Arriving at the doorsteps of Wing Wah Haberdashery Co in Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong, I looked up and saw these five words. My nose went sore at once.
I entered the store and made haste to verify the news with the owner Mrs. Chan, who merely replied, “Yeah, mm…” And then, feelings of reluctance and resignation were swallowed up and lingered in the air, giving space for welled up tears to subside.
Wing Wah was a haberdashery store that I used to visit a lot. The owners have wanted to retire many times and were only trying to empty their remaining stocks of imported products. I remember asking them once if they have “Made in Hong Kong” products, owner Mr. Chan denied resolutely, “We’ve only sold imports, from the UK, France, Germany, Japan, the US, no local products…” Therefore, based on a “choose well buy less” principle that prioritizes quality over quantity, I would come here even if I had to take extra time and make the longer trip, and that is also to give my support.
While I was looking at Mr. and Mrs. Chan operating those mildly dangerous machines with such dexterity every time and remedying all kinds of issues with their vast experience, deep down I have always worried. These services for setting eyelets and buttonholes, looking ordinary enough yet taking so much time to develop, will soon disappear.
似乎來佬貨都已賣得七七八八，剩下的，雖然也有印上「Made In Japan」的，陳伯冷笑著説:「哼，充頭貨吖嘛！」，聽來搞笑，再想深一層，卻是劣質文化的起源。
“It’s inevitable, all these industries in Hong Kong are gone… things were really great back then…” she sighed
“Back in our days, when we set buttonholes, everyone waited in queues, one queue inside for the black ones, for any other colors, you queue on the side all the way to the door and out, and all the while we were hammering, ‘bok bok bok, bok bok bok’…” Mrs. Chan recalled with a smile.
Mr. Chan did not say much, but only quietly cherished every moment with the machine that he had partnered with for tens of years, carrying on with the hammering ‘bok bok bok, bok bok bok’.
It looked like the imported products were almost sold out. For the remainders, despite having “Made in Japan” printed on them, Mr. Chan remarked with a snicker, “Huh, counterfeits!” Which was funny, but when I think about it more, that was the source of a culture of poor quality.
“The circumstances have really… Hong Kong has changed completely.” Do we really want to have nothing to stay?
The ecology tilted, lost balance, until the virus came, like a knock on the head. I, however, finally saw a ray of hope for the future.
This year, with the support of Professor Basia Szkutnicka from the UK and Design Trust, I led the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s first year master students in fashion to explore #SlowStitchNomad as their first project before they begin their studies.
“This is my first project in HKPolyu, it’s a great journey to explore upcycling experiments with Toby. How can we reverse the destiny of an old sheet? How can we increase the further value of items which are out of date? Designers should not only create beautiful things but also heal the overwhelmed environment. Personally, in my design philosophy, value is increased by creating, and this is one of the missions of responsible design.” Judy Su, one of the students, concluded this project.
Judy put in a lot of effort, having spent so much time adjusting the paper pattern and creating the patchwork. When I asked, “Why didn’t you cut directly from the upcycled clothes, but instead spent so much time finetuning the toile?” She replied, “Because I don’t want to waste fabrics with my mistakes. Also, with the samples finetuned to perfection, I can go on using other old clothes or fabrics to create similar forms.”
Vincent Leung, another student that I appreciated a lot, shared his musings on fast fashion in the process, made a serious study and investigation into the literature on 18th century Rococo garments and incorporated their details into his repurposed design. He truly did “recall how our ancestors reached here, relearn the skills they taught us and preserve what we shall pass on to the future.”
Vincent translated one of the key techniques of redesigning – “Deconstruction”, which means “going back to the fundamentals, to lines and shapes, in order to re-recognise the garments that you used to adore.”
I was so moved to hear him say, “This may be the end of the development of my slow stitch nomad project, but the way to achieve sustainable fashion was never close to the end. Whether we are consumers in the fashion industry or even designers, we could do way more and better to contribute to our Mother Nature, that we owe a lot to.”
“This project is just the beginning.”
Even though we were unable to interact in a classroom because of the pandemic, it made us realize better the concept of “slow stitch nomadism” as coined by the project. Whenever and wherever we are – be it at home or in quarantine, we may draw from what is available, find old clothes that we used to love, pick up a needle and threads, share with the world our entire creative idea and process. We should thank the virus for inspiring us to seek a wider azure in narrow cracks —— #SlowStitchNomad on Instagram.
When the world is replete with clothes, in what forms can clothes and clothing making benefit man?
That is, not the benefits of tangible things, but those concerning the connections between us and our hearts.
Every garment carries a time, a place and some people and things after all. Therefore, to me, FASHION is not about trend, it is about time. My gratitude goes to creative studio TSESER and online platform Pepper Lab for capturing all these beautifully in The Time Wardrobe. Perhaps we have treated the earth too poorly, that it wanted to hinder our predictions for our tomorrows. If that is so, let us then do what is right with our conscience.