How did you end up launching a brand in Asia? “After graduating [in fashion design from Britain’s Nottingham Trent University, in 2005], I worked as a designer for a few retail brands in London, which meant I had to travel frequently. When I first came to Hong Kong, I knew I wanted to live here.
“Within a month I had moved and was working for a local fashion company, although I still dreamt of launching my own brand. It was only when I became a stylist and designer for a well-known Chinese artist that it became a reality.”
What’s the philosophy behind the Emma Wallace brand? “While working on red-carpet appearances, I noticed a gap for colourful, contemporary, feminine clothes that made an impact without being over the top or crazy. There were limited options for classic event wear with a twist.
“At the same time, brands like Self-Portrait were becoming popular but were only targeting a specific type of woman. I wanted to address the other side of her, one that’s chic but cheeky. I like the idea of adding my own twist to a casual style, which is why we have everything from a dungaree-inspired gown to embroidered T-shirts.”
With sportswear becoming popular, do you worry that Hong Kong is losing its love for formal wear? “In Hong Kong there are so many events and parties happening all the time that you don’t necessarily want to show up in activewear. Yes, there’s a huge lean towards sportswear but I do feel that women are coming back to dressing up. How else can you explain why the haute-couture market still exists? What I do is create a wardrobe that bridges the gap between them.”
What is the biggest challenge you face as a designer in Hong Kong? “The market here is saturated, so you need to get out there and get noticed. It’s essential that the customer understands your point of view and where you are coming from.”
Do you consider online or bricks and mortar better suited for an emerging designer? “It’s important to be available in both worlds. By going straight to online, I could access a wider range of people. I was able to test the water to see which styles were popular and where. The line wasn’t targeted at just the local woman but the modern contemporary woman everywhere.
“What I love about the retail space is that I can now meet these women and provide them with a service. With retail now, you have to offer more than just clothes. That’s why we include free tailoring and alterations, and can make specific styles in different colours. We also have an in-house stylist and host champagne nights every Thursday for customers.”