Interview by Jenkin Au & Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen
Photography by Jenkin Au
Who doesn’t want success? That’s what Vinny Vinhtage would like to know! As the head runner of Montreal based Success Clothing, Vinny is not just selling clothing, he is selling a lifestyle and a timeless message. With retailers nationwide and in America, and a surging international following, it is clear that people have had a taste of success and they are hungry for more. Vinny is selling more than just threads. He is selling an idea and the mindset to pursue your dreams and achieve your goals. Success Clothing provides a voice for a generation of motivated, determined, and entrepreneurial minded individuals striving to reach the zenith of their personal and professional pursuits. Success: its appeal is universal.
In this interview, the former web and graphic designer speaks with justalilhype! about his mindset behind the branding of Success Clothing. Vinny also sheds some light on the brand’s direction and focus, its inspiring mottos, its ties to Montreal, its style influences, and finally, his own definition of success. Success is not just a word. It is a lifestyle, no matter what your personal definition of success is. And, without a doubt, Vinny is well on his way towards success.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Vinny Vinhtage. I come from Montreal and I have a graphic design and web design background. I got tired of working in advertising agencies throughout the years and this whole clothing line came about as an accident. I printed t-shirts to promote my web design company back then and the t-shirts picked up but the web design business didn’t really pick up. I am still operating my web design company but it is more of a side project now. I don’t really promote it that much because it’s really business oriented. The company is called VK2 Design.
The brand name, especially the word “success,” is certainly catchy. How did you come up with the idea to use the word “success” to represent your brand?
I operated the line for a year without a brand name. After a year, the business was going nowhere. I knew the power of good branding from school and stuff so I knew I had to pick a good name. It took me two years to come up with the name Success Clothing. Funny thing is, I think the name came to me in a dream or something. I was on a quest in that dream and I was looking for a treasure. I found the treasure in a safe and when I opened the safe, the word “success” was in the safe. I woke up, took a piece of paper, drew the logo on the piece of paper, scanned it, and the logo you see today is the logo I came up with three years ago. I wanted a powerful word. A lot of brands create words and it is hard to have those words stick in the public’s mind. When you use a real word, it sticks in people’s minds easier.
Tell us a little more about the line you had before you decided to brand it as Success Clothing.
I was offering a t-shirt printing service as part of my graphic design service. At one point, I was doing designs for a break dance crew and I really liked a design that I came up with. I decided to use that design for myself, printed it for myself, packaged it, put my website address on the bottom of the shirt, and tried to promote it. After a while, a store downtown really liked the design and asked me if I would like to sell my t-shirts. I jumped on the boat and I have not stopped since. It was kind of an accident. I did not set out to work in the clothing industry. It just sort of happened.
And how has the line changed since you branded it as Success Clothing. How has the direction of the line become more focused?
Branding my line allowed me to convey a message with my brand. I am pushing the idea of being successful and reaching for one’s dreams. The word “success” means so many different things to everyone that branding my line made it no longer just about clothing. I realized when I started branding the brand as Success Clothing that I was pushing the movement and idea behind the brand, more so than I was pushing the clothing itself. I know the power of good branding. So, instead of pushing just t-shirts, we want to push the idea of success, playing off of the fact our generation is more entrepreneurial than the generation before us. A popular term of our generation is BOSS, which is an acronym for “Built on Self Success.” So, Success Clothing is more about pushing a lifestyle. It’s like liking a band or a type of music, where you aren’t just a fan of the songs, you are a fan of the people behind the music and what they stand for. Likewise, my clothes are just a reflection of a lifestyle that I believe in. After I branded the line, my customer base grew. There are three types of people who buy clothes: the core followers who will buy anything because they love the brand, the people who don’t know the brand and will buy the clothes because they like the message, and people who buy the clothes because they like the look. These are the three main types of customers. In the first year of Success Clothing, only my friends were wearing my clothes; they were supporting me. Then, the friends of my friends began to wear my clothes because they liked the message behind the brand. Now, I don’t even know the people who are wearing my clothes. People buy my clothes because they support the brand, like the message, and like the look. My customer base has definitely expanded.
