Simon Chang is a warm, vivacious man with a heart of gold and an innate ability to connect with just about anyone. When he enters a room, you know he has arrived, and he will leave having put a smile on everyone’s face. Known primarily as a Canadian fashion designer with national exposure, Chang is also an innovative philanthropist who uses creativity and imagination to evoke positive change. Four years ago, he founded The Simon Chang Foundation for Change and has since been making a unique impact on the lives of Montrealers.

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 imaginative as a child: “I always felt different. Everything I did was born out of a need to express my thoughts.”

Simon Chang

Simon in his showroom, surrounded by an
eclectic mix of his products  
Photo: Photo: Pickle Creative Agency Inc.

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 and 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 businesswoman 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’s clothing needs are, and at that time, more than ever, women 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.

“I have always loved my job.

I have perfect attendance in my career!”

Chang now designs a multitude of products for licensees from sunglasses and readers to swimwear and leisurewear, home décor including his own paint line that is sold at Home Hardware, and corporate uniforms.

He maintains a hands-on approach to creating and selling his wares. His 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 his designs.

“I have always loved my job. I have perfect attendance in my career,” he explains. “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.

The Simon Chang Foundation for Change 

Simon with the butterfly logo pins for The Simon Chang Foundation for Change 
Photo: Pickle Creative Agency Inc.

But Chang the philanthropist wanted to go deeper and provide more personalized 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.”

Chang and Swift are actively engaged in implementing several initiatives in The Foundation’s 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 in the process of creating their vision – a glassed-in Simon Chang Parent Conference Room and a kitchen/locker area facing the Simon Chang Foundation for Change/Tyler and Sloan Swift-Brennan Wall of Hope. This wall features photos of vivacious, healthy children holding pictures of themselves when they were in the NICU.

The Simon Chang Foundation for Change Moment in Time program benefits the elderly at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre and the Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre by giving residents at both locations the opportunity to have a simple wish come true. Wishes have ranged from enjoying a meal from a favourite restaurant to watching a sports match in person; and giving a mechanical cat to a resident who was fiercely missing her pet. Chang originally hoped to fulfill wishes monthly, but during the pandemic the Foundation granted wishes whenever requested.

“I am honored to have my name associated with this great program that helps some of the most vulnerable in our community,” said Chang in the Perspective magazine published by The Donald Berman Maimonides Foundation.

Simon Chang

Simon Chang during a visit with Panagiota Boussios, C.A.R.E. Centre client, and Olivia Quesnel, director of C.A.R.E. Centre
Photo: Wendy Singer

Recently, The Simon Chang Foundation for Change Moment in Time program was the recipient of the 2022 Jewish Programming Award from the Association of Jewish Aging Services (AJAS), a global association of not-for-profit community-based organizations which promotes and supports the delivery of services to an aging population. The award recognizes programs developed and implemented by AJAS organizations that are innovative, creative and specifically designed to enhance the spiritual well-being of the older adults they serve. This award provided the Moment in Time program and Chang with international exposure, hopefully enticing other organizations to replicate the initiative.

The Foundation is also working to build a communications lab on the fifth floor of Maimonides where residents will have access to computers and WIFI to stay connected with their family and friends.

Chang and Swift expanded their Arc of Life program to include Montreal’s special needs community when, in 2020, they partnered with Inspirations, a publication and resource that caters to the special needs community of the Greater Montreal and surrounding areas and works in collaboration with the English Montreal School Board (EMSB).

Over the past three years, Chang has met with students and teachers in Montreal-area schools, sharing donations of fabric and accessories, advising on projects and providing fascinating colour story and painting demonstrations.

Simon Chang Foundation for ChangeInspirations created the Simon Chang Difference Maker Award in Chang’s honour to encourage individuals that are making a difference in the special needs community, just as he is. Award recipients have included Bradley Heaven and Dan O’Connor of All Access Life, a team of puppet-making teachers at Galileo Adult Education Centre, Summit School’s nurse Stacy Baker and Steven Atme, a musician and public speaker. Prizes have ranged from granting funds for supplies and projects to arranging, in collaboration with Inspirations, a speaking tour for Atme where he addressed teachers, staff and McGill education students about his school experiences growing up as an autistic child.

Last Spring, Chang merged fashion with philanthropy as guest fashion designer at the Mackay Centre School’s Fun Fashion For All show. This EMSB school located in NDG services students aged 4 to 21 who are deaf, physically disabled and/or have a communication disorder.

Simon Chang

Chang has been honoured with the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award for his outstanding philanthropic efforts and social engagement 
Photo: Etienne Béland for Pickle Creative Agency Inc.

Chang worked with the Mackay students, encouraging their imagination, accessorizing their outfits with cool pieces like an Elvis-themed jacket, a super-hero cape, hats and shades, and an LED bag flashing on a wheelchair. The students shone as they walked and danced down the runway on show day, June 9, exuding confidence and joy.

“I was continuously impressed by the students’ focus and growth. I told the students to take chances and create something new with their own vision. There is no wrong way to be creative,” he said. “In our society today, there is very much a sea of sameness. In this show, each student made their own individual statement.”

Chang has been honoured with the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award for his outstanding philanthropic efforts and social engagement. Proud of his accomplishments, his Foundation office, located on the 15th floor of 555 Chabanel, is filled with paraphernalia highlighting his philanthropic work.

“As a designer, I have had the great good fortune to live my dream. Through my Foundation, I am able to give back to the Canadian community that has been so supportive of me,” said Chang in the Perspective magazine.

Currently, there is growing interest amongst Montrealers to encourage the city to rename Chabanel Street in Chang’s name. “Rue Simon Chang” would represent both the success that was born on this street and honour the fashion icon whose mission and philanthropic vision embody the heart and soul of our city. What, might I ask, could be more fitting?

If you would like to donate to the Simon Chang Foundation for Change and help them make a difference, contact [email protected].

Wendy Singer is the managing editor of Inspirations, a freelance writer, Laughter Yoga teacher and founder of Laughter FIT Montreal.