A shot of hope
For someone known for creating funky accessories and clothing, Sin Sin-man is oddly vexed at being labelled a fashion designer.
'It's too narrow a way of categorising me,' she says.
But then Sin is hard to peg. Not only does she design for her accessory label Sin Sin and run a boutique, the 50-year-old also operates a gallery in Mid-Levels showcasing mostly Southeast Asian artists. Sin prefers to be known as a lifestyle creator instead.
Over the past 20 years, the exuberant Sin has embarked on projects ranging from dance (as creative director of a Fringe Club performance) to interior decor (for a luxury flat in Shanghai's hip Xintiandi development).
Her latest venture is Words & Visuals, a palm-sized book featuring photographs and writing by Sin and four collaborators who are also avid photographers - local explorer Wong How-man, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, Austrian writer Roland Hagenberg, and Tibetan Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, often dubbed 'the world's happiest man'.
All proceeds will go to Karuna Asia, the charity set up by Ricard to support projects for underprivileged communities in Bhutan, India and Nepal.
'I'm a flexible person. I don't want to confine myself to only one medium,' Sin says. 'I prefer expressing myself through different media and collaborating with artists of different disciplines.'
A photography buff, Sin initially planned a compilation of the images that she had taken but decided it would be more fun to involve a few pals. While she's known Wong and Kuma for years, the others are newer friends. 'But we really clicked the first time we met,' she says.
Ricard, whom she met during his visit to Hong Kong last month, was the most recent. 'I was impressed by his inner peace and wisdom,' Sin says. Their meeting also alerted her to the possibility of doing something more meaningful with her book venture and she approached Ricard about directing it to a good cause.
'I create dresses that help change people's appearance; this is where the function of clothing goes beyond protecting the body from weather and seasons. But what about those whose lives actually need protection?' she asks.
The thought is constantly on her mind when she travels through Asia, she says. 'Children represent new life, and they need our support. The poor kids I met in mountainous areas have a great passion and dedication to learn.'
Sin isn't sure how much money the book will raise, but says 'a small amount can make a big difference'.
By bringing together artists from different spheres, Sin also hopes to inspire others, especially young people, to follow their hearts. Much of their work draws on the childhood memories that shaped their lives and careers.
'I want to show our evolution,' says Sin, pointing at a black and white photo of herself as a toddler. 'Childhood is a crucial stage in our lives. My creativity and personality are constantly inspired by the people I met and things I saw every day as a kid.'
Taken in Hong Kong and during trips around East Asia, Sin's photos reflect the optimism and energy of people she's met.
'I want to show a ray of hope,' she says. An image she's particularly fond of captures a young man jumping into the sea to grab a coin: 'For me, this symbolises guts and determination.'
As an artist, she says, it's important to be in tune with your surroundings. The same philosophy applies to her design, which has little to do with forecast trends.
'It's all about my thoughts, experiences, accumulated from the past to present,' she says. Much of her inspiration comes from what she calls an 'unusual' childhood. Although born to Catholic parents, she was raised by her grandparents who lived in a temple in the hills above Kowloon and allowed her to be a free spirit.
'My family is very special. They didn't put pressure on me, so I had a great sense of freedom,' she says.
'I think the more freedom you have, the more disciplined you will become.'
A self-taught designer, Sin began creating handbags soon after she left secondary school. When she was 27, she set up a small company making bags, mostly licensed products for multinational companies. She also turned her talents to creating jewellery and clothes for friends and private clients. It wasn't long before she opened a boutique, Sin Sin Atelier, to showcase her creations. Favouring simple but sophisticated design with an oriental twist, Sin has won a following of mostly women professionals. Fans include actress Lindzay Chan Ling-chi and media personality Tina Liu Tin-lan.
Describing her work as limited-edition 'wearable art pieces', Sin eschews introducing them through conventional fashion shows.
'If I had time, I'd rather stage a theatre production to present my new designs. That would be more fun,' says the designer, who has relocated her shop from On Lan Street in Central to a quiet corner of Sheung Wan.
'It's not a boutique. It's my toy house,' she says of the studio space she has filled with retro furniture.
Sin spends a third of her time on the road, especially to exotic locations. Bali is her favourite. 'I enjoy the lifestyle. Its pace is slow and mellow. I like Hong Kong, my home. But from time to time, I want to get away from the hectic city life to pursue my spirituality.'
Sin finds the island life so attractive that she bought a piece of land near Legian, where she has built three luxury villas.
While some may envy her unfettered lifestyle, Sin says it is the fruit of decades of hard work.
'I'm an entrepreneur; I started everything from scratch,' she says. 'I'm an ordinary person who wound up doing something that seems unusual. If I can do it, you can too.'
Words & Visuals is available from Sin Sin Atelier, Sin Sin Fine Art and the Kee Club, HK$180