In the world of fashion Hong Kong played, for the most part, a role centered on the production and sourcing of garments. Yet as manufacturing continues to shift south, the city hopes to nurture local design talent by backing fashion fairs like Centrestage that took place from September 5 to 8.
Walking into the fairgrounds of the third edition of Centrestage, fluorescent tubes and black and yellow stripes on the ground boosted a futuristic theme. "Tomorrow Lab" was the theme of the fair organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Its location in a hall at the Convention and Exhibition Center gave 8,700 visiting buyers the chance to view the city’s emblematic skyscrapers and harbour through the glass walls while showcasing 230 brands and presenting over 20 fashion shows.
“We don’t only want to promote local brands and designers, but rather Asia and all of the world to come to Hong Kong to demonstrate new brands and design talents,” said Lawrence Leung, chairman of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) Garment Advisory Committee and managing director at textile manufacturer Sun Hing Knitting Factory Ltd, in an interview at the fair. “In Hong Kong, we’re at the center of Asia and easily accessible for many parts of the world.”
The garment manufacturing industry in Hong Kong took off after investors from Shanghai with a background in textiles arrived after World War II, according to Leung. Hong Kong turned into a global sourcing hub in the past decade, where buyers from international brands place their orders, as basic garment production shifted to countries like Cambodia, Bangladesh and Myanmar, leaving only more sophisticated production in Hong Kong.
The number of apparel manufacturers shrank from 1,081 in 2008 to 603 in 2018, according to the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong. Likewise, clothing exports fell 5 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2018 after sliding 7 percent in 2017. To support the local fashion sector, the government earmarked 500 million Hong Kong dollars (63,7 million US dollars) in its 2016-17 budget to promote local labels and Centrestage offers a platform for these budding designers.
Centrestage also wants to establish itself as an international fashion event. The fair, previously titled “World Boutique, Hong Kong” was shifted from January to September to better fit into the global trade fair calendar. The aim of the fair isn’t to emulate existing trade shows but to become a flagship fashion event in Asia, said Byron Lee, senior exhibitions manager at Hong Kong Trade Development Council. The brands that show their collections at Centrestage have been picked by a panel of buyers, fashion editors and other fashion professionals, he explains.
Divided into three thematic zones Metro, Iconic and Allure, avant-garde designer labels or those focused on craftsmanship dominated the fair. Casual urban brands made up a fifth of the total collections. Korean labels like Navy Studio with stimulating details and cuts at attractive price points are mixed in with quirky Hong Kong designer labels like Loom Loop and artisanal indigo dyed hats and scarves by Yoshiharu Wada, which preserved techniques from the Japanese Edo period.
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“It’s actually our first show outside of Europe”, said Nada Lahjomri, sales manager at AFA Agency, representing Austrian, German and Swiss designers at the DACH showroom booth during the fair. The main idea behind coming to Hong Kong is to explore the market in China for its designers and establish contacts, she said. Lahjomri expressed appreciation for how Centrestage organizers helped brands meet buyers through a matching service. So far, she met eight buyers and received one order.
The number of buyers rose 2.4 percent to 8,700 from the last edition, as visitors from Canada, France, Germany, India, Korea, Russia, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates increased significantly.
“Hong Kong buyers make up around 50 percent of the visitors at Centrestage, that’s why we have rather high expectations for the local market in Hong Kong”, Lim Donghwan, team manager at Korean showroom Gyeonggi Fashion Creative Studio, said through a translator. Donghwan brought with him 13 brands that he believes have the potential to compete not only in Asia but internationally.
The second biggest group of buyers comes from mainland China, including department and multi-brand stores from Shanghai to Chengdu, according to Lee.
“There are a lot of new Chinese or Hong Kong designers. For us we will send a menswear or womenswear buyer to have a look at Centrestage to see what’s happening in Hong Kong or China”, said Michael Mok, General Merchandise Manager of Joyce. The Hong Kong multi-brand store which carries designers from JW Anderson to Marni also operates two stores in mainland China.
Long perceived as a garment manufacturer carrying out the production for Western brands, China is set to surpass the United States and the European Union by 2025 with a clothing market estimated at 400 billion US dollars, according to a report by the Institut Français de la Mode on women’s fashion in China. Although many Chinese women still prefer Western brands, local labels are becoming more inspiring and consumers are also growing more “fashion conscious”, the study said.
The streets of Shanghai already show how the influence of Western fashion is waning. “Thanks to social media and different trends picked up so quickly by bloggers and influencers, I honestly feel that the gap between East and West is shrinking“, Anupreet Bhuui, senior editor for global street style at trend forecasting company WGSN, said during her seminar on the fairground in Hong Kong. “Shanghai has really put itself on the global map, the kind of street style coming out of Shanghai is so interesting, it’s not influenced by the West or the East, Shanghai has it’s very individualistic take. It’s very modern, urban, contemporary.“
Local designers such as Redemptive, House of V and Loom Loop radiated an energy on the fairground and in shows that can only be found in an upcoming fashion scene. Centrestage also supported emerging talents with several contests: The Hong Kong young designers award on its last day, the Hong Kong Knitwear Designers’ Contest and the Redress Design Award, which claims to be the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition.
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To reinforce its aspirations to be an Asian fashion event, Centrestage invited three rising designer labels from China, Japan and Hong Kong to present their spring-summer 2019 collections at the opening gala show of the fair. Ms Min from China took inspiration from the golden twenties in Shanghai combining subtle traditional Chinese elements with contemporary shapes of global appeal. Facetasm from Japan, defied gender and age boundaries, to include the “missing part” in the fashion world in his latest collection. Hong Kong-based Idism created garments appealing to the senses in a fast moving fashion world. Leggings and sleeves also contained elements of the old Hong Kong, like neon lights that are disappearing in the city, and which Julio Ng, part of the designer duo, likes to capture with his camera.
“When you look at how small Hong Kong is and how far we have come until now, it’s a story worth telling”, Julio Ng, said about one of his favourite views on the city from Victoria Peak. It’s a breath-taking view from where the city’s majestic skyscrapers and harbour suddenly seem very small.
As the fashion world moves ever faster and its sector in mainland China gains more influence with its own vibrant designers and rising consumer power, the role Hong Kong will play remains to be seen. Lawrence Leung believes that commercial fashion activities will remain as the British law that’s practiced in Hong Kong helps buyers feel more protected when signing a contract.
“In Hong Kong we speak English well, have good commercial sense and know what I call a good ‘textile language’. So Hong Kong still has a big commercial role to play,” said Leung, who is also a director at the Federation of Hong Kong Garment Manufacturers. Although, he adds: “We keep reminding ourselves that we cannot fall back.”
FashionUnited was invited by the organisation to visit Centrestage in Hong Kong.
Photos: Centrestage & FashionUnited