I.T man spreads the word with London pop-up
I.T man takes labels to the world
You would think entrepreneur Sham Kar-wai would be content with celebrating a 25th anniversary and opening the joint venture Galeries Lafayette store in Beijing this month - a major investment.
But the founder of I.T also found time to open a large pop-up of the Hong Kong brand at Selfridges in London - marking his first retail venture in Europe.
"It has always been my dream to bring something from Asia to London," says Sham, on a flying visit to the British capital.
"It's very seldom that a Hong Kong or Chinese brand gets a chance to sell in Europe, so we hope that we can go somewhere with this. The first step is to create awareness among Western people about what we do."
London might be the home of cool high street brands, such as Topshop, Miss Selfridge and River Island, but fashion shoppers have little to no exposure to edgy global brands.
Now they are discovering some of Hong Kong's finest, thanks to I.T's hook-up with Selfridges. Chocoolate, 5cm, Aape, b+ab and Mini Cream are among the seven I.T group labels snapped up during the seven-week pop-up. Items are targeted at a younger, fashion-forward market: quirky sweatshirts, leather minis, lumberjack hoodies and witty accessories, some designed exclusively for Selfridges.
His designers, Sham says, are very aware of London street culture, "but they also look to Japan and South Korea, where music, TV and films are an important influence on the young in Hong Kong".
He uses his eldest daughter as an example: "She loves fashion and is always looking at Korean streetwear as it's so popular with the young generation."
The strong graphics and cartoon characters in the Mini Cream collection are resonating with London's youth, if sales are anything to go by - "probably because Mini Cream is different to anything you find in the UK," says Judd Crane, Selfridges' director of womenswear.
The top performers in London are Izzue and 5cm.
Crane was the merchandise manager at On Pedder and fondly remembers I.T's dynamic streetwear labels from his years in Hong Kong. "I was impressed by how savvy they are at creating a brand and their clear marketing message,' he says.
He approached I.T earlier this year about the project and they decided to do it just before the brand's 25th anniversary next month.
"They asked which brands I would be interested in, and I asked: 'Could we do all of them?' I think the juxtaposition when you go into an I.T store is so interesting," Crane says.
His primary aim wasn't to attract Chinese expats, although they have been flooded with young Asians missing their regular I.T fix. His motive was to introduce the labels to British customers.
"It is so different to what you find on the high street here. The brands fall into a Japan-inspired Chinese aesthetic and are not hard to understand - the silhouettes are easy to wear," he says.
These in-house labels represent 50 per cent of the I.T business; the rest comes from international designers and brands sold through its vast network of stores.
Sham admits that Chinese tastes are geared towards Western luxury. "We need to persuade them that there is also talent at home," he says.
Most of his design team are Hongkongers and many trained in London. "There are a lot of talented, creative people in Hong Kong and China, but there are not the job opportunities or support from the government compared to the UK," he says.
This venture gives Hong Kong's homegrown talent an international voice, and will be ongoing.
Selfridges has just announced that nine I.T brands will participate in a sweatshirt "Sweatshop" (pun intended) pop-up during next month and December.