Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple, With Jess Chow & Sunny Fong of VIEREN
Make time to write down your shared passion — It’s crucial that you start off on the same page from the very beginning. Ask yourselves, “Why are you doing this and what would make you want to stop?” This is not an easy journey and there are many opportunities for us to disagree, but if we are going to the same destination, the exact path we take to get there becomes less relevant. Write it down so you can always revisit when needed.
As a part of our series about lessons from Thriving Power Couples, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Chow & Sunny Fong of VIEREN.
Jess Chow, management consultant-turned-CEO and Sunny Fong, Creative Director, Project Runway All Star, winner of Project Runway Canada and founder of VAWK womenswear label. Together, they are the co-founders of VIEREN, a new brand of luxury Swiss Made automatic watches.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?
Jess: I come from a family of watchmakers. I grew up immersed in the industry — traveling to factories with my parents and learning so much about the world of watches. Naturally, as I got older, I wanted to forge a path of my own. I became a management consultant — reinventing brands, advising businesses, and learning about different industries. It wasn’t until I turned 30 that my perspective changed. I realized the power of time and I suddenly felt the need to put my time into something that was meaningful to me. It was kismet that around this time I met my co-founder Sunny, who shared a similar vision for himself and had a skillset that was complementary to mine. When Sunny learned about my family’s background, he told me a story about how he started wearing his father’s automatic watch when he turned 40, and how it ultimately became a daily reminder of how precious time is. When you stop moving, an automatic watch will stop telling time. At that point, it clicked. We knew we wanted to reconnect with and honor our pasts, and do so in a fresh, modern way to inspire people to celebrate the power of time every day.
Sunny: After nearly two decades in the fashion industry, I was looking for my next adventure. Winning Project Runway Canada, being a Project Runway All Star and launching my luxury womenswear label VAWK allowed me to explore my passion for creativity, and I was excited to take on the new challenge of watch design. I’ve always wanted to design a rectangular watch — a nod to a high school graduation gift from my family. When I met Jess, she reminded me of growing up with “old school” watches and we were inspired to bring the automatic watch back. Many people today don’t even know what an automatic watch is! We felt we had the opportunity to reintroduce it to a new generation that may have never experienced wearing one or felt the category was too intimidating from a price point perspective. Rather than contributing to the world of fast fashion, we also wanted to create quality timepieces handcrafted to last. My work has always been inspired by combining the old and the new, so for VIEREN, I strived to bring together traditional luxury Swiss watchmaking and modern design thinking to create powerful timepieces that can tell time forever.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two joined forces?
Jess: When we started on this journey — even though watchmaking is my family’s business — we realized we still had so much to learn. Handcrafting a fine automatic watch is intricately complex and we wanted to learn from the best. Taking our vision, Sunny and I flew to Switzerland to get a better understanding about the state of the industry. We were lucky to team up with a forward-thinking watchmaking studio in the historical region of La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland willing to take on a creative challenge. When we researched watch design, we didn’t see a lot of rectangular options and we quickly learned why — they’re incredibly difficult to engineer! We were so impressed by the level of craftsmanship and precision in creating an automatic Swiss Made watch that we decided to share the behind the scenes making of our first collection OG Automatic in a five-part video series showcasing our design and creation experience.
