Socially conscious fashion enterprises

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Bonham Strand
Giving value to the undervalued

Venture capitalist Jong Lee is all about looking for undervalued assets, discarded industries and what he calls ‘throwaway people’ before flipping them round in a bid to add value to society. He noticed a few things last year: firstly, Hong Kong’s bespoke industry is being phased out. Secondly, it’s being replaced by factories in Shenzhen that produce mass suit templates that are altered to fit customers but are ultimately inferior. And thirdly, Hong Kong tailors are being paid minimal salaries.

Then an epiphany came. Lee thought he could start a social enterprise that produces quality bespoke suits that are really made in Hong Kong by experienced tailors and seamstresses being paid between $16,000 and $19,000 in a good working environment. Thus Bonham Strand was born, fuelled by Lee’s goal to revitalise Hong Kong’s tailoring industry. “We want Hong Kong bespoke to mean something,” he says. “If you think about a long-term industry like French Bordeaux wine, they want to stay premium, they want everyone to appreciate what that means for the next 1,000 years. Hong Kong bespoke has a huge opportunity at doing just that.”

Then Lee noticed most of his tailors were in their 50s. Who could take over when they retire? The answer – recovering drug addicts. “I’m from LA, where getting high has turned into an art form,” says Lee. “I know what recovering addicts need and that’s structure and something they can be OCD about – which is perfect for tailoring.” Lee now sends his tailors to rehabilitation centres so they can teach kids the craft. He plans to create an apprenticeship programme too. “To me,” he says, “social enterprise really means providing an avenue where functioning individuals can earn their own keep.” Lee’s eventual goal is to take this social enterprise model to the USA to help transform the prison system. 25/F, Workington Tower, 78 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan, 3996 9675; bonhamstrand.hk. 

 

 

Emi and Eve
From bullets to beauty

Hong Kong-based fashion designer Cassandra Postema is on a mission to transform war, poverty and disability into beauty with her label Emi and Eve. There are a lot of sympathy products and trinkets out there that benefit social causes but don’t offer much in terms of fashion – but this is not the case with Emi and Eve. “I’m really passionate about developing a product that not only helps a cause but is great on its own,” says Postema.

The Central Saint Martins graduate has been in the business of design for the past decade and during that time has always paid attention to worthy causes. In 2004, in response to the tsunami, Postema joined up with a college buddy to create ‘hope T-shirts’ that were sold at Pure Yoga to raise money for victims. From then on she was on the search to do more and came up with a way of providing economic empowerment by working together with social enterprises and co-ops in Cambodia, Thailand and China that employ unwanted artisans, the disabled and those living with HIV.

Postema’s latest collection of goods features handbags made from recycled bullets from a workshop in Cambodia as well as hand-woven textiles from a tsunami regenerative co-op in Phang Nga, Thailand. “In the future,” she says, “I hope to work with more co-ops, not only in Asia but in Africa and other regions, with people who can really benefit from this kind of economic empowerment.” Available at Polkadot Boutique, 2/F, 29 Hollywood Rd, 2521 0636; emiandeve.com.

 

Shoe Artistry
Walking towards the future

Married couple Jeff Wan and Kit Lee are on a mission to preserve Hong Kong’s expertise in crafting shoes. Two years ago, when they caught wind that Uncle Ming of Ming Kee Shoe Shop, who had 40 years of experience in the shoemaking business, was retiring, they knew they had to do something. “We didn’t know why,” says Lee, “but we knew this type of product needed to be preserved. It was based on instinct. So we decided to take on the business ourselves because we knew it could be a viable venture.”

Lee and Wan have always been about supporting local crafts and Shoe Artistry was just an extension of that mantra. “It’s such a shame that there are so few shoemaker sifus (masters) now,” says Wan, “which is why we’re currently working with four local shoemakers to connect them with customers and provide them with orders that match their specialty.”

And beyond providing orders and making shoes themselves, the couple is hoping to set
up a vocational apprenticeship programme for kids interested in learning the ways of the shoe from sifus as a way to pass down the art form. If you wish to support Shoe Artistry and its quest to provide handmade quality footwear, pop on in and order a HK crafter pair or join one of the couple’s many beginner’s workshops.
Office 4, 2/F, Prosperity Bldg, 61 Tung Choi St, Mong Kok, 2796 6018; shoeartistry.info.

 

Neighbor Plus Workshop
Sewing with care

Picture your grandmother, sitting in a huddle with her friends, knitting, sewing – chatting about times gone by. Now picture those old girls at Neighbor Plus Workshop – a social enterprise set up in 2011 under an NGO to bring together the crafts of forgotten seamstresses. Okay, your gran may not have been a seamstress – but we bet she’d love the atmosphere at NPW. There are 10 women employed here, with ages ranging from late 50s up to early 70s. These women were employed back when Hong Kong was a thriving hotspot for garment factories but, unfortunately, with production moving to the Mainland, many of them lost their jobs and were forced to either go into early retirement or take on more labour intensive jobs. “This is where Neighbor Plus comes in,” says Clara Fu, project supervisor. “We give a purpose and a sense of self-respect back to these women by providing work they’ve been trained to do.”

And the ladies do it well. They’ve already helped local labels like Tangram, Jaycow Milinery and G2000 with projects. Basically they can do anything that requires a sewing machine: leather good, bags, guitar cases, telephones and, of course, clothes. “Our ultimate goal,” says Fu, “is to provide a good working environment, employ more women, collaborate with more local designers and expand our platform.” 161A, Lai Chi Kok Rd, Sham Shui Po, 3117 6842; nplusws.com. Arthur Tam

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