High startup costs discourage many budding designers from opening their own labels. Henry Lau, owner of SPY, a successful independent label, faced the same problem. He had one of the first boutiques in the Rise Commercial Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, which at the time was full of barbers, tailors and detective and travel agencies. Within three years, the building quickly filled up with trendy boutiques and rents for 100 square feet skyrocketed from $3,000 to $20,000. Similar malls in Causeway Bay have undergone the same transformation. In this competitive atmosphere, one wrong move can send you out of business. So how can a new label survive? Lau admits that updating independent styles to mainstream trends is important, but consistency is the key to maintaining a vital brand name. “People recognize the names because of the design. If you become too mainstream, you’re likely to get kicked out of the game.” Lau also suggests new designers join in public events, such as the annual fashion show held by the Trade and Development Council. It’s the best channel to get an independent designer's work to an international merchandiser. But that’s assuming the designer's established, which is difficult enough. Shopping mall Canton 80, set to open in a couple of months on Canton Road, will be starting off with an average rent of $30,000 a shop. If upcoming designers find it difficult to get sales (and with rents like that, they most likely will), they can bring their work to trendy department stores like AO2 and LCX (Lane Crawford Express). AO2 especially has merchandisers who keep their eyes on upcoming talent. And the bigger the store is, the more consigned designers it gets, and this is pushing the local independent industry forward. “AO2’s vision is great,” Lau says, “they are trying to dig up hidden talent, and as a result they are bringing in more and more brands party-goers will be keen on.” It’s a small step, but for local creative industries, it’s a step in the right direction.