Fashion and textiles came to be described as a sunset industry in Hong Kong when most local businesses joined the trend of relocating manufacturing operations across the border to the Pearl River Delta. Recently, however, quite the opposite has been observed, and this has revived the industry's growth within and beyond Hong Kong. Since its establishment in 1977, the Institute of Textiles and Clothing of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been producing a steady number of graduates to meet the industry's needs. In the last academic year, more than 1,600 students enrolled for courses leading up to higher diplomas, master's and even postgraduate degrees. 'In the last three years, following the mainland's open policy and China's entry into the World Trade Organisation, Hong Kong-based corporations have been investing heavily in China, not only in manufacturing but also in the local retail fashion market,' says David Yip Yam-kuen, the institute's associate head. This trend has benefited students who wish to pursue a long-term career in the fashion and textiles industry. The university's statistics show an almost 100 per cent placement rate for last year's graduates. Responding to the growing need for expertise, the university recently introduced an MBA degree with a focus on Fashion Business for industry professionals. 'Fashion and textiles is a very traditional business that has adopted high-end technologies in product development,'' Mr Yip says. 'For instance, Gortex is a garment material derived from the United States Defence Department, and is an example of military applications being transferred for public usage. We refer to this as functional fashion.' Such technology development calls for specialised expertise. The industry is also recruiting future managers. 'Most Hong Kong industry leaders are still family-owned businesses,' Mr Yip says. 'However, they are in their second or third generation, and they are hiring professionals from outside to take up key management positions.' Some companies recruit management trainees as an annual exercise and give them comprehensive training in areas such as merchandising, marketing, design and production. 'If they stay on with their jobs, they could be promoted to a middle management role within five to six years,' Mr Yip says. Besides joining family-owned local corporations, industry professionals can also join the regional offices of global brands in order to develop their career. Today, the industry has to create and develop products to meet client needs, especially in fabric manufacturing. 'In my 30 years of industry and academic experience, I have seen the industry change from being just an order-taker to being a creative customer-driven business,' Mr Yip says. 'It is a very exciting industry. We do not know what the clients' requirements and needs are until the very last minute. 'We have to translate orders to the production team and ensure that production and delivery will be on time. The production lead time used to be six months, now it is four weeks.' Mr Yip believes the industry's manpower possesses the skills and knowledge required to meet the changes in the market. 'We will need more time and more opportunities to show customers our competencies in order to gain their full confidence,' he says. 'The industry has built state-of-the-art production facilities in the Pearl River Delta. Now the industry needs management professionals from Hong Kong for further developments. I foresee another 10 good years for careers in fashion.' Mr Yip believes that clothing is a top priority for the majority of Chinese people. 'Most Chinese people buy at least 10 pieces of garments every year. It is a big business, indeed, and with a giant market like China to consider,' Mr Yip says. 'It is not a sunset industry. The sun is still in the middle of the sky.'