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As Fashion Exports Drop, Hong Kong Refocuses on Design


Hong Kong aims to be Asia's fashion center, but the Chinese territory has seen a big drop in clothing exports as the global economic crisis drags on. Now, the government is stepping in to stimulate the local fashion industry.

Hong Kong's Fashion Week features the usual parade of models on catwalks showing the latest designs, many of which end up in stores worldwide a year later. But as the global economic crisis lingers, exports of Hong Kong fashions are down more than 75 percent for January through April, from a year ago.

Felix Chung is chairman of the Hong Kong Apparel Society. He says that in the past, Hong Kong was a manufacturing center, but factories moved north to mainland China where costs are lower.

"All the manufacturers are changing their business model, from traditional manufacturing to design and manufacturing," said Chung. "They decided Hong Kong is the only city that has the ability to be the Asia Fashion capital."

Hong Kong's twice-a-year fashion weeks are mostly trade shows - bringing buyers and sellers together. In cities such as Paris and New York, fashion weeks are crammed with runway shows - where high-priced designers show off their work to celebrities and fashion journalists as well as to buyers.

Hong Kong mixes runways shows with trade shows

Chung says Hong Kong needs more runways shows to put the focus on designers.

But runway shows, with their models, music and lights, cost thousands of dollars. Designers sometimes seek sponsors to offset the price.

Hair, makeup, shoe and accessory companies sponsored some designers at Hong Kong's recent spring/summer 2010 event. On the catwalks, designers showed slim-cut pants and bold-shouldered jackets and tops mostly in red, blue, purple, gold, white or black. Some garments had elements of traditional Asian clothing, while others were more like fanciful costumes.

Some designers at the Hong Kong Fashion Week say they are cutting their clothes more for Asian customers, who tend to be shorter and slimmer than Westerners.

Grace Lam, senior fashion style editor of Vogue magazine in China, says domestic demand for locally designed garments is slowly rebounding. And she says designs from China and Hong Kong are starting to get known around the world.

"It has got its own statement with its own history, obviously a very long history, but I think street-wise they're still influenced by Europeans or by Americans' labels," said Lam. "And they like to wear the labels a lot."

Government put $1.3 million to promote fashion business

Even so, the global economic slowdown has undermined sales of Hong Kong and Chinese fashions.

To reinvigorate the fashion industry, the Hong Kong government says it will spend $1.3 million on promoting city's creativity.

This includes putting on a reality TV show centered on a design competition, similar to the popular U.S. show, Project Runway.

Hong Kong's newest crop of designers is at the forefront as fashion becomes more driven by entertainment.

Among them is Max Lam, who studies at the Hong Kong Design Institute. He won the Creativity Award at a recent student fashion show. He also published a glossy magazine, featuring his makeup, styling and design work.

During the recent student show, Mr. Lam strutted the catwalk with his model, taking bows and reveling in the limelight.

His model was painted black and wore a tiny black bikini top, a red wire skirt and platform shoes. Black banners embroidered in red silk draped over each of her arms. Mr. Lam says he styled his model's hair and makeup like a character in a Chinese opera.

"Because my design, this has come from China. You can see it is China style," he said. "The Chinese cage is a bird cage. My theme is constraint."

Even though Hong Kong's fashion industry is in a slump, Felix Chung, the Apparel Society chairman, says all of the city's graduating fashion students this year are finding jobs because of the new emphasis on design.


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