23 October 2016
Some handicraft makers come from the creative and cultural industries, but the majority hold full-time jobs that are often totally unrelated. Photo: a nice place to
Some handicraft makers come from the creative and cultural industries, but the majority hold full-time jobs that are often totally unrelated. Photo: a nice place to

Couple devoted to nurturing handicraft culture

During the Easter holidays, the dream of Paul Ching and his wife, Cathy Lam, will come true.

They are holding a carnival-like gathering of makers and lovers of handicrafts in Hong Kong.

More than 200 stores or individual brands from local artisans and designers will offer a wide selection of handicrafts, ranging from fashion accessories to cartoon character stickers.

Lam is a fan of handicrafts.

She used to make stuff and sell it at events held by the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre and other organizations.

Lam and her husband often visit marketplaces when they travel abroad.

In Japan and Europe, there are plenty of such venues with an impressive array of works on display.

“In Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park for instance, they have a market almost every weekend,” Ching said.

“People can also enjoy the lawn and music at the same time; it’s like a carnival.

“I began to wonder why we don’t have such a thing in Hong Kong.”

Ching decided to make that happen.

He rented a unit in an industrial building in Kwun Tong for his photographic work, but he doesn’t use it all the time and rarely on weekends.

So he founded “a nice place to” and started to hold a small flea market, dubbed “Little Market”, there, with about 20 stalls each time.

The close contact between makers and customers is what they like about the market culture.

Creators of the products can explain to buyers the concept behind the design, or the materials used.

To boost the appeal of the “Little Market”, the couple adopt a strict selection process based on product photos, the stall participants’ previous experience with such marketplaces and data such as the number of their Facebook followers.

“What we like to see is originality,” Ching said.

“We look at how innovative the product is.”

A big Facebook fan base also helps to draw in the traffic.

Often, some makers come up with stuff using parts readily available on e-commerce sites like Taobao, or copy ideas from overseas artisans.

Ching avoids inviting them to the market.

Popular stalls may become regulars, but Ching always tries to balance the mix and reserves room for newcomers.

Running a handicraft business in Hong Kong is difficult.

It’s not very financially rewarding, and the cost could be a deterrent.

“You can’t make these things in bulk. And the unit price is usually about HK$200-300, tops,” Ching said.

That means that renting even a small place, which usually costs HK$5,000-6,000 at least, would be a burden.

Sales channels are another hurdle.

Selling through malls, for example, would entail stiff consignment fees.

Only a few very successful handicrafters can turn it into a career.

“70-80 percent of these people have full-time jobs,” said Ching.

Even as a freelancer, being able to find a platform to showcase one’s works is a big step forward.

Ching is glad to be part of it.

Little Market has gradually evolved to become a gathering spot for like-minded people to meet, share ideas and have fun.

Although there is a growing audience for handmade things and locally designed products, Ching is not 100 percent positive about the future.

There is a visible pick-up in the number of marketplaces.

With a limited number of quality stalls, originality may be compromised.

Soon, buyers will get tired of the handicraft idea, he said.

Economic conditions matter too.

Handicrafts are usually not cheap, and many do not cater to basic needs.

When money is tight, people will cut back on their spending on such items.

Ching is sensing a decline in appetite since after the Lunar New Year.

Hong Kong still does not have a vibrant culture of appreciating and supporting handmade things, buying them and using them.

Ching hopes at least a small group of craftspeople will survive and thrive.

For those interested in checking it out, the Easter holiday fair will be held in Discovery Park in Tsuen Wan.

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EJ Insight writer

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