Sunny: There was definitely a learning curve to making watches! First and foremost, I was faced with the challenge of going from yards of silk to millimeters in stainless steel. If one component is off by even 0.01mm, that piece simply will not fit together with the others. It took almost a year to perfect the watch case. We worked through countless iterations to achieve the perfect size and fit that would look great on any wrist — for both man or woman. It’s not easy to fit the circular automatic watch movement into a rectangular case while ensuring the watch is as thin as possible. Automatic watches are powered by a rotor on the back of the movement, which is a weighted disc that swings back and forth, winding the watch when worn. This makes the mechanism bigger and thicker, so getting our watch to be super slim at 9.2mm proved to be extremely challenging. We spent a lot of time on the fit of the rectangular case shape and bracelet, custom designing the matte monochromatic watch dial and our signature 18K gold minute ring — it’s all of the subtle details that make it a signature watch.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Sunny: Translating a 2D drawing into a 3D working mechanism that looks good on the wrist takes a lot of work. When we created our first samples, we didn’t realize how many angles there were and how much of a difference each one makes visually to the final design. One funny story is that there was a hairline on our initial drawing to indicate a shadow, but the engineer had mistaken it for an actual crease line on the case. When we received the final samples, we were so confused. “Where is this line coming from?!” We had to spend more time redoing this piece because it didn’t look right. That small hairline had affected the entire design. It’s the smallest details that make our watch a quality timepiece.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Jess: To me, it’s that VIEREN represents old-meets-new. Our view is that the luxury watchmaking industry has been slow to change over the years. Many watches on the market are created from pre-existing components that are simply assembled and not necessarily new. We wanted to create something new and different; something design- forward that could be worn on someone’s wrist every day and last forever. Through my network, we were able to work directly with watchmakers and engineers in Switzerland to create each bespoke component of our watch for this first collection. It was fun working with both older and younger generations to create a unique watch that pushes the boundaries of traditional Swiss luxury watchmaking for today’s modern tastemakers.
Sunny: One of the things that was important in designing my first collection for VIEREN was ensuring that all our watches are gender neutral. I’ve always believed in representing diversity on my runway, and that sparked my drive to design watches that would work for all body types and genders. It’s encouraging to see more and more women shopping for automatic watches today, which have traditionally only been marketed to men. We want to share the art of luxury watchmaking in an inclusive way that resonates with today’s generation.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Jess: Right now, our focus is on building VIEREN within our local community. With everything going on in the world during this pandemic, we’re reminded of the people closest to home and how we can support each other. We believe in spreading positive energy and strive to remind people that every day is a special occasion worth celebrating. Looking beyond, we’re excited to grow VIEREN into a global brand; we were slated to head back to Switzerland this year to show at this year’s new Hour Universe watch and jewelry show in Basel. It is our hope that we can continue to share our message of empowerment and inspire people to celebrate the power of time.
Sunny: Not to ruin the surprise, but we are working on our new watch release coming later this year. It will be a further exploration of our monochromatic, tone-on-tone designs, but this time, playing with texture and new materials. We are looking forward to sharing more very soon! As things start to open up again, we also want to start collaborating with local talent and creative powerhouses to bring some new and fun ideas to the world of watchmaking. Fingers crossed that can happen soon.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Jess: Push back, ask questions and challenge the status quo. It’s easier to do the same thing than to do something new, but we find the latter more fun! When we started, many people told us no; we couldn’t make a rectangular automatic watch that thin, we couldn’t make an all-black watch, we couldn’t make a Swiss Made automatic watch at the accessible price point we wanted. It was our persistence and loyalty to our vision that enabled us to find new ways of doing things, and that in turn helped inspire our suppliers to try something different, push the industry forward and understand this generation better. Be brave and ask questions.
Sunny: Trust your instincts. Do your research, but know your gut is always right. Getting overwhelmed by too many ideas and opinions happens to everyone, but we find that whenever we’re feeling that way, we always go back to our original idea. That is why we named our first collection OG Automatic. When we had a million ideas — even designs for quartz watches — we were able to focus by remembering why we’re doing this… to create a brand that will inspire people to be their most powerful. OG is a reminder for us to always trust our gut and make every decision with our purpose in mind.
How do you define “Leadership”?
Jess: Leadership to me is an active verb. To lead means to be at the forefront — to create something new. So often we see industry leaders resting on their past successes and not focusing on innovation. Through VIEREN, we want to push the boundaries of luxury Swiss watchmaking and find better ways of doing old things. That’s the modernist approach.
