Is HK$200 million too little, too late to revive Hong Kong fashion industry?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 March, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 1:54pm

News that Hong Kong's fashion industry landed a HK$200 million investment in the government's latest budget has bought hope to the creative sector. But some see this as a case of too little, too late.

Why did it taken the government so long to take notice of the industry's potential in the city, when local culture has been obsessed with fashion and shopping malls have been dominated by Western style and luxury brands for decades?

The interest and spending power is clearly here, with big brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and the like often reporting that their Hong Kong stores are among their top five performers in the world. If the government wants to see another Vivienne Tam emerge from the city, just throwing money at the problem is not going to solve anything. Tam, for the record, had to move all the way to New York to really make her name.

The HK$200 million will be managed by Hong Kong Design Centre and used in a series of promotional fairs and overseas scholarships for Hong Kong students. It will be interesting to see how this is allocated and used. Government agencies are not known for being particularly in touch with the creative sector, which needs to be engaged to push promising talent into the mainstream.

There are several serious problems with the current state of Hong Kong fashion: lack of mentorship, business support and industry advice for young designers, and a jarring separation between the so-called local fashion scene and the predominantly English-speaking international one. Even cross-promotion has been difficult. Many local designers coming from Hong Kong's own schools are not given enough industry skills or networks to survive the basic launch of a line. There is little interactional between our biggest retailers, such as Lane Crawford and I.T with government and local educational institutions and young designers.

The fact that these entities function separately with the loosest and most perfunctory of ties, beggars belief if you consider the retail spend, advertising, rent, and column centimetres dedicated to fashion in Hong Kong. It's just another example of how mind bogglingly out of touch the government is with popular culture here.

But all is not lost, the HK$200 million budget is a good start - overseas scholarships will provide an opportunity for the talented but less privileged to learn skills at top international schools in global fashion capitals.

Hopefully, some of them will return to set up their own businesses and contribute to a fledgling creative fashion scene. There is already a fair amount of fashion design talent coming from Hong Kong, but compared to other cities, they generally need more guidance in how to finesse their designs and build a well-edited message and aesthetic voice to their brand.

Technical skills are in no shortage here, and with our proximity to the world's biggest manufacturing centre in southern China, sowing good seeds should reap promising rewards. Ultimately, the biggest challenge (HK$200 million or not) comes with sustaining a successful business once it gets off the ground - something that nearly all creative independents have a tough time achieving here due to obscenely high rents and greedy landlords.

That is a larger problem for the city as a whole, and until it is addressed, the Hong Kong government's hope for a flood of globally recognised local fashion designers adding serious cultural clout and kudos to "Asia's World City" any time soon is just a pipe dream.