The Simon Chang Foundation for Change: A hands-on approach to Inspirations and the arc of life.
By Wendy Singer
The Simon Chang showroom is a feast for the senses. Each item on display sweeps you into a world of creative wonder, vibrant colours and the exquisite beauty of Chang’s designs.
The person behind the design, Simon Chang himself, is a warm, vivacious man with a heart of gold and an innate ability to connect instantaneously with just about anyone. When Chang enters a room, you know he has arrived, and he will leave having put a smile on everyone’s face.
A Canadian designer with national exposure, Chang was born in China and moved to Vancouver with his family when he was nine years old. He remembers being interested in fashion from the young age of 10 when, inspired by movies like West Side Story, he was constantly making sketches of fashions and movie costumes. He recalls being unique and creative as a child: “I always felt different. Everything I did was born out of a need to express my thoughts. My family didn’t really understand my outlook in life, but they were always supportive of me and my aspirations.”
It wasn’t until he attended the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, majoring in graphic arts and photography, that Chang found a true outlet for his creativity. His archived photos from this time in his life reflect a lifelong passion of observing the stark realities of life with issues like homelessness, being different and helping those in need.
After graduating from Emily Carr at the age of 23, Chang left Vancouver to explore career possibilities in New York City. On the way, he stopped in Montreal and never left! In need of money, he met with a contact at The Hudson’s Bay Company who was so impressed with his drive and vision for fashion that a job was created for him. There, Chang learned about the manufacturing and retail markets in the garment industry, so when it came time to begin an independent venture designing his own line at the age of 28, he knew the trade well.
If you were a young adult or an emerging business woman in the 1970s, you probably owned a Simon Chang creation or two or even a whole wardrobe. Chang has a knack for seeing what women need, and at that time, more than ever, they needed to dress for success in the business world. “I wanted to do a whole collection that was affordable for career women. I saw they needed beautiful, young-looking, versatile mix-and-match pieces,” remembers Chang, adding he would discuss fashion trends when he met up with his peers, “Calvin, Ralph, and Donna” on business trips to Hong Kong.
Chang now designs a multitude of products from sunglasses and readers to swimwear, home decor and corporate uniforms. He even created his own paint line that is sold at Home Hardware. He maintains a hands-on approach to creating and selling his wares. “I have always loved my job. I have perfect attendance in my career,” he explained. “In [the?] fashion business, it’s about changes, and I have always embraced the challenge of change.”
The Simon Chang Foundation for Change takes a hands-on approach
Since 1986, the Simon Chang Phyllis Levine Foundation has been gifting scholarships to third-year design students in universities across Canada. In 2004, with the help of superstar Celine Dion and the Hudson’s Bay Company, Chang designed and funded t-shirts that raised over $1 million for breast cancer research.
But this philanthropist wants to go deeper, do more, especially now, during the course of the pandemic, by providing hands-on support to people in need and living on the margins.
To answer this call, The Simon Chang Foundation for Change was created in 2018 by Chang and his business consultant, Faye Swift, who also serves as vice president of the Foundation. “I was compelled to help, to do something different, creative, and that’s why we started the Foundation,” says Chang. “We can make a difference by doing very personal things.”
The Foundation is currently unveiling the Arc of Life Program, which aims to better the lives of individuals and families at each stage of the lifespan. The first stage begins at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Sir Mortimer B. Davis – Jewish General Hospital, where they are creating a glassed-in Simon Chang Parent Conference Room that faces the Simon Chang Foundation for Change/Tyler and Sloan Swift-Brennan Wall of Hope featuring photos of vibrant children holding pictures of themselves when they were in the NICU.
The Simon Chang Foundation for Change Moment in Time Program services the elderly and infirm at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre and the Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre by granting wishes to residents at both locations. Chang originally hoped to fulfill several wishes monthly, but during the scary and lonely days of the pandemic, they’ve granted wishes whenever needed (see p…for more details). When health and safety measures allow, the Foundation would also like to create a communications lab on the fifth floor of Maimonides, where residents will have access to computers and WIFI to stay connected to their family and friends.
“This is just the beginning of our work,” says Chang. “Faye and I hope to realize my dream of impacting lives all across Canada. Our next stop – Vancouver!”
Chang is also involved in various non-profit organizations including the The Depot Community Food Centre, Westhaven Community Centre, the Open Door Homeless Centre, various women’s shelters and personal acts of kindness.
We welcome the Simon Chang Foundation for Chang as our sponsor for this Fall 2020 / Winter 2021 edition and welcome him with distant arms and masks to our community. We are excited about our partnership, and have been so inspired by Chang’s vision that we have created the “Difference Maker” award in his honour (see p.4).
Prior to the pandemic, Chang and Swift met with English Montreal School Board students and staff at Pius X Culinary Institute, L.I.N.K.S. High School, Galileo and Wagar Adult Education Centres, the Mackay Centre and Philip E. Layton Schools, John Grant High School and the C.A.R.E. Centre. In each location, we saw staff and students of all abilities gravitate to Chang with ease. In turn, Chang remarked how committed and caring the staff was, and how happy and well-cared for the students seemed.
Always seeing the opportunity to “simonize” environments, Chang commented on the lack of the colour blue at the Mackay Centre School, and envisioned a wall of greenery at the C.A.R.E. Centre. He was impressed with a chair in the woodworking department at John Grant and saw potential for a business venture for them, and he learnt a great deal at Galileo’s new multisensory room. Chang is looking forward to engaging in hands-on activities in the schools, creating dialogues with students, and inspiring them to be creative and to follow their passions once the pandemic has ended. “Creative expression. It’s liberating!” says Chang.
Recognizing that one shoe does not fit all, Chang encourages all to communicate more, even during these challenging times. He says: “Live an authentic life and make everything very special for yourself or those you care for. I don’t want to know what you want to be, I want to know what you love to do. Don’t get pigeonholed by titles and labels. Show others how capable you are in what you like to do.”
At the end of our visit to the Mackay Centre School, Chang shared a dream with me. He envisioned a wheelchair that can access stairs. “It would be a solution for all to navigate cities, travel and have a more accessible life. I think the Mackay Centre children might have the answers as they are the experts. I’m always thinking …. and why not!”
If you would like to donate to the Simon Chang Foundation for Change and see how you can directly make a difference, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- C.A.R.E. Centre client Nadia Weekes and Simon Chang talk fashion.
- Galileo students have fun meeting Simon Chang at the school’s new multisensory room reveal event.
- Mackay Centre School student Vincenzo creating a structure with Simon Chang.
- Evelyne Alfonsi, assistant director general, Education,EMSB, with Simon Chang.
- Simon Chang visits students in the classroom at Wagar Adult Education Centre.
- L.I.N.K.S High School students cheer with Simon Chang at the EMSB Career Fair.
- John Grant High School students strike a pose with Simon Chang.
- Martina Schiavone (principal of Galileo), Simon Chang and Vanessa Grimaldi (founder of No Better You Foundation).
- Galileo student Emily Royer and Simon Chang explore the school’s new multisensory room.
- Simon Chang interacts with C.A.R.E.Centre client Alain Chamass.