Vivienne Tam reveals the vision behind her culture-bridging design empire
The Hong Kong-based founder of her eponymous fashion label Vivienne Tam talks about her greatest achievements, her goal to reach a more sustainable future, and the impact Hong Kong has had on her life and her work.
Vivienne Tam is not only a highly successful designer, honoured by Forbes magazine as one of the '25 Top Chinese-Americans in Business'—she's also determined to make a positive impact on the world. Internationally recognised for her contribution in promoting Chinese culture, she's also a pioneer in global collaborations, working with the likes of Google and Lenovo to combine fashion with technology. Tam's evening gowns are sought after by celebrities around the world, from Lady Gaga to Dr. Jill Biden. Her pieces have also been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. We sat down with her to talk about sustainability, inspiration, and how it feels to be a global ambassador for Hong Kong.
As an international designer known for your global collaborations, what are the secrets to your success?
The truth is I don't have any secrets! I just love doing what I do and hopefully that passion comes across in my work. I've always tried to remain true to myself and follow my heart. It's so important to believe in yourself, even in the face of adversity and to never give up—a mantra I've tried to follow every day as I use my designs as a vehicle to bridge Chinese culture with Western modernity. Finding purpose in your life is essential, as it encourages you to do something meaningful and to give back to the world. I find I'm at my most creative when faced with the greatest challenges.
Which of your many achievements are you most proud of and why?
My proudest achievement is being recognised as an ambassador of Chinese culture for the rest of the world—a bridge between the East and the West. I think the publication of my book China Chic was a real milestone on this front, as it came at a time when China was still a mystery to much of the Western world. I also love nothing more than embarking on thought-provoking projects that allow people to understand one another better. Seeing my customers wearing my designs is incredibly empowering!
What's one moment that has impacted your life?
I'll never forget arriving in New York, having just graduated from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, with a duffle bag full of my designs and cold calling department stores to show them my work. With every call I made, as soon as the merchandiser learned I was from Hong Kong, they would assume I was a Chinese manufacturer, attempting to sell them cheap clothing. The general perception was that there were no reputable designers hailing from Hong Kong and China, a perception that from that point on, I was determined to change! After a lot of begging, I finally got a meeting with one of the stores, which ended up buying my first collection. That was a real turning point in my life.
What are the greatest challenges you've faced in your journey?
To create something new and different every season, that's not only relevant and in keeping with the latest trends but something my customers will love, is incredibly challenging. I've had to balance the need to be authentic with the desire to produce interesting designs, while also conveying the story I want to tell. I keep a close eye on what's happening in the world, including the latest innovations and technology, with a view to incorporating them into my designs.
Can you reveal what you're currently working on?
I can't give too much away at this stage, but I can reveal I'm working on a collection about Hong Kong. Having grown up in this magical city, I'd always longed to do a collection that championed its rich culture and heritage. I look forward to sharing more with you in due course!
Can you tell us about the women entrepreneurs' programme with Mastercard in Hong Kong and why you've chosen to participate in this campaign?
Through this inspiring programme, Mastercard encourages women to fulfil their career goals whilst finding balance. This sense of empowerment really resonates with me, and I want to do my part to support women here in Hong Kong and the rest of the world. Mastercard and I are very much aligned in our shared passion and our vision to connect the world and give back to society. We both value priceless experiences, and we believe strongly in the power of innovation. The opportunities for us to collaborate are infinite.
How has growing up in Hong Kong influenced you?
Hong Kong is where East meets West, and it's made me the person I am today. From the art and film scene, to the extensive range of cuisines available and Hong Kong's innovative outlook on the world. I like the "Chinglish" culture, the unique lifestyle, the neon lights at night, the amazing nature, and the exciting, youthful vibe. I see so much of the city in myself, and I continue to draw inspiration from its history, heritage, and culture. I firmly believe that Hong Kong has shaped my personality, encouraging me to be more open.
How do you try to make a positive impact on Hong Kong and the wider world?
I'm a strong believer in positive energy and as such, try to incorporate as much of this as possible into my designs and the collaborations I engage in, so the people who wear my clothes feel empowered and inspired. Proceeds from the sale of my Lovfinity scarf, for example, are donated to raise funds for cancer patients, a cause that is very close to my heart. Sustainability is also essential—something everyone in the fashion industry needs to consider in their ongoing strategies.
I'm aiming towards a more sustainable future. The pandemic has really highlighted the need for change, both in how we live and how we work. I feel a lot of responsibility as a designer to make a greater impact and contribute more towards society. In the past, my focus was to bridge Eastern and Western culture; however, today there is a more practical element to my design philosophy, in that I want to deliver a message of health and wellness via my clothes. Given how much time people are spending at home since the start of COVID-19, I've really turned my attention to this shift, designing clothes that people not only feel comfortable wearing at home but also feel the love with positive energy, to lift their spirits.
What is priceless to you, and why?
Health. With good health as a foundation, you are empowered to pursue and achieve your passion and mission.