Supplier Woman of Distinction 2016 - Kathy Cheng, Redwood Classics Apparel

In the late 1990s, Kathy Cheng was fulfilling every parent’s dream for their children. The daughter of Chinese immigrants in Toronto, she was steadily working her way up the corporate ladder at a global financial intelligence firm. But she was soon working an average of 14 hours a day.

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Her father, Chak, the owner at the time of Wing Son Garments Ltd., asked his daughter if she would come work at the family business. “If you’re going to work so hard,” he asked her, “why not work for our family and for all the families this factory provides for?” She agreed, and in 2000 she joined Wing Son’s business development team.

Then in 2008, the recession hit the business hard. But instead of being forced to close, Cheng led a restructuring of the company, renamed WS & Co., and became the president with a streamlined workforce of just 40 people. She simultaneously spearheaded the development of Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627), the company’s in-stock apparel line.“As the majority owner, I re-shifted the company’s business strategy,” she says. “I put a North American spin on a traditionally Chinese-culture company and explored a new revenue stream, which resulted in Redwood Classics Apparel.”

The tactic is working. In 2014, WS & Co. expanded its Toronto factory, nearly doubling in size from 30,000 square feet to 60,000, while Redwood Classics was named Counselor’s Fastest-Growing Canadian Supplier that same year, with revenue growth of 160% from 2011 to 2013.

But Cheng is the first to reiterate that any revenue success is a result of caring for the human element first. She’s a mentor and Board member for Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI), a nonprofit dedicated to shaping up-and-coming fashion leaders, and a member of the Program Advisory Councils for Ryerson School of Fashion, and other institutions. “It’s important to support emerging and promising talent,” says Cheng. “Hopefully our country’s youth will continue to view our manufacturing industry as a promising, opportunity-rich sector of the workforce.”