14 November 2019
To win orders, designers typically need to participate in the same fashion show again and again to convince buyers that they are here to stay. Photo: HKTDC
To win orders, designers typically need to participate in the same fashion show again and again to convince buyers that they are here to stay. Photo: HKTDC

Why govt support for fashion startups may fall short

To help young people in the fashion industry, Hong Kong has set aside HK$500 million to boost the sector and provide more opportunities for local design talents.

However, people in the field are not quite sure if the government really knows what it is talking about.

First of all, half a billion Hong Kong dollars is not a lot in the fashion world, design professionals pointed out to RTHK.

According to the 2015-2016 budget plan, the money will be spent on, among other things, an incubation program for design startups, provision of overseas internships and study opportunities, and organizing local fashion events.

Also, financial assistance will be granted to local designers to enable them to participate in international fashion shows and competitions.

During a Hong Kong Fashion Week, a 3 meter x 1.5 meter booth costs about HK$5,000 for local designers, but in overseas shows, the fee can be ten times as much.

If one wants to organize a fashion show in top-notch places like New York and Paris, it would cost HK$3-5 million.

Venue cost is very high, says a consultant named Nicole who works for a non-profit organization that supports local brands.

“You are also going to need lighting, stage, music, animation and all that. Models are going to be really expensive, because that is the time when everybody needs them,” she notes.

If you choose smaller shows, they will cost less but still won’t be too cheap. Adding the booth rental, air ticket and hotel, we are still talking about a minimum of HK$50,000 a trip.

Even if designers skip these shows, maintaining an operation is still a struggle before winning big orders.

First, you are going to need samples, about 30 for each season, and those cost between HK$800-1,500 each.

Catalogue will be necessary for promotion; model and photographer charge about HK$1,000 an hour, and there are rentals for the shooting scene and fees for equipment.

Alan started his brand a year ago. He said it costs him HK$100,000 a quarter to run the business.

The government’s understanding of the fashion business may also be somewhat flawed.

“To succeed, the best way is to focus resources on a few major shows and designers,” said Nicole.

One concern of overseas buyers is whether the brand is going to sustain. They may find certain designers’ work interesting, but they tend to hold back on orders until they have a feeling that the designer will survive over the long term.

Only by persistently showing up in a trade show can a designer convince buyers.

“Because to them, it is an investment too. They have to do all the PR work to promote the designer,” said Aires, who started her brand five years ago.

“I know some people secure the first order only after attending the same trade show for six seasons.”

Government officials, however, prefer to spread money over many different shows around the world and send more designers abroad, Nicole said.

Some designers also worry that subsidy application may prove a cumbersome process.

Alan had applied for some subsidies but faced problems as he was required to show his business record.

It then became a chicken and egg situation. Being a startup, Alan had little business, that’s why he needed the subsidies. But with no business, he’s not qualified.

In the end, he asked friends to purchase something from his online store to fulfill the requirement.

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EJ Insight writer