Hong Kong is joining the ranks of global style capitals as it becomes the focal point of Asia's fashion industry. More than 14,000 buyers flocked last March to the Fashion Access trade fair, where more than 700 exhibitors from 39 countries and regions showcased a variety of products ranging from fashion accessories, handbags and footwear to travelware, and leather and fur garments. 'It's not just about Milan, Paris or London any more. People come to Hong Kong to see the upcoming trends of the future' said Michael Duck, director of APLF, organiser of the twice-yearly Fashion Access. 'Hong Kong plays a major role as Asia's fashion hub, serving as a neutral platform for the whole region.' In addition to its convenient location, Mr Duck said that the city's low taxation, large number of direct flights and straightforward visa policy set the ideal conditions for an international event of this scale. Fashion Access takes place in the spring and autumn seasons. The 2009 spring edition starts today and runs until Thursday at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC). The fair will focus on autumn and winter 2009-10 fashion trends. Highlights include the awards ceremony for the annual Design-A-Bag competition, on-site seminars hosted by a number of companies discussing industry issues, such as trends and sustainability, and the fashion trend lounge where buyers may view the hottest colours and styles of the upcoming season. APLF will have its own presentation of trends at a seminar from 2.30pm to 4.30pm today. Perrine Ardouin, APLF senior event manager, said some styles to look out for this coming season included detail-orientated looks such as the patchwork bag and origami bag. Meanwhile, the small clutch will be the evening purse of choice and the thigh-high boot makes a comeback. The seminar will conclude with a preview of summer 2010 trends. Those who want to learn more about these trends may participate in a guided tour offered by APLF in order to see examples of styles and looks. The fair is conveniently categorised into style zones rather than product zones, which Ms Ardouin said reflected the way buyers use trade fairs. 'Buyers are now browsing according to a certain style that they have in mind, rather than going by specific types of products,' she said. 'We are also seeing more and more exhibiting companies that have what we call a 'total look', in that they carry a range of products adhering to the brand's style rather than just one specialised product.' One of the special features of the fair will be the fashion trends lounge, where 2009-10 trends will be showcased. There will also be a material trends lounge displaying the latest colours and fabrics. The material trends lounge links to the APLF. The Materials, Manufacturing and Technology (MM&T) fair is held concurrently at the HKCEC. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the fair continues its tradition as the annual meeting place of the leather-related industries where prices of hides and skins are often fixed, and innovative processes and materials are unveiled. More than ever this year, the industry was affected by the laws of supply and demand, and the fair would play the very important role of enabling key players and trade associations to meet and find solutions, Ms Ardouin said. In addition to expanding their product variety, brands are also taking pains to raise the quality of their products in response to a consumer phenomenon that Ms Ardouin called 'cocooning'. 'At a time of financial crisis, consumers do what is called cocooning,' she said, explaining that this entails a cocoon lifestyle in which they avoid lifestyle choices that include significant expenditure, such as buying a car or moving house. 'Instead, they would rather save their money and indulge in comfort products once in a while, such as purchasing a beautiful handbag. In this way, brands have to make sure that their products are of the highest quality in order to be worth the investment.' Brands are also taking into consideration the influence of the mainland and its increasing disposable income. 'The middle class in China, its consumer class, has been expanding,' Mr Duck said, explaining how ultimately trade is dependent on infrastructure. 'As new roads continue to be built, enabling products to reach more cities, consumer demand will continue to increase.' As such, brands have been looking into satisfying that demand and adjusting their business strategy to cater for the expanding mainland market in today's difficult conditions. However, Ms Ardouin said the changes would not be drastic and that mainland consumers were interested in the same kinds of products sold in traditional markets in the western world - hence the relevance and success of Fashion Access. While she acknowledged Hong Kong's significance in Asia's fashion industry, she said the city still had room to grow. 'Hong Kong already sets the tone for the region with regards to fashion trade,' she said. 'What needs to be done now is to establish the city as a place of design creativity.' APLF holds Fashion Access concurrently with its raw materials show, Materials, Manufacturing and Technology, and Prime Source Forum, the annual meeting of the global apparel and textile industry where the challenges and opportunities in fashion are discussed.