Hong Kong’s street fashion labels test the boundaries with style

Urban brands such as I Sick Leave Tomorrow and Fallacy Butcher create edgy designs with dark motifs that reflect disillusionment in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 July, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2016, 5:33pm

Brothers Rexx Tse Chung-yin and Sai Tse Chung-ming lead somewhat double lives.

During the day older brother Rexx Tse works for a sandpaper manufacturer, while little brother Sai Tse repairs air-conditioners. After work they head to their studio in Kwai Chung to work on designs for their street fashion label, I Sick Leave Tomorrow.

As the “Chinglish” in the label’s name suggests, the designs have a Hong Kong touch.

The white tea towel with a Good Morning greeting along with Chinese characters, is found in many Hong Kong homes and has the same status in local culture as the red-white-and-blue nylon bags, and is inspiration for a design on a T-shirt and a pair of socks.

But instead of the cheery greeting it reads “go to hell”.

Sai Tse, 35, says they like to push buttons with his fashion design.

“Some friends bought the T-shirt and wore it. But they were scolded by their parents and bosses.”

Rebelliousness and aversion to establishment are usual themes adopted by street fashion designers. Besides testing boundaries, street designers are usually fans of counter-culture sports such as skateboarding and parkour. The Tse brothers are no exception – both are freestyle BMX riders, with two black BWX bikes greeting visitors at the entrance of their industrial building studio.

“Together with Shocker BMX [who often hit the streets at night and do freestyle cycling around the city], we made the BMX videos and produced T-shirts for them. Our products are sold online, in White Noise Records [in Prince Edward] and other boutique and handicraft stores.”

Sai says their label shows Hongkongers’ urge to enjoy an extra day off in their busy and hectic lives.

“Hongkongers spend most of their time working, without much leisure time. Another one of our designs is “I Don’t Like Monday” which is another common grievance. But the theme also refers to the Cleveland Elementary School shooting that took place in 1979 in California. The shooter is a young girl. When asked why she carried out the shooting, she answered “I don’t like Mondays”. It inspired Bob Geldof, lead singer of Irish rock band The Boomtown Rats, to write a song of the same name.”

Dark motifs are also among their sartorial repertoire. One design on their T-shirt shows the Japanese amulet used by late star Lam Ching-ying who played a Taoist monk in popular Chinese vampire films in the 1980s and ’90s when he fought against zombies.

“We want to introduce Hong Kong culture through our designs. The notorious taxi-driver-serial killer Lam Kor-wan’s selfie is another of our designs.”

All the designs are screen printed by the design duo at their studio.

They started designing clothes and making them eight years ago when they couldn’t find casual wear to their liking, so decided to make it themselves.

Rexx Tse says they spent couple of years trying to figure out their style.

“It was chaotic at first, without a unique theme. There was a time when streetwear became very commercialised, with everybody doing send-ups [of social phenomena] to pander to market taste. We also jumped on the bandwagon. But in the end, we grew tired of it as everybody was doing the same thing and the street fashion wear showing designs of send-ups was like uniform. So we just stick to our own preferences and themes now.”

Fallacy Butcher is another street-fashion label that comments on society. It was established in 2012 by advertising film editors Tat Ho and Pat Chan Chung-ming who see their label as a way to vent their anger about social ills.

A design on their hat shows a wolf’s head being stabbed with a knife. Another shows “F*** Up City” in bold print. Pat Chan, 31, says public anger is boiling in society due to bungling government officials and the widening gap between the rich and the poor under Leung Chun-ying’s administration.

“Many people hate the wolf which signifies Leung for his cunning and ruthlessness. Our city is messed up with the grassroots being exploited by the rich and powerful. One design of us is a picture we took in a pork stall in a wet market. In the picture, the pork seller slashes a suit-clad man with a knife. The design strikes a chord with people as it shows the underprivileged taking revenge against the rich and powerful.”

The pair also collaborate with local underground music bands including Rain in Time and No Yan, designing memorabilia, T-shirts and other fashion wear for their gigs.

Peppering his spiel on the government wrongs with expletives, Chan says they get inspiration from daily lives, struggles and discontent with social woes.

“We are the Yellow Umbrella generation. I hate the Mandatory Provident Fund which lines the pockets of investment managers while ordinary people are forced to make investments with their hard-earned money. One of my favourite street-fashion labels is Obey Clothing [found by American illustrator as an extension of his work in social activism]. Good street fashion labels should show the zeitgeist. For young people like us in Hong Kong, demonstrating on the streets is useless now as it goes nowhere.”