Property developer Nan Fung Group plans to invest HK$700 million to revitalise a textile factory that played a major part in the founding of the company. The plan, being put before the Town Planning Board in January, is to transform the building into a creative landmark for fashion culture and an incubator for young design talent. If approved, it will be one of the largest privately initiated heritage conservation projects for cultural and creative purposes in the city. Industry veterans hope the project will fill the gap left by government-led initiatives, which cannot meet the needs of the fashion design industry. The group said it wanted to transform Nan Fung Mills Nos4, 5 and 6, in Pak Tin Par Street, Tsuen Wan, into The Mills, with a total gross floor area of 264,000 square feet. The original mills played a key role when the group was founded in 1954 by Chen Din-hwa, who began Nan Fung Textiles, one of the largest manufacturers in the city at the time. But as the textile industry shifted to the mainland, the factory was forced to cease operations in 2008 and became a storage site. Around 61,000 sq ft of the building will be allocated to the development of an incubation centre, offering studios to young designers at "affordable" rents as well as entrepreneurial training and mentorship programmes. The number of studios and level of "affordable" rents are not yet available, said Benson Chu, chief financial officer of Nan Fung Development, adding that conservation experts would be hired to look after the building's architecture. Chu said the group would partner with veteran fashion designers and education institutions, including famed fashion design college Central Saint Martins in London. The group would also set up a fund to invest in young designers who have shown potential, said Chu. Around 37,000 sq ft of the building will be turned into a textile and fashion gallery and resource centre for the public and students, operating on a non-profit basis. The rest of the 145,000 sq ft of space will be rental areas for services supporting the industry, such as make-up and photography. Chu said a high-ceilinged atrium would be available for large-scale catwalk shows. Veteran fashion designer William Tang, who is one of the members of the project's steering committee, said publicly funded initiatives to boost design were too remote from the industries' needs. He said although the Design Centre and creative cluster PMQ appeared to be successful, they did not offer what young designers needed, particularly fashion designers. He said while the Design Centre focused on fashion design, PMQ was merely a showroom, not a cradle for future creative industries. With the education elements and workshops, he hoped The Mills would fill the gap in the city's design industries. "[The Mills] will be a place to create, not just a place to sell," said Tang. He also criticised the Trade Development Council for its emphasis on the mainland market. Tang recalled that before 1997, the council made efforts to promote Hong Kong fashion designers on the international stage. But after the handover, the council only cared about China. "Now [mainland] China doesn't need us, and we've stopped exposing ourselves on the international stage," he said. The success of The Mills would hopefully inspire other private developers to invest in culture, Tang said. Earlier this year, former Jockey Club top executive and photography collector Douglas So Cheung-tak invested more than HK$100 million to revitalise a grade III historic building in Happy Valley into F11, the city's first private museum for photography. "[Developers] only thought about making money in the past. But investment in culture is a long-term commitment to Hong Kong," he said.