Now in its 16th edition, Hong Kong Fashion Week was unveiled on 6 July 2009 at Hong Kong Conventional Centre amidst hopes of business generation by the exhibitors and expectations of business visitors to locate new products and sources. It was to be so expected, inasmuch as this major industry event ranks high in the regional calendar as a top place to source all kinds of apparel and fashion accessories as well as garment-related products and services.
Keeping in view the emerging needs of the exhibitors and business visitors, the fair added new zones to the existing ones. The new zones set up by the organisers were Brand Name Gallery, which was a prestigious zone exhibiting brand-name garments. Then there was Intimate wear zone, where the exhibitors found the latest trends in lingerie and night-wear. Other specilaised sectors included World of Fashion Accessories, Infant & Childrens wear, Bridal and Evening wear, Fabrics & Yarn, Sewing Supplies, Fashion Gallery as well as International Fashion Designers Showcase, each of which was brimming with the latest styles from talented designers from Hong Kong, China as well from Indonesia and Korea.
The 1,164 exhibitors (up slightly from 1,154 last year), who came primarily from China and Hong Kong, were seeing fewer buyers. Those who did shop at the show were placing smaller orders and requesting faster delivery times. Interaction with the visitors revealed that there was less business this year as compared to earlier editions of the Week. One of the visitors, who has been regular frequenter of this event, did say that he is buying lesser this time. "You have to work harder for the same money," he said with a weary shrug
"It is very, very quiet," said Michelle Keeling, Managing Director for RTHK Clothing Exporters Ltd. in Hong Kong, which manufactures mens, womens and childrens clothing. She said Hong Kong and China have been affected by what everyone is calling a "financial tsunami." Its the delayed wave of financial disaster washing over export-based economies now affected by the downturn in importing regions such as the United States and Europe.
That was evident in the trade statistics coming out of Hong Kong. According to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, clothing and clothing-accessories exports from Hong Kong to the United States slid 14.4 percent to $2.8 billion during the first five months of this year compared with the same period last year. Exports to Europe were down around 13 percent. "This past year has not been easy," said Vincent Fang, Chairman of the Garment Advisory Committee to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. He is also Chief Executive of Toppy International Ltd., a Hong Kong company that owns one apparel factory in China with nearly 5,000 workers that supplies two retail chains, operating under the Episode and Jessica nameplates. Fang, who also makes shirts for Polo Ralph Lauren in the US market through contractors in Central America, said the fragile economy in the West is forcing him to expand his business in China. "The whole world is looking to China as a savior," he observed.
China may be putting the brakes on its rapid expansion, but it still has a relatively healthy economy. The World Bank projects that Chinas gross domestic product will grow a robust 7.2 percent this year. In comparison, the US gross domestic product is expected to contract between 5 percent and 6 percent.
If a stubbornly tough recession was keeping some buyers away, the threat of the swine flu acted as another deterrent. While Hong Kong has had no deaths related to the virus, travelers and businesspeople seem to be particularly cautious about trekking to the region. They remember the SARS epidemic that claimed 299 people in Hong Kong and 349 in China between November 2002 and July 2003. Last years show was much better, said Mandy Chan, a merchandiser for the Zhejiang Seven Fortune Group, which manufactures sweaters in China for apparel companies such as Chicos, Guess? Inc. and Zara. Maybe its the economy; maybe it is H1N1 [swine flu], she said.