The fashion industry is facing unprecedented challenges with conventional commerce crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. A handful of century-old American department stores such as Barneys have declared bankruptcy, while Macy’s is trying to raise as much as US$5 billion in debt financing to avoid an approaching fate of failure. Hong Kong is no exception. Months of large-scale protests followed by the hit of Covid-19 have cast a tremendous shadow over the once-prosperous luxury retail hub. On April 27 this year one of Asia’s pioneering fashion enterprises, Joyce Boutique, was delisted from the Hong Kong stock market and went private, effectively ending its 27-year-long run as a public-listed company. The boutique chain, bought by Lane Crawford, proposed to delist itself in mid-December last year, citing the political unrest and poor economic performance. How Asian fashion designers are helping frontliners in coronavirus fight Despite this setback its founder, Joyce Ma, will still be remembered as a retail visionary due to her illustrious fashion sense, which has always been ahead of its time. Here’s how it all began. Ma did not intend to build a fashion empire View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Fashion Elder (@the_fashion_elder) on Dec 2, 2016 at 7:28am PST Although a flair for retail runs in Ma’s blood – her grandfather owned the Wing On department store – she did not intend to pursue a career in fashion. Way before Joyce was conceptualised, Ma married young and was content to be a housewife. But life had other plans for her. In 1969, Ma’s uncle approached her to open her very own boutique at Wing On. Two years later, Joyce Boutique was thriving, and Ma expanded it by setting up shop at one of the city’s most prestigious locations, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. She was deemed Asia’s No 1 buyer View this post on Instagram A post shared by COMME des GARÇONS (@cdgarchive) on Sep 30, 2019 at 7:44am PDT The 1970s saw a pivotal change in the history of Hong Kong fashion. Women traded in their tailored mandarin-collar dresses for ready-to-wear bell-bottoms, edgy blazers and contemporary gowns. The local elite would fly to Paris to get their luxury fashion fix. It was Ma who saw this gap in the market. She started introducing clothes from European and Japanese fashion designers to the region, supplying the elites with designer clothing. STYLE’s best luxury, fashion and influencer stories this week Ma had an eye for spotting talented fashion designers View this post on Instagram Fashion icons Joyce Ma (@joycehk) and Dries Van Noten (@driesvannoten )#joycehk #driesvannoten #vitakin #originalvitakin A post shared by Vita Kin (@vitakin_originals) on Oct 16, 2016 at 1:28am PDT From the 1970s to the 1990s, Ma brought in designs by Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Comme des Garçons and Issey Miyake, among many avant-garde collections, transforming Hong Kong into East Asia’s luxury fashion capital and her once-humble boutique into a fashion empire. Later, she brought more collections from talented designers around the world into Joyce Boutique before they become household names. In fact, she bought Dries Van Noten’s collection in the 1980s, early in his fashion career. The endorsement by Joyce gave Van Noten prestige. A few years later, Ma opened the Belgian designer’s first store in Hong Kong. Ma is a fashionista herself Often named one of the world’s best-dressed women, Ma is frequently photographed in elegant gowns, designer coats and high-waisted pants. Her signature make-up look often featured red lipstick. Miuccia Prada’s visionary legacy: ‘Ugly is attractive … ugly is human’ Ma’s favourite designer is one of her picks at Joyce – Yohji Yamamoto. When she's not being the “glamorous Joyce Ma”, her more relaxed outfit variations include a white T-shirt and a wraparound sarong. She is the first Asian to be honoured in Italy’s Fashion Hall of Fame In 1995, in honour of Ma’s work to establish a retail presence for Italian designers in Southeast Asia, she was the first person of Asian descent to be inducted into the Italian Fashion Hall of Fame. The hall of fame recognises the efforts of people to the Italian fashion industry. Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter . Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.