Creativity from an unlikely source — young, ambitious entrepreneurs– is cultivating China’s homegrown luxury industry. Particularly in Hong Kong, where relaxed taxes and government initiatives appeal to new businesses, industrious young men have created a niche market for haberdashery that is earning serious attention.
Mark Cho, 28, left his job at a London bank last year to found The Armoury, a popular men’s store in Hong Kong. Cho says, “After ten years of interest, I decided I could enjoy doing something more with it.” That’s not to say Cho abandoned all his business smarts to pursue fashion. In fact, Cho’s store was launched in conjunction with InvestHK, a government agency that promotes investment. “The business was designed specifically to be launched in Hong Kong. I think it would have been impossible elsewhere,” he says.
Justin Chang’s Hong Kong-based company, Ascot Chang, also benefits from its location. “Hong Kong’s a good climate,” the 24-year old Cornell graduate who abandoned an internship at a stock brokerage to ply his trade says, “because there’s no import tax, so [bringing in] materials from Europe [is cheaper].”
Chang’s store is known for its bespoke shirts, of which it makes 60,000 a year. His success is possible, he realizes, because “made in Asia” labels are losing their stigma. Chang says, “We lack the marketing power of ‘Made in Italy’ or ‘Savile Row bespoke’, but [for my generation] locally made products have a bit more cachet because they’re increasingly rare. There’s a nostalgic quality about them.”
“More and more [Hong Kongers] are cultivating their own sense of style and savoir–faire,” agrees Arnold Wong, the 19-year-old founder of Colonial Goods, a newly launched men’s wear label that celebrates Hong Kong’s colonial heritage.” Colonial Goods’ first T-shirt collection, released in August, teamed up with the 88-year-old knitting factory Lee Kung Man.
Likewise, the Armoury teamed up with popular Hong Kong tailor WW Chan & Sons to boost its image.“They provided a good starting base of customers, goodwill, and credibility,” says Cho, whose store has a corner devoted to its mentor-company.
Wong commissioned a photo shoot of well-dressed men in Hong Kong. The photos, which featured Chang, Cho, and Cho’s partners at the Armoury, have gone viral on men’s wear websites. The success of Hong Kong haberdashers, the entrepreneurs agree, is the close-knit community that they share, both personally and professionally, in an youthful environment looking to create its own identity, fashionably and economically.
photo credit: the armoury, ascot chang, colonial goods