Style Check: Amid thicket of big malls, some seeds of alternative choices

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 9:39am

With so many events this week sparking discussions about Hong Kong's fashion industry, I am reminded of the city's strange retail landscape. Expensive malls have a stranglehold on consumer activity and which brands reach those consumers.

Street-level shopping is still strong in Causeway Bay and SoHo, but much of Central and Admiralty is just an interlinking network of malls. Big brands dominate these properties, leaving lesser brands out in the cold.

Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui is so popular with mainland tourists that those outlets are often the most globally profitable for their brands. As someone with a mild aversion to big-mall shopping, this can be depressing at times.

The Elements mall in TST is a building I can never seem to get out of. Its confusing water, fire and earth-themed sections continually lead me back into the belly of the beast; I feel like a Minotaur in a maze every time I try to leave.

I'd much rather potter down Star Street, grab a coffee and some lunch in a quiet spot during a shopping trip. But these kinds of areas are few and far between in Hong Kong.

Instead we have a landscape dominated by luxury labels dedicated to items that 90 per cent of us cannot afford. The presence of big multibrand retailers such as On Pedder, Joyce, Lane Crawford, Harvey Nichols and I.T, even if they also sell luxury, are a welcome reprieve. They will at least carry smaller brands, new labels and exciting collaborative initiatives, presented somewhat interestingly.

Smaller multibrand retailers have emerged in recent years and this is a trend I hope to see more of. Cool design-focused directional stores such as Kapok, Liger or Russell Street are small additions in terms of geographical space, but their impact can be powerful. Not least for brands trying to inch into the Hong Kong market.

A large Korean store, Åland, popped up recently in Causeway Bay's Lee Theatre Plaza. Banking on the growing popularity of Korean style, it has captured a youthful segment of Hong Kong shoppers. Introducing smaller, new brands - clothing, accessories, shoes, bags and even cute stationary - the store seems always busy.

The affordable price points are a greater draw.

I hope more multibrand stores like this take a chance on Hong Kong. And although the stock in Åland might not be everyone's cup of tea, it has clearly struck a chord by creating a cool space for discovering style. Other such retailers should take note.

And although my dreams of the city one day having its own Portobello Market might never come true, the seeds of retail diversity have been sewn.