Archive for the ‘People’ Tag

Pride of the family

 

It was a long and rocky road from Kuala Krai to New York, Zang Toi tells CHIN MUI YOON, and he made it, thanks to his family.

THE International Centre of New York last year honoured Zang Toi with an award given to foreign individuals who have made significant contributions to the United States.  Not bad for a boy from Kelantan whose father, Toi Han Eng, now 81, ran a small grocery store in Kuala Krai and who was 13 when he made his first visit to the “big” city of Kuala Lumpur. (The family moved to Petaling Jaya, Selangor, 10 years ago.)  But as his mother remembers well, her youngest child was an incessant scribbler who loved to draw from a young age.  “When we told him to do his homework, Zang would say his hands were weak; when it came to drawing, they were fine!” recounts Foo Chin Chik, 79.  Zang, whose full name is Toi See Zang, 45, remains rooted to his humble beginnings and maintains very close ties with his family.  Back home for a jam-packed fortnight recently, he managed to take his father to visit their ancestral home in Hainan, China, while juggling a trip to Mumbai, India, to oversee the beading and embroidery work for his upcoming show in New York on Feb 9; holding a private fashion show in KL and meeting clients, including the Raja Perempuan of Kelantan to prepare for a Kelantanese Cuisine Festival planned for the United Nations in April. 

Mama’s boy  Among his parents‘ seven children, Zang was and is still the apple of his parents’ eye, says sixth sibling Toi See Luon.  “Zang always got away with everything,” says See Luon, who manages the boutique in Kuala Lumpur. Zang happily chirps that he was never ever caned, unlike his older siblings.  “While we were growing up in Kelantan, television was a luxury. Instead of doing homework, we used to sneak out at night through the back door to watch Charlie’s Angels on our neighbour’s TV while my father was counting up his takings for the day,” he recalls.  Years later, he dresses a Charlie’s Angel (Farrah Fawcett). But some things never change: “My mother still treats me like the baby of the family!” Zang chortles. 

Seeds of success   Zang knew early that he wanted to do fashion designing although he had toyed with the idea of interior designing or cooking. His parents saved enough to send him to Parsons School of Design in New York, where its alumni include Tom Ford, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs.  Zang’s achievements were fashioned from sheer hard work most that was unseen. As one of Parsons’ best students, he was recommended a part-time job with designer Mary Jane Marcasiano to earn pocket money.  Zang worked so well he was asked to assist Marcasiano directly.  “They gave me complete freedom and sent me to the factory where I took care of the whole production and design process. I was like a sponge, soaking up everything about fashion designing!” says Zang.  For two years, Zang, then 23, breathed and lived fashion. He attended classes from 9am till 4pm and rushed for the subway to the Marcasiano studio in the SoHo district. While his peers partied and clubbed, Zang laboured from 5pm till early morning.   “So many times I fell asleep on the train. I also worked weekends. My work ethic came from my father, he was so strict and nothing came easy for the family.”  Zang graduated in 1983. Offers came immediately from prestigious fashion houses, among them, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Michael Kors who dangled carrots of fat salaries and a green card.   “I said no thanks because in a small company I could do everything,” says Zang who went on to work with Marcasiano for three more years.  He freelanced for a year when his designs were carried by Martha, one of the best multi-brand salon boutiques in New York that’s credited with launching designers like Valentino and Gianfranco Ferre.  In 1989, Zang sent his sketches of his first collection of 13 dresses to various magazines. The highly influential Vogue magazine spotted the young, unknown designer’s potential and sent for the dresses which appeared in the magazine two months later.  When Zang launched his Spring collection, Vogue carried a big feature on it for its “New Faces” March 1990 issue. That same year, one year after starting his boutique, Zang was awarded the Mouton Cadet Young Designer Award.   “I had a partner who invested US$50,000 (RM176,000) to start our boutique; I didn’t have a dime then!” Zang says. “I was making US$2,500 (RM8,778) yearly, barely enough for my living.   “Martha salon buyers asked me to fill in for a trunk show and promised to get me a big order. I did the show on Park Avenue three days later. Nobody knew me. But I got an order worth US$80,000 (RM281,000) from those two days!   “That show and Vogue had launched my career 18 years ago.”  Many of Zang’s design inspirations are Malaysian, from exotic orchids to the kebaya and batik block designs.  

Near disaster  Despite the early successes, Zang came close to quitting 11 years ago when his partner opted out of the business and he was at a loss.   His brothers came to his rescue. See Luon, who is a trained accountant, and another sibling immediately flew to New York to help their little brother negotiate the terms of splitting the flourishing business and to reorganise things.  “They saved me,” says Zang. “I was ready to give up, close shop and work for somebody. I didn’t know a thing about running a business; I was only familiar with designing.”  See Luon caught the fashion bug and went on to manage the KL boutique and the cafés that followed later in Sungai Wang Plaza and Lot 10.  “My sweetest childhood memory was growing up in a big happy family,” says Zang. “Of course we fought, there were seven of us and six are boys! My parents cooked all the time and we always ate together.   “But I don’t remember ever eating a meal on our own. My parents always invited a friend from a poor family to join us although we didn’t have much. They have both set a good example with their generosity. I give all credit to what I have today to my parents.  “No matter how exhausted or busy my mother was, every night she would spend 20 to 30 minutes to tell us a bedtime story. They were sometimes about how she grew up in difficult times; living through the war, how her mother died when she was only seven, about hard times.   “I always believe that the most fortunate thing I have is the love of my family. It sounds cliché, but it laid a solid foundation for who I am today.”  And the first people who had believed in their little baby had been Zang’s parents. His name, after all, means “winning”.  

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Fall 2007 Collection at New York Fashion Week

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Pictures taken from http://nymag.com