On with the show: New fashion event to put Hong Kong on the map
A new fashion event will connect buyers with innovative brands keen to expand in the region. Jing Zhang talks to one of the men behind it
Two British expatriates are changing the face of fashion in Hong Kong with a trade show to help brands connect with the rapidly growing Asia-Pacific markets.
Peter Caplowe and Richard Hobbs are the men behind The Hub, billed as "Asia's first respected international business-to-business fashion trade show connecting globally renowned brands with influential retailers and business partners in the Asia Pacific region". The first show will be held from August 28-30 at the AsiaWorld-Expo.
"We want to put The Hub on the fashion map and get people in Hong Kong talking about fashion," says Caplowe from his showroom in Sheung Wan. "This is the first show, so everyone is watching and waiting to see how it goes."
The Hub has so far signed up 100 brands but more are expected. About 700 buyers, predominantly from Asia, have also signed up. A self-funded start up, Caplowe says they are targeting resources with the most impact. "And speaking to the brands, they're all just saying China, China, China."
The pair have cleverly struck up big China partnerships including Shanghai Mart, Asia's largest permanent international trade mart that boasts a database of more than 400,000 companies. It is bringing 300 of its buyers.
Hobbs and Caplowe are also working with the China Textiles Information Centre, a body "tasked with moving people in the manufacturing industry in China up the fashion food chain".
"The [Chinese] government is actually very supportive of this kind of thing," says Caplowe. "They are encouraging Chinese fashion companies to engage with international companies to upgrade their skills."
Brands exhibiting at The Hub are a mixture of European, US and Asian labels with a leaning towards menswear, jeans, contemporary and smaller heritage labels. The line-up includes the likes of Y-3 by Yohji Yamamoto, British outerwear label Barbour, Bailey of Hollywood, Orlebar Brown, Sunspel and Spanish brand Desigual. Ranging from British heritage to American street, the Hub has attracted labels looking for a bigger foothold in Asia.
With more than 40 years combined experience in fashion, Hobbs and Caplowe have an enviable book of contacts. The leaning towards menswear for this season is largely due to their personal networks.
Caplowe co-founded fashion consultancy firm Entrepot Asia and is known for turning small Japanese boutique brand Evisu into a huge global label. Hobbs owns consultancy firm Fortune 8 along with premium denim brand Real Real Genuine, and has worked in branding, design, production and development for a range of denim and sportswear companies.
Industry insiders have often asked why Hong Kong has never had a successful fashion week, or even a reputable trade fair, considering its thriving industry. Attempts have been made but nobody has got it right. With their industry expertise, Caplowe and Hobb will be hoping to change that.
As the domination of luxury brands eases, and high street and contemporary labels find a market, the Hub, if it gets it right, will come at a perfect time. Its categories of streetwear, denim, contemporary and middle- to upper-priced heritage brands have huge growth potential in Asia. The renewed focus on menswear in fashion, and the Chinese market's growing sophistication, also helps.
"On a macroeconomic level, there's a much bigger middle class than before and obviously many coming from China," says Caplowe. "When you get a critical mass of middle class you always get people who want to dress more interestingly. I think Hong Kong people want to up their game because they don't want to look like mainland tourists walking off the buses with their Louis Vuitton handbags, so there's a bit of one-upmanship, too."
But it's not just hip Western brands on board. A few local Hong Kong labels such as Johanna Ho and Moustache have also signed up, seeing potential in meeting Asia-wide buyers as the first step to internationalise. "We've been friendly with Richard [Hobbs] for a long time and have been chatting with him about the Hub from the very beginning," says Moustache co-founder Alex Daye. "In the past we have steered clear of the trade show route as a matter of strategy, focusing instead on our own bricks and mortar shop. But we liked what he was proposing and got excited watching it evolve over time."
The event has potential benefits for a small brand like Moustache - which does bespoke tailoring and modern dandy ready-to-wear - to stand on a bigger platform. "The event can also help coalesce what is already an exciting and dynamic menswear scene in Hong Kong," says Daye.
"It's outdated and pretty boring for Hong Kong just to be seen as a gateway to cheap manufacturing when it's really much more than that. It's great to see the rest of the world finally getting it," adds Ellis Kreuger, Moustache co-founder.
Apart from introducing their brand to new press and buyers, Kreuger and Daye are keen to meet other designers and brands.
"There is a really nice representation from all the different walks of the menswear world," says Daye, "I think it's a really vanguard group. Usually, fashion trade shows in Hong Kong are stacked with brands looking for factories or sourcing fabric … this is the first one that I know of where brands are here to be seen by the press and buyers."
Caplowe says The Hub is "a completely different beast" from Hong Kong Fashion Week that's organised by the Trade Development Council and which, he adds, should be called Hong Kong fashion sourcing week.
For The Hub, Caplowe was inspired by fashion fairs such as the hugely successful Pitti Uomo in Florence and Bread and Butter in Berlin. They aim to do something different and creative each season, mirroring the likes of Pitti Uomo who put on big parties, fashion shows and interesting collaborations. The Hub is
working with Hong Kong-based artists Simon Birch and Stanley Wong to design the exhibition space and set.
Caplowe and Hobbs have also set dates for another show in February where they will add a more high-end designer section. "We want to put on a proper fashion week, rather than a tragic one," says Caplowe. "We want
it to be world class."