Wake up, Canada– and take a lesson from Hong Kong
In little old Toronto it's difficult to truly grasp how the world's one percent live. Fly 12 hours forward to Hong Kong and it's impossible to ignore. Highly concentrated wealth engulfs you like the dense fog that obscures the city's towering skyline, leaving you awestruck and dazed in an urban maze of upscale boutiques that occupy the square footage of modest mansions. Our trendy Yorkville strip looks like Schitt's Creek by comparison.
Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Hermès - they're all here in triplicates, quadruplicates and then some. It's easier to find a $10,000 handbag than a Starbucks. Tourists from mainland China fill the malls on weekends, armed with rolling luggage that enters the city empty and leaves packed with high-end spoils.
Luxury hotels like the Four Seasons, Intercontinental and Ritz Carlton are covered in marble, have wall-to-wall windows and offer dramatic harbourfront views. They all boast at least one Michelin-starred restaurant, and the Ritz lays claim to the world's highest bar at 118 storeys.
Hong Kong's elite, and those who favour it as a travel destination, like their luxury loud. Brand names matter, status matters, and people wear it on their sleeve.
This presents a considerable challenge for emerging Hong Kong designers. How do you wean people away from internationally recognized labels to shop relatively unknown upstarts? The David and Goliath situation is actually quite similar to that faced by Canadian designers - except here, it's a battle with fast fashion giants like H&M and Forever 21.
The other big difference is that, while the Canadian fashion industry receives almost no access to provincial or federal funds (outside of Quebec), Hong Kong understands the art form's cultural and economic value and continues to invest in its fashion future.
Most recently, the Hong Kong government announced a HK$500 million (roughly $80 million) three-year pilot program to support its fashion industry. Some key objectives: create an incubation program for design start-ups, provide opportunities for overseas internships and study opportunities, and promote homegrown labels through local and international events.
In 2014, the government turned the historic 18,000-square-foot Police Married Quarters (PMQ), with prime real estate in the Central District (think Queen and Spadina), into a creative hub that houses more than 100 studio-store units with below-market rents. It also features communal lounge and kitchen areas for designers, event and gallery spaces and a variety of dining establishments. PMQ has only existed in its current form for less than a year, but almost every local I speak with lists it as a "must-visit."
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) sent a contingent of three designers to present a Fashion Hong Kong runway show and pop-up showroom at Copenhagen Fashion Week last January. HKTDC also organizes Hong Kong Fashion Week, which they boast is the world's second-largest and Asia's largest fashion event.
There's also the Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC), formed in 2002 as a publicly funded, non-profit organization to support the local design industry. It offers a two-year incubation program, a Design Library, oversees design competitions and more.
The list of countries who "get it" when it comes to fashion is ever growing. It now spans Europe, the United States, Australia and Asia. It's time for Canada to catch up with the rest of the world - before we're permanently left behind.