Sunny: There are a lot of businesses that serve their own ego. To be successful, you have to put others first. Leadership is about serving others, and you can only do that by listening to their needs and establishing a trusting relationship with them. It’s important to me to find a way to do that while staying true to who I am and my purpose. Being able to adapt and manage change is key.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Jess: For me, one of the reasons for starting VIEREN was to reconnect with my family. It’s been my biggest source of success. Not only am I learning more about the storied craft of Swiss watchmaking, but I am also exchanging knowledge with the older generation. Bridging the gap between the old and the new to create something innovative. My grandmother has always been my inspiration. She has taught me that success is about putting in hard work and doing what’s meaningful for you. I’m proud to be continuing the legacy of watchmaking in my family and sharing it with today’s generation.
Sunny: Success takes a long time; even “overnight” successes take years. In the journey to that point of success, it’s always been my friends that have given me the unconditional support and unedited opinions I needed. They are the ones that are always there to celebrate my wins and catch me when I need help. I’m grateful to have these friends that I’ve earned since grade school; they consistently remind me of my roots.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Jess: VIEREN exists to inspire others to pursue their dreams in the same way Sunny and I have pursued ours. In the coming year, we are excited to roll out new programs to support entrepreneurs and creatives in bringing to life their innovative business ideas and passions.
Sunny: Throughout my career and having been on Project Runway, it’s been of utmost importance for me to support other designers and creators in the same space, and to be a good example in my community. I try to be a fashion godfather to the students and entrepreneurs who want to break into the industry. I like to share my tips and mistakes, hoping that they will help foster their growth in this tough world. I believe we all have the opportunity to be successful and coexist, and that the only way for us to all get there is to have each other’s back, no matter what.
What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Power Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Make time to write down your shared passion — It’s crucial that you start off on the same page from the very beginning. Ask yourselves, “Why are you doing this and what would make you want to stop?” This is not an easy journey and there are many opportunities for us to disagree, but if we are going to the same destination, the exact path we take to get there becomes less relevant. Write it down so you can always revisit when needed.
- Make time to listen and learn — Really take seriously what the other person is saying and how it can help solve the problem at hand. Often, Sunny and I say the same things in different ways, and after hearing each other’s interpretation, we find ourselves achieving a deeper understanding of the problem we are trying to solve.
- Make time to say what’s on your mind — Ideas are not always fully formed when they come to you, but it’s important to get them out while they’re fresh. Say what’s on your mind and put it down on paper in a way that you both understand.
- Make time for your needs — As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to just put everything into work and not give anything to yourself. Sunny and I are both perfectionists and have this tendency to neglect our personal lives for the business, but that doesn’t make for a happy person or an effective partner. We actively hold each other accountable to take time for ourselves so we can come back together stronger and ready to tackle the next challenge.
- Make time to have some fun — Enjoy yourself and your time together. If you genuinely don’t enjoy time together, it’s never going to work out. As our name suggests (VIEREN is Dutch for “celebrate”), we like to celebrate, party and feast, so we make time to do that every week. It’s funny, a lot of the time, our best ideas come when we are just having fun over a dinner table.
You are people of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Jess: Celebrate the power of time! We can do anything if we put our minds to it, and we only have one life to live. It’s important that we never forget that and make the most out of every single day.
Sunny: That’s why we started this company; we wanted to create the tool that inspires you to embrace every moment.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Sunny: When I was a kid, I saw the classic film Auntie Mame and I wanted to be just like Auntie Mame when I grew up. Her famous line in that movie was, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” As a now grown up, I guess that quote has resonated.
Jess: One of my first bosses said to me, “If you’re not making three mistakes every day, you’re not working hard enough.” Too often we look at mistakes as failures, and we use them as a reason to not pursue something we care about. But in reality, it’s through these actions we learn to become better and more resilient.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Jess: David Attenborough. I would love to hear his stories of the wonders of the world, stories of discovery and innovation, and how we’re all here trying our best to find a balance between change and time.
Sunny: Jean Paul Gaultier. He sparked my first love for fashion, and he is always adventurous and humorous in his approach. Plus, he’s a hoot — lunch would be fun.
How can our readers follow your company online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.