The middle of November saw the King Apparel seasonal excursion half way across the globe to Hong Kong and the world's biggest factory outlet - China.
An essential trip for product development and keeping ahead of the competition with collections, trends and fabrics.
Hong Kong - the gateway into China's manufacturing cities of Shenzen and Guangzhou is like no where else in the world - with the infrastructure of England - roads, signs, buses, brands and companies overlaid and brimming with the culture of the far east and an almost futuristic aesthetic. Neon lights, cavernous shopping malls, rabbit warren like streets and alleyways, an incredible skyscraper skyline set against jungle laden mountains…its really like no where else.
Governed by China but with an agreed shared responsibility with the UK, Hong Kong is a Western export bang smack in the middle of the Far East and the protest camps we saw there demonstrate that the young people there will fight tooth and nail to retain Hong Kong's autonomy from China.
Running around Hong Kong for a day before heading across the border is a good exercise - checking out the shops, new brands, merchandising and absorbing inspirations from sources left right and centre. You can get more done in one day in HK than a whole month in London. Whats more, you get the opportunity to see street vendors cooking up Pig snout snacks, ride the Star ferry between Hong Kong and Kowloon and see black market traders boying off brand new iphone 6's directly outside the front of the Apple store. Mental.
The south of China is effectively the manufacturing base of the global economy and Shenzen and Guangzhou are two of the biggest cities at the heart. Not only do they have huge apparel and fabric industries but you can also buy pretty much anything else you can think of, with dedicated districts for different stuff - furniture, home furnishings, electronics etc. If you wanted to build a house you could literally buy everything you need at trade in one neighbourhood in Guangzhou, ship it over and get on with it.
When it comes to fashion and staying ahead of the curve, China can't be beat. One of the fabric markets we visited was 20x bigger than Westfield Stratford - just crazy scales. They literally have any fabric you can think of and then loads that wouldn't even know existed. Priceless.
Culturally, one week in China will also change your perspective on everything. This is a country with almost a third of the entire global population. On one hand its a developing, industrialising nation that is desperate to catch up with the Western world and on the other hand, progress is so rapid that in some respects it is already ahead of what we consider day to day. Everywhere you look, poverty and the remnants of the former hard line communist regime juxtapose against permanent construction, luxury boutiques and extreme wealth.
The other thing that becomes quickly apparent is the scale of everything. There is no doubt that by sheer numbers alone China will become the dominant force in global economics and politics, if not already. There are just so many people and the country is so vast that consumption happens at a level that we cannot begin to comprehend. Put it this way, if your brand successfully broke the Chinese market you could conceivably forget every other country in the world.
Another element that effects day to day life is the internet and how it is controlled in China. if you are addicted to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, anything Google related or use dropbox, we transfer etc then don't bother going to China cos none of these things work and you'll probably get sectioned. A combination of protecting internal security from the probing Western governments as well as cleverly coercing their population to use Chinese alternatives that generate money internally is the reason behind this, so the sooner you learn how to speak, read and write Mandarin the better.
Overall it was an amazing experience. Very long days, starting at 7am and sometimes not finishing until 10pm, visiting suppliers and agents, fabric mills and markets, squeezing in the odd foot and hot stone massage (no happy endings) , eating way too much Italian food (thanks Joe) and learning really crappy Mandarin off of cabbies. We built essential relationships, got our production game locked down whilst cutting out months of back and forth on development. Time to get that Visa renewed as we'll be back there in the first half of next year again…can't wait.