A bosom buddy
One man's desire to be creative has enabled him overcome his initial embarrassment
Dave Ho Man-fung acknowledged he was compelled to embark on a career that initially embarrassed him - designing bras. While he was studying fashion design at the Polytechnic University, Mr Ho 'saw greater potential to develop a career in intimate wear. In recent years, lingerie retailers have established a much greater presence in Hong Kong'.
Opportunities knocked at the door as Ace Style Intimate Apparel recruited interns through a career seminar at the university. 'I joined the company as an intern and its design division hired me when I completed the internship in 2005,' he said.
Initially, Mr Ho felt somewhat embarrassed at fitting sessions in which models tried on mock-ups for designers' critiques. 'After all, I was the only male present at these sessions,' said Mr Ho, who is the only male bra designer at Ace Style which produces women's wear for some of the best known brands in the business, including Victoria's Secret and Calvin Klein. 'My friends used to tease me about it and said I was a lucky guy. After the first month, I became used to it and just focused on the work.
'My female colleagues treat me like I'm a girl. That said, I make sure I'm not around when they try out new designs themselves.'
Growing up in a family with supportive and understanding parents, Mr Ho said they were always confident of the choices he made. 'Sometimes my younger sister jokingly asks if I have any new designs for her.'
Mr Ho thinks this career fulfils his desire to express his creativity. 'Because I'm in charge of research and development, and product department, I have the capability to turn my own creative ideas into products.
'My goal is to make a bra that is very comfortable to wear,' he said. The fine-tuning of the comfort level relies on the feedback from models and female bra designers.
'It also involves a lot of analyses of measurement statistics and data. Men can do this well as many are strong in mathematics. I want to establish my brand and a bra retail outlet that provides professional advice to individual customers, and make it a great personal shopping experience,' Mr Ho said.
'I was very inspired by a visit to the flagship store of Victoria's Secret in New York where customers scrambled for the bras. The market has huge potential.'
Mr Ho understands what it takes to design perfect examples of these delicate and intimate items. 'I'm a technically oriented designer,' he said. 'I help creative designers in Hong Kong and overseas to develop innovative solutions to their design concepts.'
The complicated construction of bras appeals to Mr Ho. 'Although I develop styles from time to time, my greatest interest is in innovating on the construction of a bra,' he said. 'I am interested in items with intricate details and I really enjoy paper pattern making. It is far more challenging than garment making. Every bra is made up of dozens of components and takes at least 30 production steps to complete, while most garments require only 10,' he added.
Mr Ho specialises in designing the wire and foam cups of bras. 'It requires moulding to shape the polyurethane foam cup,' he said. 'In fact, the design process and product development involve a lot of mechanical engineering as well as computer-aided design and manufacturing.'
He oversees work across several divisions. 'I give instructions on parts sourcing to staff at the research and development department. Based on new materials acquired, I communicate with staff at the product department to develop computer-generated illustrations of the aluminium master cup moulds,' he said.
At the production level, he is responsible for aligning suitable manufacturing equipment to maximise efficiency in the making of new designs.
With his working days split between the Shenzhen factory and Hong Kong headquarters, Mr Ho's daily routine is packed with meetings with employees and clients, and sample making demonstrations. 'The first thing I do at work is to meet with colleagues of various departments to review the day's tasks, the progress of various projects under way, and sample production schedules,' he said.
Mr Ho also spends time showing staff how to put together new designs at the production lines. 'Sample making demonstrations are essential to ensure that all staff members have a full understanding of the production requirements for a new design,' he said.
'This is the occasion for us to exchange ideas to perfect the production process. I also provide technical critiques to new designs developed by our team.'
Communication with customers is on a daily basis. 'To update customers of new product development, I do presentations of the latest designs at their offices. With my production knowledge, I am able to inspire their designers and give them technical advice.'
This is the 14th in our 16-part series on women and men who have entered career paths traditionally dominated by the opposite sex
Try and try again
Although sample making is part of the daily routine for Dave Ho Man-fung, the first time he put together a mock-up bra all by himself was quite a daunting experience. 'It was just over a month after I joined Ace Style and I needed to sew together a basic bra with dozens of components,' he said. Being a perfectionist, the making of the mock-up took him several attempts and he had to disassemble it and start from scratch each time. 'I spent the entire day in the production department but eventually I completed one to my standard. It was a very satisfying experience,' he said.