A new breed of fashion incubators offers not just funding but hands-on help, access to business expertise, and mentorship programmes. We profile five that are helping young talent in fashion, jewellery and related industries.
Fashion incubation programmes have long been established across Europe and America as a way to nurture and support new talent.
While it took a while for Asia to catch up, Hong Kong in particular has seen this category flourish, thanks to a growing community of fashion creatives that are looking to expand their footprint in the industry. Like many of their counterparts in the West, they are gravitating towards programmes that offer more than just funding.
“Fostering local creative industries and a thriving community with enterprising creativity is a global economic trend,” says Edmund Lee, executive director of Hong Kong Design Centre, which runs the government-subsidised Fashion Incubation Programme, which was launched in 2017.
“Incubation programmes offer support in the form of project funding, empowering participants to push their creative boundaries. By providing them access to affordable working space, knowledge and skills training, mentorship and industry networks, we can propel their success as entrepreneurs.”
The latter hopes to invest and give back to the numerous designers the company has manufactured for over the decades.
Azalvo co-founder Joanne Chow, a member of the third generation of the family that controls Aussco, says: “During the past two years we have noticed a retail apocalypse. There are many reasons why these brands do not survive, but more often than not, it’s because they do not understand the nature of their business.
“We take brands back to the drawing board and help them examine what’s missing, whether its R&D or textile development, or something as simple as numbers.”
For retailers like Lane Crawford, whose Creative Callout programme was launched in 2015, incubation isn’t just about supporting new businesses. Its long-term vision is to create and source products that will be exclusive for their customers.
“We want to develop a platform unique to us that will also help find the best local and international emerging talent of designers and creatives to introduce to Asia, ” says Joanna Gunn, chief brand officer for Lane Crawford. “Originally we wanted to discover and tap into the Hong Kong creative community, but since then we have taken this concept globally to Los Angeles and most recently Sydney.”
That’s not to say all programmes are focused on fashion. Others work with start-ups and young entrepreneurs from related industries. The Cage by Lane Crawford Joyce Group, for example, seeks out start-ups developing new technologies that enhance the customer experience.
“Our new initiative, The Cage, fosters innovation and creativity in the industry as it’s about creating a new approach to business with external specialists and experts,” says Cristina Ventura, chief catalyst officer of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group.
“The interaction that occurs between the start-ups and our internal teams demonstrates a higher level of entrepreneurism – through experimentation, iteration and pivoting giving our people the confidence to trial new ideas more quickly.”
Five fashion incubation programmes to watch
1. Creative Call Out, Lane Crawford
This initiative invites creative people working in sectors including womenswear, menswear, beauty and lifestyle to submit a portfolio of their work. After being selected by a panel of judges, finalists are given the opportunity to work with Lane Crawford in some capacity, whether it’s selling their collections in-store or developing an exclusive collection for the retailer.
Past recipients have included Angel Chen, Shushu/Tong and FFixxed Studios and, since its inception, the project has launched 50 brands.
2. The Cage, Lane Crawford Joyce Group
Having just completed its third round, this programme seeks to identify and collaborate with early-stage start-ups that specialise in innovative technologies that enhance the customer experience.
The programme offers finalists a residency at The Cage (located in the group’s headquarters) where they can, “learn, validate and pitch” their product.
This includes access to more than 80 world-class entrepreneurs and advisers from the likes of Google and Harvard University, and the opportunity to develop and test their product with a significant customer base in Greater China.
3. Fashion Incubation Programme (FIP), Hong Kong Design Centre
Open to designers with three or more years’ experience, FIP helps budding designers and brands. Backed by the government, the programme can accommodate up to 15 designers per two-year period (there are currently 10 in residence).
Support is customised to their needs and includes access to studio space, project funding, marketing advice, one-on-one mentorship, business services and consulting. Current brands in the programme include Modement and Cynthia & Xiao.
4. Azalvo, Aussco
Formally launched in March, Azalvo’s new co-creation platform has a mission to help brands “co-create, innovate and elevate”. The programme includes a lab concept, which provides members with resources including free office space and facilities such as 3D printing.
It also offers a mentoring service, access to its R&D makers lab and a network of suppliers, technicians, machine specialists and distribution channels. There is no set number of incubatees, who are chosen on a case-by-case basis.
5. The Loupe, Chow Tai Fook
Located at PMQ in Central, The Loupe is a collaboration between jewellers Chow Tai Fook and the Chow Tai Fook Art Foundation. Focusing on jewellery making and design, the incubation space provides a platform for local and international designers and artisans to engage with the general public.
It’s also home to an in-house design residency programme including mentoring, an exhibition space for artists to showcase their work, public workshops led by industry professionals and a boutique and tea house for visitors.