Hong Kong-based fashion designer and stylist Priscilla I’Anson tells us about the in and outs of the fashion industry in Hong Kong, what it’s like to be a young designer, and how the government and institutions needs to step up their game when it comes to supporting homegrown talents.
Priscilla I’Anson launched fashion brand PI’A last year, following a six-year-long styling career during which she appeared as a head stylist for “Asia’s Next Top Model” and briefly hosted Stylesetter’s “Stylista” series for Starworld. PI’A updates classic pieces with a modern twist, such as an off-the-shoulder oxford shirt or a fully backless jumpsuit. Today, she’s a household name in the Hong Kong fashion industry, a style authority, and an entrepreneur carving out a unique space in the retail industry for herself.
I actually think Hong Kong is probably one of the easiest places to be a designer. Everything is so efficient in this city. Everything gets done quickly. We have such easy access to China, where all the factories are. There are trade shows all the time, bringing different fabric suppliers into the city. Li & Fung is here, and they’re one of the biggest manufacturers of garments in the world. Because they’re here, there’s a whole industry around fashion and apparel here. I would say it’s probably one of the best places to be a designer in the world.
I feel supported by my peers. I believe that if there are more of us, we can all come up together and be successful together. But I don’t really feel support from government or institutions. I think there’s a lot that can and should be done to support us young designers. A lot of us are creating our own opportunities, and that’s good, because it means we have to fight for what we believe in and really work hard for it, but it would be so much easier if we had the support of big retailers or government through subsidies or mentorships or stuff like that. So we have to actively seek out these opportunities. There are government funds that are set up that are supposed to help young designers, but I personally feel like it could be done better. The money is there, and that’s fantastic, but I don’t personally think the money is being allocated in a way that is beneficial to young designers. I have certain designer friends who try to pitch for funding for things, but they don’t come from a traditional design background, therefore they get rejected. There’s a fund that’s supposed to help designers participate in trade shows overseas, but that fund does not cover showroom attendants, so if you’re working for a showroom then you won’t get the money. There are little bureaucratic problems that get in the way of really serving the actual purpose of the fund. And the fund is quite significant, about $200 million is put into this fund, but I don’t know where the money is going. I think steps have been taken to help, but I don’t think the help is helping.
If you want to support Hong Kong designers, a great thing would be to go to the big retailers and ask them to buy local brands. I used to work at Lane Crawford as a buyer. If we have customers come into the store requesting certain brands be carried by them, that information gets relayed back to the buyers and the buyers do consider it. So help us do that — go to Lane Crawford, go to I.T, go to Harvey Nichols and tell them you want to see more young Hong Kong brands. That information will get back to the buyers for sure.
There are a lot of retailers who say things like, “If you’re really serious about what you’re doing, you’d move to New York or Paris.” Why? Hong Kong, Asia, China — these are manufacturing hubs for so many huge brands. Why is it that we have to be overseas in order to be successful? I don’t think that makes any sense whatsoever. I’m personally in Hong Kong because I want to be close to my factory. I work with them probably closer than any big brands based overseas who have a contractor based in Asia. Why isn’t it okay for brands in Asia to do just as well? I don’t think where you live should dictate how successful you are. I get it: Hong Kong’s small. It’s a tiny market. You can be very successful in Hong Kong, but if you go to a bigger city you’re in a bigger market. The potential is bigger. But I don’t see how you can’t be based in Hong Kong and not be successful overseas — especially with the internet. The times are changing. I one hundred per cent stand by the fact that I’m here.
I would say that nowadays, it’s definitely growing. I was born here, I grew up in Hong Kong. When I was young, there was nothing. You either had the really big brands, or you had G2000 or Giordano. It wasn’t that fashionable or creative. And then I think for a very long time, it was all about the very big brands. But I have to say, in the past 7 years, since I’ve been back, I’ve noticed more and more young brands popping up, or more fashion-based businesses starting. The interest for this kind of stuff a few years ago was nothing, but nowadays, everyone’s really interested in it. I think people are really trying to find pieces that are unique and different that other people don’t necessarily have. That’s a really, really positive thing, because it means that there will be more young brands popping up. It’s just difficult because the rents are so high in Hong Kong. So that’s why pop-up formats where we can all come together and share the rent is a very good opportunity for us. We’re investing in something more short-term at an affordable price point and we can really test the market to see what the customer profile in the area is like and how it might be if we did have a permanent store.
Just this past Fashion Week in Paris, Hong Kong Trade Development Council sponsored several designers to have a fashion show in Paris. They came together and had one big show, showcasing Hong Kong designers. It’s a great step forward — but it’s a small step. There’s so much that has to be done, and it’s a very difficult task ahead of them. They’re going in the right direction, but it needs to be on a larger scale. I know that’s easier said than done, but I believe it can be done and at least they’re trying.
Success in business can be defined in many different ways and the definition changes over time. For me, at the moment, it’s producing good products, getting it out there, making sure my clients are happy and satisfied with what they’re getting from PI’A, and just contributing to making them feel good every day. I know that maybe sounds cheesy, but I believe that will translate into good sales. If I focus on a figure, that’s unattainable. If I focus on the product, and just working on that and making it as good as possible, the sales will come.