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Johanna Ho: 'Don't give up when the going gets tough'

Eco-conscious professional believes in contributing to a sustainable future, writes Victoria Ip

 

There are brands that mistreat animals in the name of fashion but, for Johanna Ho, looking good doesn't have to mean sacrificing the environment.

The fashion designer jumped on the green bandwagon after she reclaimed her 15-year-old label from a Japanese investor in 2010. "Having two young daughters made me realise I want to do my part for a sustainable future through my label," says Ho, whose children are aged six and three.

Ho looked into shaping her brand into an eco-conscious one. Today, her label is a practitioner of zero-waste manufacturing, which eliminates wastage by reusing the off-cuts. Inspired by everything light and strong, such as fairies, her edgily romantic autumn/winter 2012 collection heavily features eco-wool.

The label also has a social conscience - Ho employs seamstresses who lost jobs because the factories they worked for moved their bases to the mainland. This year saw the launch of Ho's first shop in Hong Kong, which she perceives as a lucky coincidence. "I didn't really plan it," she says. "Woodhouse wanted to create buzz for the mall, so they invited Edison Chen [Koon-hei], Hilary Tsui [Ho-ying] and I to open shops next to each other.

"Our shop, which features a lounge by Australian cosmetic brand Becca, is a one-stop shop that helps women feel good about themselves," Ho says.

Ho fell in love with fashion during her childhood, when the passions of her mother and grandmother rubbed off on her. "I was fascinated by the way they dressed. They used to go to the tailors to make clothes inspired by what they saw in fashion magazines, and they loved matching their clothes with their shoes and handbags," she says.

To this day, Ho's mother continues to be her heroine. "I'm grateful that my mother is supportive of my choice to become a fashion designer. Otherwise, I wouldn't be where I am today. I'm also thankful that she encouraged me to become my own person," she says.

After Ho graduated from London's Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in 1997, she launched her own brand. Her first ready-to-wear collection was sold in Barney's New York, Browns in London and Via Bus Stop in Japan. However, a few years ago, the economy dipped and she was near bankruptcy.

"I got a phone call from a mystery man who said a Japanese investor wanted to develop a Hong Kong label in Japan," Ho says. She jumped at the offer, which led to the launch of 10 shops in Japan.

Later, Ho realised she wasn't happy because her investor was trying to alter the creative direction of the brand. "They wanted me to switch from my sophisticated and cool aesthetic to the kawaii [cute] style so that the brand would sell better in Japan's flagging economy. In 2010, we terminated the contract early," she says.

Perhaps Ho's success boils down to going with the flow, being true to her aesthetics and seizing opportunities. She has no long-term plan and welcomes future creative partnerships. "My world is not just about me, it is about Johanna Ho and her friends," says Ho, who counts British artist-print designer Leanne Claxton and Birkenstock among her collaborators.

For those who want to emulate Ho's success, she says: "Don't give up when the going gets tough. Life is about making a lot of mistakes, but still getting back on your feet."

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