happy.”

With her own company now up and running, Ms. Fong is happy that she chose a working space in New York’s Fashion Center, exactly where all of her suppliers as well as her manufacturer are located, she said. And although she briefly considered producing her apparel in China, Ms. Fong finally decided to domestically produce all of her work. With the Garment District struggling in the face of mass outsourcing, Ms. Fong said, she is happy to give back to the community she works with.

Location isn’t the only upside to Ms. Fong’s design studio, however. The space is also part of a professional showroom building, which is typical of the district, and at 900 square feet, encompasses a showroom area along with a small production and design area, where her sketches decorate the walls, she said.

Additionally, the space allows Ms. Fong to bring in models for fittings. After working with models on the rough draft of a design, Ms. Fong is able to adjust her garments’ patterns for sample making, have them incorporated into real fabrics and then officially produce her apparel from there, she said.

With fashion constantly moving forward, Ms. Fong is currently working on her spring 2014 collection, which will be shown in September of this year. She’s been hard at work collaborating with part-time pattern makers and an upscale embroidery manufacturer to get her look just right, she said.

“In fashion it’s all about how you’d like to show your collection,” Ms. Fong said.

Accordingly, Ms. Fong is compiling a “lookbook,” which shows off a designer’s featured looks for a particular season, she said. Ms. Fong is aiming to present 20 final looks for her spring collection, including a mix of dresses, skirts, boleros, and pants in hopes of attracting more investors to her company, she said. The concept behind her style, Ms. Fong explained, is a late day into evening, luxury ready-to-wear line featuring 100% silk, plenty of lace appliqué and close attention to detail through the incorporation of lingerie and bridal wear details into everyday looks.

Inspiration for Ms. Fong’s style always stems from her Greenwich background, she said. While dreaming up new designs she often thinks about what her Greenwich customers would wear and how she can give her pieces a classic look while maintaining her unique style, she said.

As she establishes herself in the industry, Ms. Fong said, she hopes to have a few trunk shows to present her merchandise to retailers, and she would be thrilled to hold one in town.

“I’ll always come back to Greenwich,” Ms. Fong said.

With hopes of expanding her business to include bridal wear, lingerie and perfume in the future, Ms. Fong said she is currently focusing on adjusting to the fast-paced life of a New York City business owner while her company is still small. Even when she’s not at the office, Ms. Fong is constantly thinking about work or is on the phone handling business at all hours. But an on-the-go lifestyle in the middle of a fashion capital is nothing to complain about, Ms. Fong said.

“I love [fashion] so much, it’s never work,” Ms. Fong said. “It’s part of life.”


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