Make 2017 the year Hong Kong’s native fashion scene reinvents itself – it’s now or never

Industry has rested on its laurels for too long, with overemphasis on promoting manufacturing at expense of city’s creative talents and brands; recent Fashion Asia initiative was a step in the right direction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 10:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 11:42am

Hong Kong’s fashion industry has been in existential crisis for several years, and begins 2017 amid ever greater uncertainty but also hope that its own efforts and those of the city’s government can re-energise the sector. Whereas fashion manufacturers have been represented at the annual Hong Kong Fashion Week staged by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, creativity and design have taken a back seat. Many in the industry have wondered why Hong Kong fashion designers and brands have not made more of a global splash.

Fashion Asia 2016 is a new initiative launched late last year by the Hong Kong government. Its CreateHK arm and Hong Kong Design Centre, focus on key issues for fashion’s future. Its Fashion Challenges forum explore aspects including the support of big retailers for smaller Asian brands, how independent brands can survive and thrive in Asia, the future of e-commerce, and branding and sustainability. (Full disclosure: I moderated three of the panel discussions).

New breed of Hong Kong fashion designers unveil their creations

The programme aimed to provide intelligence and a comprehensive overview of the industry, especially that in East Asia and its place in the world of fashion. A cultural exchange that brings together people from different parts of fashion is a laudable way to shed light on aspects of an industry not known for transparency. It is best done by engaging students and small businesses – those who don’t have the networking power of Hong Kong’s fashion elite; here Fashion Asia helped by drawing big crowds of young people who mixed with some of the industry’s heavy hitters.

Holding the Fashion Challenges forum in Hong Kong served as a reminder that the city still wants to be a serious industry player, despite the well-publicised recent retail stumbles. Fashion Asia 2016 flew in global influencers such as Caroline Issa of Tank Magazine, Tommy Ton, street-style photographer, designer Jason Wu and Tom Chapman, co-founder of luxury fashion retailer Matchesfashion.com, to join in its debates. The event came weeks after another out-of-the-box initiative, Joyce’s Golden Needle interactive theatre exhibition, for which the fashion retailer brought designers Haider Ackermann, Rick Owens and Dries Van Noten to the city.

Home grown talent is the key to rejuvenating Hong Kong’s fashion industry

The Fashion Asia panel discussions gave a true sense of how global fashion has become; for example, US-raised, Japan-based South Korean designer Yoon, of Ambush Design, has insights that are quite different to those of a European showroom owner such as Stefano Pizzuti. We all wanted to know more about the massive and often confusing China market; enter Rex Cheuk from TMall Global, designer Xander Zhou and controversial Beijing-based photographer Ren Hang. Better engagement with the market in China could boost Hong Kong’s native fashion industry.

Two of the first Asian designers to make it in the global fashion industry (way before it was cool to be from Asia), Jimmy Choo and Vivienne Tam, were VIPs at a Fashion Asia gala dinner and ceremony, but I wondered why neither of them were on any of the panels. With a combined 40-plus years of experience in the business, a talk between those two is one that I’d really love to hear.

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However, to avoid Fashion Asia becoming just another well-funded gathering of fashion’s in crowd, its next edition could have more direction and focus. While the ambitious schedule of panels at Fashion Asia 2016 was far-reaching, halving the number of topics would provide more time to focus on the most timely and important issues for fashion in Hong Kong and Asia. This point may already be moot – a source close to Fashion Asia tells me the Hong Kong Design Centre has already decided to reduce the number of sessions for the 2017 event to achieve exactly that.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Hong Kong government’s HK$500,000 annual budget to help boost the city’s native fashion industry, and the holding of Fashion Asia, and projects such as the Fashion Farm Foundation, show how some of those tax dollars are being spent. It is a welcome chance to foster global dialogue that could benefit Hong Kong talents, and the fact it seeks to provide real industry intelligence (rather like another Hong Kong event, the Business of Design Week), instead of imitating the typical PR-heavy, substance-light Hong Kong fashion event, is impressive.

Young Hong Kong designers make debut at Hong Kong Fashion Week

Fashion and fashion retailing certainly took a knock in 2016, but hard times also beget innovation and a recalibration of old models that just aren’t working. This is what should happen in 2017 to fashion in Hong Kong, which, boosted by boom years and Chinese tourists’ spending, has rested on its laurels for too long. It’s time to reinvent and re-energise – now or never.