By Vanessa Francone
Although only the first-place of the annual Danier Design Challenge gets to sell their garment in a Danier store, the judges had so much difficulty choosing just one third-place winner this year that they settled for a three-way tie.
“Even if I didn’t win, I think it was great just to be here and to be recognized as one of the top 11,” says Diana Li, one of the third-place winners. “And just going through the process and having the judges input was great because they’re all industry professionals. That’s really valuable.”
The Danier Design Challenge is a partnership between Toronto-based Danier stores and Ryerson’s School of Fashion. It has become very popular amongst third-year fashion students enrolled in the advanced fashion design I class. Every year, they submit design illustrations of a leather jacket and after a rigorous judging process, 11 are selected to actually produce their designs. The student with the best final product gets to sell their jacket at a Danier store.
“Danier is trying to market towards a younger audience,” says Som Kong, this year’s second-place winner. “We’re the younger audience who know what we like and what other people want to dress like.”
The company provides contestants with all the materials, meaning there are no out-of-pocket expenses for designers, and the top three jackets get cash prizes of $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000 respectively.
But Olga Koel, Danier’s chief merchandising officer, says the contest is about more than just the money.
“[Students] have to feel that they’re getting something out of [the competition],” Koel says.
She reminds students that even if they do not win, there’s always Mass Exodus, the fourth-year fashion show where participants unveil five outfits of their own creation.
According to Koel, last year, Sisi Jiang, Alyssa Alikpala and Yvonne Lin caught Koel’s eye so she approached them about Danier manufacturing some of their garments for its stores. The students were paid for the designs and their own label was put on the pieces.
Because of this experience, Koel likes to remind students that participation is all that counts.
“Just because you didn’t make the top 10 or the top three doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance for next year.”
Kong said he thinks what Danier is doing for the contestants is amazing.
He will soon be on his way to Hong Kong for an exchange trip, where he will meet up with this year’s first place winner Ostwald Au-Yeung, who was already there at the time of the announcement and was unavailable for comment.
“You can get all the education, but if the drive is not there then it’s [worthless],” Kong says.
Robert Ott, Chair of the School of Fashion, agrees. He says he wants students to question the practices of the industry and to change it for the better.
“We are in a position to not only train students but to actually educate them through leadership.”