Lai Chi Kok – Hong Kong’s version of Dongdaemun and Camden Market for fashion start-ups
It appears that most major cities in the world have a market hub for budding entrepreneurs. London has Camden Market, Seoul has Dongdaemun Market and Melbourne has the Jam Factory. Now Hong Kong has it own as the old factory district of Lai Chi Kok is evolving into a start-up hub for fashion designers.
“Many old factories and market areas in Australia, South Korea and Britain have been turned into trendy markets for fashion, food and other creative starts-ups,” said Bosco Law Ching-kit, CEO of textiles firm Lawsgroup. “I hope to turn Lai Chi Kok into something similar like Camden Market in London or Dongdaemun Market in Seoul.”
“I think Lai Chi Kok is similar to Dongdaemun in Seoul. Both have a historical relationship with textiles and have now become a hub for young designers and creative start-ups,” he said.
Dongdaemun, a former wholesale market, is now surrounded by 26 shopping malls with 30,000 speciality shops that sell everything from clothes to toys and food zones.
London’s Camden Town is known for its more than 1,000 shops selling fashion, music, art and food. The site of a former jam-making building in Melbourne, the Jam Factory has been converted into a shopping centre with fashion stores and restaurants.
Lawsgroup was founded by Bosco’s grandfather and over the decades it has become one of the largest in the world with over 20,000 workers sewing clothes for many international brands including GAP, JC Penney and Uniqlo. It also founded the local fashion chain Bossini.
The strong textiles relationship may explain why he decided to spend HK$600 million (US$76.54 million) to turn two of the family owned factory buildings in Lai Chi Kok into creative shopping centres called D2 Place One in 2012 and D2 Place Two in 2016.
The company has helped over 4,000 fashion and creative start-ups to set up shop at its two malls. It offers rents that are 30 to 50 per cent cheaper than market rates and flexible terms. It also has six-step mentoring programme for young designers which allows them to selling their clothes and accessories at its weekend market for a small fee of HK$800 per time, allowing them to upgrade to pop-up stores and shops on reasonable short-term leases.
Lawsgroup’s weekend market attracts more than 2.5 million customers a year, helping the start-ups generate revenues of US$3 million a year.
“What we want to create is a hub for fashion designers and other creative industries which is linked to the history of Lai Chi Kok, which was home to many textile companies,” Law said.
Lai Chi Kok is increasingly attracting more tourists and shoppers. A “Made in Hong Kong” carnival will be held on July 1, after the success of Songkran Hong Kong in April, a Thai festival to welcome the new year.
Once occupied by the beloved Lai Yuen amusement park from 1948 to 1997, textile factories and cooked food stalls, Lai Chi Kok, near Kowloon West has become increasingly upmarket.
According to Cheng Po Hung, adviser to the Hong Kong Museum of History Lai Chi Kok literally means “lychee corner”. “It was named as Lai Chi Kok as there was a small rock at the bay of the area which looked like a lychee,” Cheng said.
“Lai Chi Kok area has been changed substantially in recent years and it has now become a modern retail and business district,” he added.
Besides Lawsgroup, New World Development (NWD) last year announced plans to invest about HK$25 billion to create an “emerging industrial cluster” that will feature co-working spaces to attract innovative technology start-ups.
“Together with another three sites the firm owns in the area, we will create an ‘New World Emerging Industrial Cluster’ with a gross floor area of 2.1 million square feet to generate synergies in its future development projects in the area,” said Adrian Cheng Chi-kong, executive vice-chairman of NWD. The company also plans to build a grade A office at the junction of Wing Hong Street, Yu Chau West Street and Wing Ming Street.
Keith Hemshall, executive director and head of office services at Cushman & Wakefield Hong Kong, was a bit more sceptical about Lai Chi Kok emerging as a hub for fashion start-ups.
“Traditionally, Lai Chi Kok was an industrial area and more recently has attracted companies from the sourcing sector. The government has encouraged the redevelopment of industrial buildings in the area with D2 One and Two being prime examples,” Hemshall said.
“New World’s acquisition of three sites in the area demonstrates their belief that the area will evolve into a strategic business hub. Assuming New World continue the ‘artisanal’ theme of their recent office developments, the focus will be on producing high quality, innovative and green buildings which are unlikely to be affordable for start-ups,” he said.
Hemshall sees Yuen Long or Lantau as possible locations for start-up hubs, adding that co-working operators represent the best environment for fostering start-ups as they are located throughout Hong Kong with prices to suit all budgets.