Philanthropic fashion finds a home in Hong Kong

Labels combine style and conscience to give consumers the chance to make a fashion statement with a difference

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2014, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2014, 11:31pm

While Hong Kong has long been a hub for high-end fashion; the city's identity has seen a shift - from one of indulgence, to one of more conscious inclusiveness. There's a recent generosity of spirit in Hong Kong's fashion culture that has led to a collection of labels and initiatives aiming to marry fashion with a greater cause.

There's a market for this sort of engagement, too. A recent Nielsen global consumer report shows that 52 per cent of Hong Kong's respondents would be willing to pay more for a product if they knew it was made in a socially responsible way. This is excellent news for Hong Kong's philanthropic creatives, and many have tapped into a sustainable business model that embraces innovation, style and relentless good karma.

A proponent of Hong Kong's charitable labels is the newly launched platform which promotes products that aim to make a positive and sustainable impact. Started by entrepreneurs Matt Davis and Anthony Lance, the idea was born after they noticed that consumers were beginning to care more about where their products came from. In their research, they found locally based designers who had also noted the trend and were creating socially engaging products that ranged from solar lanterns to jewellery reconstituted from ERWs (exploded remnants of war). These products were inspiring and innovative, but the pair saw that there was a gap in the market - a platform where designers could host their products and connect with customers who also cared. Although in its infancy, the reaction to PhatRice has been overwhelmingly positive, says Lance.

"PhatRice product partners have been eager to feature on the site, and users are keen to read each new story and featured product every week. As a result, they have connected with established retailers and local celebrities who want to partner with us to develop socially and environmentally responsible ranges," he says. "The best energy in the world is positive energy - by being a positive storyteller of true life change and social impact, PhatRice naturally energises and excites customers."

Sharing a similar mantra, Kingdom Wear was launched last month after co-founders Ben Cameron and William Budden found common ground in a shared pursuit of the ultimate T-shirt. Budden developed the Kingdom T-shirt, a lion silhouette, to represent traits that were synonymous with the cause - courage, power and hope. The design has been reproduced in five styles, reflecting different personality traits of people who might wear one.

The brand's next step was an introduction to the Mekong Club, an NGO that fights human trafficking and slavery. The Mekong Club was fitting on many levels and the pair decided to contribute 20 per cent of the company's annual net profit to the cause.

"Kingdom was venturing into the apparel industry and the Mekong Club is fighting slavery in its various forms. Forced labour in the apparel industry constitutes more than 65 per cent of slavery yearly, so it made absolute sense for us to be partners and throw our support behind their efforts," says Cameron.

Portovelo is another brand that aims to raise funds for charities in a long-term, sustainable way - similar to the Toms shoe model. A collection of casual and chic plimsolls, Portovelo is a hybrid between the French Riviera deck shoe and Hong Kong's bak fan yu canvas shoe which is worn by street hawkers and primary school children alike. The designs are simple, timeless and ideal for a venture with sustainability at its core.

Lavina Tien is the woman behind the label. Born and raised in Hong Kong, the idea came from her own ambition to find a shoe that suited her traveller's lifestyle. "Sneakers were too bulky, while ballet flats weren't rugged enough. I decided to design my own shoes that were comfortable and lightweight, but also stylish and easy to match," says Tien.

This season, Portovelo is supporting Flourishing Future, an Ulan Bator-based NGO that works towards hunger relief. Available through every pair of Portovelo shoes purchased provides 15 healthy meals for a hungry child.

Cassandra Postema's brand, Emi & Eve, is another social enterprise featured on PhatRice. A Dutch fashion designer, Postema was inspired after meeting a family who made jewellery out of recycled bullet and bomb casings in Cambodia. After meeting Chantha, a craftsman who had learnt the skill as an orphan, Postema saw an opportunity to build on the craft and commercialise it, creating a sustainable business for all involved. Sold at a selection of Hong Kong boutiques, Emi & Eve creates jewellery and bags that pair striking metals with hand-woven textiles sourced from a tsunami welfare centre in Thailand.

Bez & Oho's products should be familiar to anyone who has lived in Hong Kong. They are made using recycled materials that are part of the city's character. Bags and purses are constructed from cotton, denim, canvas and synthetics that have been overproduced in China. They are designed and made by people who have undergone rehabilitation for addiction or suffer with economic difficulties.

The label's name is taken from a biblical story of two craftsmen who shared their skills with others. It was founded seven years ago on the principles of shared learning and sustainable growth. The company's founder Annalisa Ryle has just teamed up with to launch a limited edition collection that represents Bez & Oho's identity and its collaborations to come.

Many of these projects have grown from well-meaning beginnings, and with consumers preferring labels that give something back to communities both home and abroad, they are set to stick around with their stylish and original designs.


Helping brands

Emi & Eve
Combining Saori hand-woven textiles with metal from bullet and bomb casings, the brand works with craftsmen in Cambodia and welfare centres in Thailand.

Styled to suit the active traveller, the label offers easy-to-wear canvas shoes and donates some of the proceeds to a different NGO each season.

Kingdom Wear
Committed to ending slavery in the Mekong, it produces T-shirts with the brand’s lion insignia in a variety of colours and styles.

Bez & Oho
Works with underprivileged and rehabilitated people to create original bags, wallets and accessories from recycled materials.