Many Hongkongers have long had a passion for all things Japanese. Local fashion designer Mak Chuen-chi certainly has. 'Even before I went to Japan, I wanted to see and learn about the Japanese way of doing things,' says Mak, aka Mim (pronounced Mee-em). 'A lot of people admire their way of life. Once I got there, I felt more strongly about the way they do things. It's really a positive way for doing anything, not only in the world of design.' Mim, 25, took part in the Young Fashion Designers' Contest in January and walked away with the top prize, which included a month's internship in Tokyo. Sixteen contestants were shortlisted and asked to submit four designs for the runway section of the competition. Mim says her collection, called Diving-Dance, was inspired by her love of nature. 'When I swim, I often see [scuba] divers,' she explains. 'I thought the material of their clothing [neoprene] was very special. I thought that if I incorporated it into evening wear, it would make for a really novel approach.' Over the years, renowned designers such as Vivienne Tam, Kenzo Takada, Tsumori Chisato and Luisa Trussardi have served as guest judges for the competition. This year, Atsuro Tayama, the well-known Japanese fashion designer, was on the judging panel. After a stint as director of European operations for top fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, Tayama started his own label AT and later a self-titled, higher-end brand in 1991. He's won numerous design contests and is seen as a modern, innovative designer. 'When I got to Japan, he [Tayama] told me why he had voted for me as the winner,' recalls Mim, who worked under the designer during her stint in Japan. 'He thought the material I had selected was bold and that it was a clever way of displaying beauty. He also said he admired the way I used the fabric in many different ways.' Mim was assigned one project during her time at the Japanese fashion house. She had to use various shapes to create designs. She was also encouraged to experiment with different colours to create different effects with the material. At each stage, Tayama gave her useful pointers. She also worked on other aspects, such as helping with displays and making alterations on clothes. Mim says her time in Tokyo gave her a new outlook on the fashion industry, and she learned about the business side of fashion. Tayama also gave her tips on how to start her own label. 'He told me I need three people to start my own label: one to make the clothes, one to make the designs, and one to do the marketing,' Mim explains. 'That was a really vital bit of information for me.' Mim hopes to release her own clothing line in the near future. And what better time to do so than at the biggest fashion event in the city? 'I'm aiming to have a collection completed for Hong Kong Fashion Week (Spring/Summer),' she says. The event will be held in July at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. As for a name for her label, she already has something in mind. Not surprisingly, it will be Mim.