One of your mottos is “FUCK FAILURE.” Tell us a bit more about this motto.
The motto we had for a while is “SUCCESS NOTHING LESS.” People love this motto. However, when we get more progressive and aggressive with our mottos, people either get offended, but remember the motto, or love it even more. Either way, we get publicity. This year, we added “FUCK FAILURE” to our list of mottos. We printed it on some t-shirts and people just went crazy over them. They love the new motto. We are continuing to push this motto. Instead of saying, “Fuck the Police” or “Fuck the city,” which are pointless and negative statements, we took the profanity and the aggression connoted by it and spun it into a positive message. “FUCK FAILURE” basically proclaims that we will settle for nothing short of success. It is a positive and inspiring statement made in an emphatic way.
Have you ever received negative publicity?
Not really. There are always going to be haters, but the message of the brand is so positive and the name itself brings out so many emotions and thoughts in people, it`s hard to hate on the message of the brand, which is success. I am not pushing something personal with the message of the brand. Success is something that the whole society is trying to achieve. If you hate on success, you are essentially aiming for failure, and no one is aiming for failure. Now, we are getting feedback from around the world. I am the first one in the street wear industry that is using this word as a part of my brand name and I`ve trademarked it. It`s mine. I`m actually surprised that more brands haven`t capitalized on the word “success” as a part of their branding.
Every street wear label pays homage to its home city. How does your brand pay homage to Montreal?
Montreal is a very unique city. My brand is really representative of the east coast style. We are really influenced by New York. At the same time, we are very influenced by the west coast as well, particularly California and Los Angeles. We have a huge skateboarding and snowboarding scene out here and the kids that do those sports follow the superstars from California. We have brands that have Los Angeles style influences, like bright colors, huge prints, and bold designs. We have other brands that are simpler and more subdued with small logos that cater to east coast style sensibilities. So, on one side you have brands like Famous Stars and Straps, which has super bold designs and OG Abel, which features tattoo influenced designs and is a super bold looking brand as well. On the other side of things, you get brands with more subdued designs, like Ralph Lauren and 10 Deep. You get a mix of those styles with Success Clothing. Our brand features a mixture of skateboard, snowboard, street wear, thug, and hip-hop styled clothing. The styles are all merging nowadays anyways. As for representing the city, my goal is to get out of the city and sell in other cities to represent Montreal and show that we can do stuff that’s appreciated outside of our town. People from New York really dig our stuff and we have stores that sell Success Clothing in all five boroughs. I am proud to say that I represent Montreal in other cities. We even have stores in Vancouver that are selling Success. We are starting to put Montreal on the map. Success Clothing has even made it out to Eastern Europe, to places like Poland, the Netherlands, and Germany. I am getting lots of feedback from online shoppers. It is good to break out from the geographical limits of Montreal because it is a relatively small city.
Who is the typical person who would wear Success Clothing. Who do you market the line towards?
When the brand first started, it was very hip-hop oriented brand and it was targeted at hardcore hip-hop heads. Then, it evolved and was targeted to sneaker heads and the more elective crowd. Now that I am getting big outlets to sell Success, the target demographic has changed. So, as we speak, the new target is kids that skate, big skate shops, and hardcore hip-hop heads who have nothing to do with skateboarding but who wants exclusive clothing that no one else has. We are trying to reach out to a boarder market of people right now. We don’t do specific styles or products anymore. We are experimenting with everything, like college and varsity designs. We want a movement reaches everybody. We want to reach kids and adults, and we want to branch out into women’s clothing as well. Women want guys’ clothes in their sizes. Women are more specific in their tastes than men. You are either the super girly girl who shops at H& M or the girl who wants bold prints on a shirt or dress. As for men, there is a pretty wide variety in taste, even within one individual.
Tell us about the new products that you are pushing. For example, you have some new hats coming out. Please give us a description of the products you carry.
