Home grown talent is the key to rejuvenating Hong Kong’s fashion industry
Government’s HK$500 million fund is enabling the city’s up-and-coming designers to get their work seen abroad
For a city where many people spend a lot of money on their clothing, Hong Kong has not produced too many well known fashion designers.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah wants to change that. In his February budget he promised to spend HK$500 million supporting design talent, with a large chunk of that earmarked for promoting local fashion designers and emerging clothes brands at home and overseas.
Kenax Leung is one of the local fashion designers to benefit from part of the windfall set aside to sponsor Hong Kong designers to attend international fashion shows in Paris in March and September this year.
“To be able to attend the international fashion shows is very important for us as it allows our work to be seen by buyers in Paris. We can also exchange ideas with other fashion designers there,” Leung said in his studio located in the Fashion Farm Foundation workshop at D2 Place in Lai Chi Kok.
The foundation was set up in 2012 as a non-profit organisation to promote the city’s fashion industry. Besides arranging for Hong Kong designers to go overseas, it also provides a shared workshop space where eight designers have set up their studios at a lower market rent.
Fashion Farm Foundation chairwoman Edith Law said there are many talented designers in Hong Kong with the potential to compete internationally.
She said: “Hong Kong, London and New York are the three major financial centres worldwide. There are many wealthy and middle class people who like to spend on fashion. There are many local designers in New York and London, and I believe Hong Kong could do the same as long as we do more promotional work.”
Fashion has always had an important role in Hong Kong’s economy.
The city was a textile manufacturing centre in the 1970s. Then, in the 1980s, many of the factories moved to the mainland to enjoy cheap labour and land, while Hong Kong turned into a fashion retail centre attracting big luxury brands such as Dior, Hermes, Dunhill and Prada as well as more affordable, high street chains like H&M and Mango.
What’s lacking is local brands and designers, but Law said the Trade Development Council has done a lot of promotional works in recent years to try to make that change. The Fashion Farm Foundation also has a campaign to encourage staff at some companies to wear local brands every Friday.
“Traditionally Hong Kong has been focused on manufacturing and retailing, and has not paid much attention to creating our own brands,” said Law. “This has been changing in recent years, as we have seen an increasing number of youngsters joining the fashion designers industry.
“Many factories have moved to the mainland from Hong Kong so we are no longer a textile manufacturing centre. The retail side has also been hard hit by the drop of tourist numbers. It is inevitable Hong Kong would need to diversify into innovative industry.
“Developing home grown designer brands would be the key to success for the future of the Hong Kong fashion industry.”
Some Hong Kong retailers support local brands such as K11. Lane Crawford, for example, has areas designated for Hong Kong designers.
Novelty Lane, a fashion retailer co-founded by Mabel Yuen Mei-po and Cindy Tang Siu-fong, is among the retailers that support Hong Kong designers. They set up an online platform five years ago where customers could choose from about 100 home grown designer brands.
It became popular with customers from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Australia, so they decide to set up a 1,000 sq foot shop in Wanchai two years ago. Their income is now evenly split between sales online and at the shop.
“We had the idea to have a Hong Kong fashion brand shop as we found that most of the fashion brands were international chains,” Yuen said.
“Many Hong Kong designers’ work is of good quality and innovative. And they don’t have mass production so the chances of you clashing with someone wearing the same clothes would be limited. Many of our loyal customers like that idea.”
The best sellers at the shop include handbags, clothes, sunglasses and other accessories ranging in price from HK$500 to HK$3,000.
“Our clients are white collar employees who don’t need to wear too formal clothing or suits,” said Yuen.
Like other retailers, Novelty Lane has been affected by a downturn in sales and drop off in tourist numbers.
Yuen said: “I am still positive about the future outlook. Many Hong Kong designers produce clothing of good quality and that has plenty of character. When the economy recovers, people will start to spend more on their clothes and handbags to make sure they look good to go to work.”