Photography by Dimitri Karakostas
They say that today we are among a generation of entrepreneurs. In an uncertain economy left behind by our predecessors, we’ve been left to fend for ourselves—to create new industries, revisit forgotten crafts and make the most out of what we can find.
Perhaps 30 years ago it would have been shocking to hear of three 19-year-old-kids from Toronto putting together a successful accessories line carried in over 18 stores in both Canada and the U.S. after only one year of production. But in the age of the interweb, crowd-funding and social media it seems as though the sky is now the proverbial limit.
Twins Weimin and Wei Dong Yuan and partner Patrick Lum, the three bright young men behind burgeoning accessories and lifestyle brand Aeon Attire, are undeniably 100% certified products of their generation. These three incredibly rambunctious and equally ambitious guys met through their shared love of breakdancing and have combined their high energy performance style, confident personal aesthetic and impressive work ethic into a cohesive and unique selection of accessories and apparel.
Amy Smith: Tell us a little bit about how you all met (aside from being born into the same family) and how Aeon Attire came to be.
Patrick Lum: We started dancing together in a youth group called UNITeam—an extension of Urban Non-Violence Initiatives Through Youth (Unity)a charity focused on engaging and empowering youths in their communities—a group of elite breakdancers from Toronto who go out and perform for at-risk youth, run workshops and do a lot of volunteer work throughout the city. We danced with them for two or three years and became really good friends.
AS: And what peaked your interest in breakdancing?
Weimin Yuan: None of us really fit in, in high school. Grade 9, we got to school and everyone was trying to find out who they are and where they fit in, and me and my brother saw some people dancing in the hallway. We asked if we could learn and little by little we got it. At that time, we were nerds, and we still are nerds—we were definitely not in shape. But we really liked it and so kept going with it.
PL: I was pretty academic in high school, so it was a nice thing to balance that out.
WMY: With bboying/bgirling there’s a big emphasis on individuality, unlike any other dance form. If you look at ballet, you’re taught to be uniform and specific, whereas with breakdancing, it’s about doing whatever you want and that’s all that there is to it— incorporating every element of yourself into your performance. That really spread its way into a lot of aspects of our lives and our way of thinking: the idea of embracing individuality.
AS: And is that the root of Aeon Attire?
PL: With everything that we do with Aeon, the thing that unites every one of our products is that it’s a new avenue of expression for the user. It’s very important to us that it’s unlike anything else and that it gives the person wearing it a new state of mind.
AS: So what was the initial idea that sparked everything?
Wei Dong Yuan: In the dance community, we wanted to create something that would have some sort of utility for dancers while at the same time act as an avenue for self-expression. A lot of dancers at the time were putting rubber bands around their ankles or using clips or putting a sock over their hem to achieve that more tapered look, and we thought that was a great place to start.
PL: And just like the breakdancing, there was a lot of learning and trial and error involved. The first version of the taper was not exactly what we were hoping for.
WMY: It was a bed clip from Wal Mart.
PL: Yep, we were walking through the store one day and Weimin pulls out this bed clip and puts it around the bottom of his pant leg—just this white elastic with a silver clasp. That was the first version, we thought it was kind of cool. Then we taught ourselves how to sew and started making them ourselves.
AS: Who is the Aeon Attire customer? What are you trying to put out there?
WMD: I think our accessories speak for themselves. They have a unique feel and a unique audience.
WDY: We want people to enjoy the experience of wearing our products. Like in dancing, when you’re watching a performance, there’s a somewhat underlying conversation going on between the performer and the audience. We’re trying to capture that in our products. It’s not just a hat or a pair of sunglasses, it’s more than that.
AS: Speaking to that, you guys found yourselves in an unexpected niche market. Turns out the taper also functions as a great pant clip for cyclists. Now you’re being carried in 18 stores in Canada and the U.S. How did that happen?
PL: Proper Reserve on Queen Street West was our first retailer, but shortly after we partnered with our first bike store, Sweet Pete’s. Sometimes you have to see what people will want before you know where your success will come from.
WDY: And when we realized we had captured that niche, we adapted the taper so that now there are reflectors on the inside of each taper. We got stocked in a couple of stores and we quickly realized that we had to take a back seat and see where the product took us.
AS: You guys found some interesting methods of marketing and funding your line, from Indiegogo and Instagram to busking in Dundas Square. Do you think crowd-sourcing or community based funding is the way of the future?
PL: We’ve seen a high level of activity from Instagram and Twitter recently. And using the crowd-funding platforms has been a great way to access audiences outside of Toronto. Just through being shared online we’ve gotten a lot of exposure internationally and that’s phenomenal.
WDY: You have to be so proactive and update constantly on different platforms. Indiegogo and other crowd-funding sources are great new platforms that allow you to make things like this happen. But it requires a lot of work. 90% of the work went into designing the campaign, making videos and then 10% was clicking the button to launch. It was a really exciting learning experience.
AS: So what’s next for Aeon Attire? You’ve now expanded to sunglasses, toques, five-panel hats. What can we expect to see in the next few years?
PL: I think that we want to keep going in this direction and keep this feeling alive while expanding into new products.
WMY: We recently came out with the Eye Tank Top. It’s one of the first clothing pieces that we’ve done and it’s a great piece for breakdancers who want to feel relaxed while still looking slick. We’re also planning on going into a slightly higher end market with accessories like watches which we’re looking into next.
AS: Any collaborations planned for the future?
PL: We really want to outline our brand as it is before we start collaborating.
WMY: We are who we are. I think we surprise people when they get to know us. We want our items to be like that too, to have their own personality and their own quirk. In this market, it’s hard to get by with just a plain t-shirt, you have to set yourself apart.
WDY: Our background in dance really taught us to be passionate and do what we love. And that’s what’s helped us take what we were doing to the next level, give back and create. Using the lessons we learned from dancing and applying them to everything we do to follow our dreams.