Seeking New Markets at Hong Kong Fashion Week

Both faces of the apparel industry — the drive to create exciting and fresh fashion that will delight the customer, and the challenges of commercializing that inspiration into profit — were evident at the 20th Hong Kong Fashion Week for Spring/Summer held earlier this month and organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Center (HKTDC).

The four-day fair, which included a multitude of fashion shows, educational seminars, two exhibit halls, and three new zones (Small-Order, Men in Style and Packaging & Design), attracted more than 17,000 buyers from 76 countries and regions, a figure the HKTDC reports is up 3 percent over the previous year, with particularly big attendance hikes from Canada, India, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. This edition of the show for the first time also included exhibitors from Canada, Poland and Russia.

As a centuries-old trade hub known for its international flavor, Hong Kong provides an ideal  setting for fashion professionals to come together to see new products and trends from across the globe, and it provides opportunity for brands and manufacturers to get their products on display in front of a widely divergent group of people. It also offers a chance for new designers to get their start, says Kevin Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Fashion Designers Association.

Hong Kong, whose January to June 2013 apparel and accessories exports totaled $9.5 billion, offers significant support for designers, including Create Hong Kong, a government incubation program that offers funding for free-of-charge retail studio space (in quarters formerly used to house married police officers). Last year, the city invested $5 million in a fashion show (which landed in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Models in One Fashion Show,” with more than 300).

Beyond the support it provides, Hong Kong offers an opportunity to learn from and understand the requirements and working styles of the many different Asian markets represented there. “Wherever you go now, you see the same stores,” says Yeung. “Hong Kong designers offer something different.”

Many of the exhibitors at Hong Kong Fashion Week are drawn to the show because the city itself serves as a major shopping destination for millions of newly wealthy mainland Chinese. Apparel companies that want to get their names in front of this large population of shoppers often view Hong Kong as the perfect launch pad for their brand.   

This is certainly the case for infants’ and children’s wear brand codycoby. The Japan-based company, launched in 2005 and sold in department stores and in more than 20 of its own retail shops in Japan, currently sells only in country but finds that many Chinese tourists buy the product, and it is looking to expand in China and beyond. “We want to try to open a retail store here so that Chinese people will become familiar with our brand,” says management planning division section chief Naoko Usami. “That is the first step in spreading in Asia, and then further overseas,” she says.

Going global
Like their U.S. counterparts, many Asian brands are looking to enhance their business by expanding globally. For codycoby, the need to move outside Japan is particularly urgent because of the declining birthrate in that country. “We have fewer and fewer babies in Japan. China and India have a lot of children and we have to focus on those countries. We cannot just stay in Japan,” says Naoko. Codycoby is also looking to gain market share via a brand new line of children’s wear treated with proprietary anti-mosquito technology.

Many other exhibitors were depending on performance technologies to set their products apart from the competition as they look to reach into new markets. House Yii International Limited, based in China, has moved away from garment manufacturing because “it was hard to be as competitive,” says company representative Kristine Wong, to producing several lines of fashion-oriented pantyhose featuring skin-care properties provided to the wearer via microencapsulation technology.

Currently the pantyhose are sold in Germany, Taiwan, Korea, Macau, Hong Kong and via some online stores in the United States, and House Yii is looking to build the brand into new regions and also expand its line, possibly into functional wear that cools or heats the body, says Wong. “The biggest challenge we have is educating consumers about the technology. The aloe vera, apricot kernel oil and shea butter encapsulated in the pantyhose bursts on friction, but not a lot of people really understand how it works until you explain that to them,” she says.

First-time exhibitor from Russia, International Fashion Group, produces affordable luxury women’s wear under its Forzaviva and Lowett brands, as well as for private label, and is looking to expand into Europe and South America, which marketing and business development director Alina RÄtsep says is particularly difficult because of the challenge of understanding the varying buying preferences from region to region.

RÄtsep says that sourcing over the past two years has changed “dramatically” with salaries and other demands continuing to rise at the more than 50 Chinese factories where it manufactures. “Now, workers demand conditions like living arrangements, or moving their families to factories. Workers have more power, and factories are looking after workers more and more.” That means higher costs for the company, but RÄtsep says the company has worked hard to keep costs down by being vertical, flexible and producing in small quantities.

Small orders, men’s wear, get big attention
Producing in small quantities is such a selling point that this year, for the first time, the show debuted the Small-Order Zone, specifically devoted to it. The zone featured 150 companies that produce in lots ranging from 20 to 1,000 pieces.

“The trend these days is for companies to keep inventories low, and to turn them quickly,” says Gary Cheung, business executive, publications and e-commerce department, HKTDC, who notes that the zone is seeing lots of interest, particularly from Eastern European countries including Russia and Poland, as well as Cambodia and Thailand — countries where a large number of  companies are just getting their start and are not ready to produce in large quantities.

Ashish Kabra, vice president, garment division, of India-based Shrijee Lifestyle Pvt. Ltd., which was not in the zone, also says that “everyone is looking for small orders because it allows you to react to trends faster.” Shrijee, like so many exhibitors, is struggling with the high costs of raw materials and labor, which he says buyers are not interested in hearing about. “They just want cheaper, cheaper, cheaper,” he says.

Fashion Week’s new Men in Style zone was designed to address a growing interest from men in being fashionable — an interest that is particularly on the rise in countries such as China, where there’s a growing middle class that is now financially able to care about fashion. According to Euromonitor, global men’s wear sales grew by an estimated 2.8 percent to $441 billion in 2012, outpacing sales in women’s wear of 2.7 percent.

Editor’s Note: Hong Kong Fashion Week for Fall/Winter will be held Jan. 13-16, 2014, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. For more information:

Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected].

i.Dummy Could Revolutionize Apparel Industry
If you didn’t know better, you’d think the i.Dummy, developed by Dr. Allan Chan and other researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, was just a regular ole mannequin, but you’d be wrong. i.Dummy, which was on display at Hong Kong Fashion Week, is a revolutionary robotic mannequin system for the fashion industry that has the potential to completely revolutionize apparel development. The dummy can change its body shape and size and length, in sizes ranging from 6 to 16, at the push of a button on a computer.

i.Dummy, if commercialized, could potentially revolutionize apparel development operations by eliminating the need to keep a large number of fixed-size dummies in various sizes and body shapes, or to replace them when fit targets change, because the i.Dummy can transform itself to accommodate different sizes and shapes.

Chan says all changes made to i.Dummy are three-dimensional; in other words, they vary in width, thickness and length all at once automatically. i.Dummy can also rotate automatically for viewing in 360 degrees, to allow fit to be assessed from all angles.

The i.Dummy can be easily controlled via a user-friendly interface on a PC or via Bluetooth technology on a smartphone, meaning that potential clients could input measurements from afar.

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