Hong Kong's Young Fashion Designers' Contest (YDC), to be held on January 20 as part of Hong Kong Fashion Week, is widely considered a launch pad for emerging local designers and a platform to display the city's diverse creative talents. A total of 16 finalists will be fighting for the spotlight, competing in categories such as contemporary day wear, party and evening wear, and overall winner. An accessories category has also been added this year. "YDC will encourage new designers to achieve their goals," says fashion stylist Grace Lam, who is one of the judges this year. "The competition is quite strong." The entries highlight the diversity of creative talent found in Hong Kong. One of the contestants, Anki Ng, has submitted an elaborate entry titled Paper Magic. The dress is inspired by the intricate art of paper-cutting, working with what is traditionally a two-dimensional material and morphing it into a three-dimensional piece. In contrast, an entry by Li In Kwan titled Error is an unconventional experiment in both fabric development and silhouette. Inspired by deformed objects and structures, Kwan worked with fabric that has a cracked, wrinkled motif. The result is a rough and jagged study of geometry. Alongside Lam, other YDC panel members for this year's competition include Elle editor-in-chief Gloria Lam, local designer Lu Lu Cheung, I.T Apparels' vice-president of marketing and international business Deborah Cheng, chairwoman of the HKTDC Garment Advisory Committee Shirley Chan and Parco representative Gaku Mizoguchi. Margareta van den Bosch, creative adviser of H&M, will be this year's VIP judge. As chief designer for the retail juggernaut from 1986 to 2007, Bosch was the driving force of the fashion chain's covetable collaborations with names such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Lanvin. Bosch's expertise will help to ground contestants to the fierce reality of the industry and, most importantly, show them how to fuse commerce and creativity together. Hong Kong offers one of the most sophisticated retail environments in the world. Yet this cosmopolitan dream is a double-edged sword, and local designers must compete with stores that stock the best the fashion world has to offer. Chan says the first challenge designers must confront is the lack of sponsorship and investment. "Investors prefer to put their money into fast investment where they can see high market value," she says. This is an issue echoed by finalist Michelle Yeung. "Capital is one of our biggest challenges. As young designers, we are quite new and very few people know about us. Establishing connections to develop into sponsorship initiatives are therefore harder to achieve." Meeting other young designers and taking part in a proper fashion show are great sources of inspiration and motivation Ip Siu, YDC finalist In this sense, YDC is one of the few leading lights that local designers can look up to. "The second hurdle that designers here face is the lack of a proper platform to display their work," says Chan. "The city is small and rental is high." This unfavourable outlook for young designers does not apply as much to some of Hong Kong's local and international counterparts. For example, mainland Chinese designers such as Uma Wang and Zhang Chi have enjoyed global recognition. In contrast, Hong Kong's emerging designers struggle to garner significant foreign interest. Fashion capitals such as New York enjoy a global influence, owing to a strong industry ecosystem that has allowed young brands such as Proenza Schouler and Alexander Wang to become trailblazers as part of the city's CFDA programme. Despite the challenges, YDC is playing its part. As finalist Ip Siu says: "It has given me a platform to meet other young designers and take part in a proper fashion show. "These are great sources of inspiration and motivation."