Hong Kong maternity wear gets hip
Mothers-to-be spoiled for choice with eye-catching prints and stylish swimwear
Tent-like proportions, frumpy frills and black everything. It's as if the bulk of maternity fashion was made for women, who, having conceived, are mourning their condition, while their sense of style has been removed. This is what some claim the niche market has, until recently, offered mothers-to-be in Hong Kong.
Fortunately, a handful of dedicated retailers are changing the scene. They've tapped into Hong Kong's entrepreneurial spirit, too, inspired by ambitious women who won't settle for any old thing, least of all during a nine-month stretch when the wine is well out of reach.
Mayarya is one such venture that has made significant strides with a stand-alone shop in Sheung Wan. Designer Reika Shetty says she opened the shop in response to a lack of fashionable options for pregnant women.
"Most retailers in Hong Kong either import traditional maternity wear from China that is very frumpy, or expensive brands mostly from the UK that we respect," she says. "Maternity fashion here still remains quite traditional with most women sticking to the preconceived notion that maternity is short-lived and they can compromise on style. There are a few brands that defy that traditional mindset and we are proud to say that we started that trend."
Along with Mayarya's own designs, the store stocks popular international brands such as a Kate Middleton favourite Paige Jeans, Belgian label Fragile, supportwear experts Blanqi and Japanese brand Sweet Mommy. But it is the brand's own designs that have taken off, boasting celebrity fans such as Canto-pop stars Gigi Leung, Cara Grogan and Ella Koon.
Shetty attributes Mayarya's success to the company's understanding of what mothers-to-be want from a maternity wardrobe. "They are looking for fashion that is comfortable but doesn't compromise on style. They are also looking for unique prints, and we are collaborating with a British designer who does prints by hand exclusively for us," she adds.
Prints are an all-important part of the maternity wear market, agrees swimwear designer Sabina Wong-Sutch, owner of swimwear label Sabina Swims, based on Lyndhurst Terrace. Wong-Sutch launched her maternity collection after her first pregnancy, when she found it difficult to find styles that weren't plain and dowdy. With one of her most popular styles being the mix and match tankini that comes in more than 30 prints and 20 solid colours, it seems like her clients appreciate the sentiment.
"Our point of differentiation has always been our prints, and the options that we give for mixing and matching bottoms and tops with different colours, prints and sizes," says Wong-Sutch. "Mothers-to-be want to look feminine and fashionable, because most of the time, after their second trimester, they often feel like a whale. Anything to help them feel beautiful will be a huge confidence booster."
While helping women feel attractive is key, keeping a level of modesty in designs is also important, says Wong-Sutch. "We try to consider what will make women feel confident without looking too 'loud'. I think many pregnant women want to feel and look sophisticated, but somewhat understated."
Fruitlessly searching shelves for stylish maternity wear also struck a chord with Vicki Soh, owner of the Hong Kong outlet of Singaporean franchise Mothers en Vogue. "I fell in love with MEV during a trip to Singapore and decided to bring it to Hong Kong," says Soh. She says comfort and a reasonable price point are the main draws for MEV customers.
"Although MEV's focus is on using natural fabrics such as bamboo rayon, organic cotton, cotton, modal and linen for added comfort, absorbency and breathability, our price point comes in a little lower than many other brands available in Hong Kong." She also credits the designs' wearability and practicality during nursing, as in the X-tended collection.
"The truth is most mothers don't slip back into their pre-pregnancy clothes right after birth. Our customers gravitate towards designs that have been thoughtfully created for wear during pregnancy, nursing and post-baby."
Maternity sports wear is another area that has yet to be fully capitalised on, says designer Melissa Chu of San Francisco brand Rumi Yoga. "There are very few brands, if any, that design high-function maternity wear in the active wear space," she says. "Some companies do basic black yoga pants for pregnant women, but few are bright, colourful and made with high-quality fabrics."
Launched in late 2014, the brand has just moved into producing maternity wear and offers a new line of vibrant, environmentally friendly yoga trousers. The material is made from recycled plastic bottles (every pair uses 18 bottles), and the trousers come in colourful patterns inspired by 13th century Sufi poet and theologian, Rumi, after whom the brand is named. A range of yoga tops, made from reused coffee grounds, is soon to be released.
Chu says it's the accommodating fabrics that slots Rumi Yoga a notch above the rest. "The humid weather here means that mothers look for the lightest, most breathable and sweat-wicking fabrics," she says. "Our fabrics are lighter and more breathable to cater to the Southeast Asian climate - most international athletic wear brands do not consider this when launching in the market."