Fashion in Hong Kong and China

3 green Hong Kong brands making stylish summer products that put planet before profit

Swimwear brand Wathaa, sunglasses maker Paper Shades and surfboard shaper Makara Surf are proving that you don’t have to harm the environmental to look cool

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 8:46pm

From fashion to food, sustainability is a growing concern for many industries as they are encouraged to keep their carbon footprint as small as possible. With summer just around the corner, we take a look at three home-grown brands employing environmental practices to make products for the hot weather that will have you looking cool while feeling even better.


Arienne Rossi had one thing in mind when she founded swimwear brand Wathaa – giving back to the planet. “I was working for a big corporate but wanted to invest my energy into something useful,” she says.

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The Italian combined her love for fashion, good design and the planet to launch Wathaa, which makes swimwear from recycled plastic. In the process she says she was “taking charge of all that plastic that is never going to disappear”.

Rossi says many people do not know that plastic can be reused when properly recycled. “Plastic bottles can be melted into plastic chips, which can be used to make polyester yarn that is then used to weave any polyester fabric as a new one.”

She says companies are reluctant to recycle plastic this way because of the extra cost involved. Her company has a stitching factory in China where Rossi’s ethical philosophy continues.

“We partner with a facility in South China which is fully certified by BSCI [the Business Social Compliance Initiative] … We work closely with the team to make sure the employees are really happy. We care about our workers and want them to feel special.”

Paper Shades

After 10 years in product development, Hongkonger James Chu got tired of choosing between short-lasting fast-fashion and overpriced luxury brands. He set up Paper Shades, which makes funky sunglasses from recycled paper and plastic waste (even the offcuts are collected and returned to the paper mill for recycling).

“I wanted to create a product that benefited the consumer and the environment and supported a sustainable business model,” Chu says.

Made in China and assembled in Hong Kong, the sunglasses range from HK$120 to HK$150.

“We don’t use any plastic waste – and don’t forget the environmental benefits of not having millions of plastic sunglasses lost to the beach, the forest or the ocean each year,” Chu says. “And all glues used are non-toxic, water-based and free of VOCs [volatile organic compounds] so they don’t give off harmful fumes.”

Makara Surf

On Tap Mun Island off the coast of Sai Kung Country Park, Canadian-born Chris Tilbe is hand-shaping surfboards – and a better future.

Tilbe is founder of the Makara Surf Company – Hong Kong’s only surfboard shaper – and is a follower of strict green guidelines since first becoming aware of the seriousness of marine pollution in 2002.

“People blame the mainland [China] for marine waste, but as the EPD [Environmental Protection Department] states, 95 per cent of the rubbish on Hong Kong shores comes from local land-based sources,” he says, adding that Hongkongers are the world’s number-one wasters.

To do his green bit, Tilbe launched the “1% Initiative” that aims to waste only 1 per cent of the materials that go into making each surfboard.

“I calculate the waste percentage by taking the weight of the waste produced and comparing it to the final weight of the product,” he says. “If the surfboard weighs 2.2kg then I aim to only create 1 per cent of that weight as waste.”

This month he has taken waste efficiency to a new level. “Starting in March, the only waste I’ll be making is basically just some dust, latex gloves and some paint brushes. I don’t think there are many shapers taking waste reduction as seriously as I am.”

He is also expanded his “Godly” line of surfing products which includes Surf Gunk (surfboard wax), Kook Spray (mosquito spray), Godly Slab (surfer soap) and lip balm. “I recently tested face cream and I’m looking into sunscreen,” he says.

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All items are made on Tap Mun and are organic and use eco-friendly packaging. Tilbe has also set up a petition to help educate Hongkongers about marine waste.