I want to differentiate myself from brands that just do t-shirts, which is okay because everyone starts there. However, after a few years in operation, I want to step our game up and expand our products. We have not been pushing a lot of accessories so we are now pushing hats, snapbacks, belts and jewellery, like chains, key chains, and earrings, stuff like that. We basically want to represent a whole lifestyle. If someone doesn’t want to wear a t-shirt that boldly proclaims Success Clothing, they can wear a necklace that still has our logo on it but is more subtle. We are trying to aim at providing more sophisticated stuff and slowly but surely we are going to get into the whole sew and cut game. We don’t want to lose the clients who love big prints but we want to reach more sophisticated clientele that likes subtle designs and cut and sew stuff.
Which are your top three selling Items?
I can think of the top three. The third best selling item is the “SUCCESS NOTHING LESS” t-shirt. We also had shirts that said “Excellence is our average. Expect the best from the best.” The message is plain and simple but it resonated with so many people. I sold shirts to 60 year old men and youngsters alike. The second best selling item would be the “FUCK FAILURE” shirt. The message is bold and aggressive, but people like it. The best selling item would be the Success Clothing chain, with the necklace and key chain. It’s an international hit. It’s not expensive, it’s easy to ship, people don’t have to try on sizing, and they can carry it with them every day, on their keys or around their neck. We easily sold two to three thousand. It comes in gold but we are expanding and doing black jewellery now.
Looking at your logos, what really pops out is the part of the logo with the word “success,” its chained up letters forming sort of an upside down triangle, and the crown in the banner above. How did you come up with that concept and what does that logo represent?
We’ve been using our handwritten logo for so long that we wanted another icon to represent Success Clothing. The chained letters is done in the style of a varsity logo. The letters are chained together and that symbolizes unity and togetherness. The letters formed in the shape of a triangle and the crown up top means that we are part of the same community. Like I always say, it’s not my brand or your brand, it’s our brand. We write “y,” we leave a space, and then we write “our.” So, those words can mean “our” brand and “your” brand at the same time. We want people to feel that they are a part of this movement and that they are not just supporting a huge company that doesn’t care about them. This logo represents that mentality and people really like this logo because it looks good and it has a really strong meaning attached to it.
Every individual has a different definition of success. What is your personal definition of the word?
My personal definition of success is being able to live your dream. We want people to be happy in whatever they are doing. A big part of success is loving what you do. After that, everything will fall in place. If you do what you love and love what you do, money, fame, success, love, and all that good stuff will come after you reach that stage. Success is not only about the business side of things. Success is also about family. My family is very important to me and I have to be connected with my family, neighbours, friends, and significant other. Another important thing is health. My health has not been great since I started this company. I had to go to the hospital last year for some health issues and I realized that if you don’t have health, you won’t be able to work on anything, much less enjoy good times with your family. Health, success, family, and love, all these things come together, but health is also very important.
Since the inception of Success Clothing, how has the brand changed your mentality and your state of mind?
I started Success Clothing as a hobby. Throughout the years there were times where it got serious and rough. One day I was like, “I want to focus on what I want to achieve,” and Success Clothing became a target. If I didn’t have a goal in life I would be working in an advertising agency doing stuff that I don’t like for a client that I don’t care about. At the end of the day, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Success Clothing is my personal baby and I cherish it and it became my personal goal in life. I want to achieve the top spot in the clothing game and Success Clothing is my way to get there. I may stop doing clothing because my passion in life is designing. Success Clothing is my medium for satisfying that passion. Instead of printing on cardboard and paper I am printing on t-shirts and sweaters. If one day Success Clothing no longer satisfies my desire to design, it could evolve into a jewellery line or a furniture line. Design is my ultimate passion. Clothing is just a good medium for me to satisfy that passion right now.
What is HYPE?
HYPE is a very abstract concept but it is a very concrete concept at the same time. HYPE is not tangible and you cannot feel it, but there is a way to calculate it. HYPE is something that doesn’t create itself. You have to create it. If I were to slack off and not work as hard, the HYPE around the brand will go down. You have to cultivate HYPE. HYPE needs originality like a plant needs water. There is nothing without HYPE, especially in the clothing business. If you have no HYPE, do not associate yourself with people who have HYPE or people who want to build HYPE, you are just going to stay in your basement printing t-shirts and giving them away to your friends. Whether it is big HYPE or small HYPE, HYPE is very important in whatever you do and whatever you love to do. If you don’t have HYPE you don’t have anything.