When 20-year-old Vejas Kruszewski won LVMH's Special Prize in June, his label, Vejas, was awarded €150,000 and a year-long mentorship from the LVMH group. The win instantly turned the Toronto-based brand into an in-demand fashion player.
In the months following the win, Vejas attracted stockists including Nordstrom and revenue grew by 700 percent between 2015 and 2016. But despite recent successes, Kruszewski says he is determined to scale his label in a sustainable way.
“I taught myself how to sew in high school via Youtube videos and through diagrams from Japanese sewing magazines that I would buy online,” the Montréal native tells BoF. The one-off pieces, including t-shirts and leather trousers, would then be sold online to a growing social following."
Kruszewski opened his Toronto studio in 2014, debuting Vejas’ first formal collection later that year. Now closer to New York, trips to the fashion capital became more frequent. “I had some friends in New York and we went back and forth, which culminated in a show in there in February 2015,” he says. "We're still a small team but we're also building a long-term structure."
The brand's Autumn/Winter 2015 presentation was held off-calendar at New York's Johannes Vogt Gallery and featured transgender models including Hari Nef in shearling chokers ($150), reworked jersey jumpers, dresses ($400-750) and kimonos made from deconstructed nylon army bomber jackets ($1,145).
“We didn't have all product categories and I wasn't really showing the full business and market plan. It was more like a project to see what the reaction would be,” says Kruszewski, whose collection was met with acclaim from international press. Orders from Opening Ceremony and a number of boutiques in Japan followed. “Our generation is really defined by a desire for self-examination and construction of self and we're building the brand as a vessel to realise that for ourselves.”
The brand's biggest breakthrough came in February 2016 when Vejas became one of the 23 brands shortlisted for the prestigious LVMH Prize turning Kruszewski into the youngest ever nominee in the prize's three-year history.
And in June, Vejas was awarded the competition's Special Prize, second to Wales Bonner, which won the main LVMH Prize.
"I think winning the Special Prize was really a good thing, because it was a bit less attention than the main prize, and I don't think that we would be ready for that kind of attention,” says Kruszewski.
But exposure and momentum from the win has helped catapult the brand forward, says Emme. “We're starting off with such a great exposure and buyer interest that a lot of brands don't get till they're years down the line,” she says. “We didn't have an established business before the prize but the money and the mentorship are really helping us to bootstrap long-term initiatives we already wanted to roll out organically.”
For Spring/Summer 2017, Vejas showed on-schedule at Paris Fashion Week, marking the label’s first major step forward into the established fashion industry.
The business is now expanding its presence in its key markets with new stockists in North America, responsible for 67 percent of the company's revenue, and Asia, which accounts for the the remaining 33 percent. Since 2015, Vejas has grown its wholesale accounts from two to 17, among them Nordstrom, Boon the Shop and Opening Ceremony. Wholesale currently accounts for 60 percent of the business' revenue, while the remaining 40 percent is derived from Vejas’ e-commerce site as well as exclusive projects with retailers and artists including Drake.