Hong Kong fashion start-ups vie for top prize at Mills Pitch Day
There's been much talk about the future of Hong Kong fashion lately. The city remains a commercial hub, but so far its efforts to become a creative hub have not yielded much success. Most local companies and designers making a name for themselves are doing so off their own bat or through private investors. But initiatives such as The Mills Pitch Day, funded by the Nan Fung Group (manufacturer turned property developer) hopes to change that.
All eyes were on the stage last Tuesday night at the inaugural edition of the event. A total of eight entrepreneurs pitched their ideas in the hopes of impressing industry judges and being granted a HK$200,000 grand prize.
In the end it was Shai Levy, founder of Seventy Eight Percent, who walked away with the prize, which included the lump sum of cash, business development opportunities and a mentorship programme.
"Levy was the most convincing of all. He has a business, he has a real product, he is at a stage where he needs a lot of investment ... and to win something like this allows him to have connections beyond what he can achieve by himself," says Fabio Piras, judge and course director at London's Central Saint Martins college.
The competition is part of a larger initiative from the conglomerate to support fashion start-ups in Hong Kong. The hope is that in doing so, the city may create an atmosphere of innovation that once existed in Hong Kong during its heyday as a manufacturing hub.
The finalists of the competition possessed varying business models. Match Showroom hoped to connect fledging brands with buyers and Techpacker wanted to revamp the translation process between a designer's fashion sketches and the technical drawings that a manufacturer needs.
"What we want to do is propel businesses forward in this space of technology and fashion," says The Mills executive director, Cherry Chan. "We believe this is what Hong Kong needs."
While the money put into The Mills, HK$700 million, is significant and there is a need for Hong Kong to jump-start its ailing fashion industry, the focus of the competition was at times fuzzy.
The Mills says that the event hopes to promote growth in what they call the "techstyle" industry: a term coined to invoke business in the spheres of fashion, textiles, start-up, technology and disruption. This sounds great in theory, but what exactly does that mean? The confluence of technology and fashion is an exciting arena, for sure, but it needs clearer parameters in place so it doesn't become just a buzzword. For example, Match Showroom hoped to persuade judges that a boutique showroom was the way to go in supporting and representing young fashion designers. The idea sounds great, but for the judges, Match failed to provide tangible reasons how its business is different from the many other showrooms that exist.
Other competitors included Clémentine Sandner, an eponymous Tokyo-based up-cycling label. Sandner, who repurposes old kimono fabrics into new products, proposed that her dream with the prize money would be to design and produce a similar up-cycling collection using old Chinese fabrics.
There was Chinese fashion brand Yat Pit, which explored the integration of traditional Chinese wear into the everyday wardrobe. The clothes themselves felt contemporary and fresh, but the brand has yet to launch its first collection. So with no proof of market reaction, the primary question was whether it needed more time to grow before being granted a place in the finals.
"It is an interesting event with a quite varied selection of people," says Piras. "That said, a lot of them needed more specification and focus. They all define themselves as unique, but what is it that makes them unique?"
So it was perhaps something of a no-brainer that Hong Kong-based brand Seventy Eight Percent took home the grand prize. Levi showed how well he had developed the brand and the judges agreed that he would benefit most from the prize. The label boasts a clean, utilitarian aesthetic with high-quality products that has resonated with customers all over the world. It has already, in fact, secured a partnership with Cathay Pacific, providing handmade toiletries bags for those who fly business class.
There are no unnecessary bells and whistles that come with winning this competition - it's just prize money and developmental help. But if The Mills project can bring that same rigorous clarity and discipline to future endeavours, then it could help push Hong Kong one step closer to becoming a significant and creative fashion powerhouse.