4 March 2016
A New Creative Hub for Hong Kong
Hong Kong property developer Nan Fung Group is paying tribute to the company’s beginnings as a textile manufacturer by transforming its old cotton mill in Tsuen Wan into The Mills, a hub to nurture innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in the techstyle space for companies based in Hong Kong.
With an estimated completion date of 2018, the 260,000 square-feet building will comprise three distinct areas – business incubator The Mills Fabrica, cultural hotspot The Mills6 Foundation, and retail area The Mills Shopfloor.
With education a key component of the initiative, The Mills has teamed up with the HKU SPACE International College and its international partner Central Saint Martin’s (CSM) College of Art and Design in London to co-present two courses on the business of fashion.
Revitalising Tsuen Wan
The Mills’ Cherry Chan says she hopes that the project will breathe new life to the district. “Since we applied to do the project, the government has told other building owners that they can apply for change of use from industrial to office space, so I think we’ve helped start a revitalisation of the area.”
Located in the New Territories, Tsuen Wan is a roughly 30-minute commute from Central. Ms Chan says The Mills hopes to attract local residents with cultural and educational activities onsite. “We want to make it so it’s not just about consumerism, but getting involved.”
The Mills Shopfloor, meanwhile, will have an “independent spirit,” showcasing innovative retail, with hybrid concepts such as restaurant/boutique. The Mills will also have its own store featuring Fabrica-related products and other Hong Kong brands. “Many people do their shopping online now, so it’s about creating an experience.”
By reaching out to the local community and delivering innovative retail experiences, Nick Wright, Director of Innovation and Business at CSM is confident that the new development can rejuvenate Tsuen Wan. “I think it will have the same transformative powers on the neighbourhood as the CSM move had on the Kings Cross area of London when we moved there in 2011,” he says.
“It is our aim to turn this historic mills site into an open, beautiful space for new ideas, cross-sector dialogues and cross-institutional collaborations,” said Ken Wong, Head of the HKU SPACE’s International College. “This will certainly contribute not only to the city’s creative economy, but also add to the vibrancy of Tsuen Wan’s community,” says Mr Wong, who cited Sheung Wan, on Hong Kong Island as an example of how an area was revitalised by a surge of independent boutiques and pop-ups opening in the area.
Offering full-time degree programmes for sub-degree holders, the HKU SPACE International College and CSM, which it has partnered with since 2011, offered its Fashion Executive series with The Mills last year, a weekend course covering branding, media and creative studies for senior executives.
“Brand executives and young creatives have always found such courses rewarding and they can [take what they have learned] straight back to the office,” says Mr Wong. “A diagnosis session is included, so students can share successful - and less successful - experiences with the lecturer and obtain individual feedback and professional suggestions.”
The Mills will offer four scholarships annually to students enrolled on the CSM-HKU SPACE executive series. “This scholarship scheme is built on a long-term collaboration between The Mills, HKU SPACE and CSM. We hope to allow more exposure for young, aspiring creatives who can’t afford to travel to CSM’s London campus for executive training. Instead, CSM colleagues fly out to Hong Kong and HKU SPACE structures the training over a long weekend,” says Mr Wong.
Getting Down to Business
According to Ms Chan, Mills Fabrica will accept no more than a dozen companies to the incubation programme at one time. Apart from practical advice on running a business, these start-ups will be entitled to subsidised rental at The Mills studio space.
“We also want to establish a platform for people not involved in the incubation programme, by providing a place for them to meet partners and suppliers,” adds Ms Chan.
While the opening date is two years away, The Mills has already held its first pitch day last August, receiving more than 100 applications.
The winner was male accessories brand Seventy Eight Percent, founded by Israeli-born Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Shai Levy, who won HK$200,000 and access to business development and mentoring from The Mills. “We’re currently working with Shai to revamp the brand so he can reach his next business milestone, which is online sales,” says Ms Chan.
According to Ms Chan, hosting the pitch day brought home the need to support local fashion brands with practical help, including pricing and putting presentations together. “A lot of them are very young and talented, but the business side of things is a struggle for them,” she says.
To bridge this information gap, The Mills will collaborate with local and international educational institutions to help local creative start-ups become more business-savvy. “We’re not about formal education – it’s about delivering practical programmes and information. If people need help on how to write a profit and loss statement, for example, we want to help them.”
Inspiring New Talent
Sitting on the steering committee of the Mills Project is Douglas Young, founder and CEO of Hong Kong lifestyle store G.O.D. The committee helps decide on the tenancy mix at the Mills Shopfloor. “The key is diversity,” says Mr Young. “We want different nationalities to feed off each other.”
Mr Young hopes the project will inspire a new generation of designers, and with other disused industrial buildings in Tsuen Wan, encourage other property developers to “give back to society.”
Scratching the Surface
To create a buzz around the site, several cultural events have been held, including an exhibition by Portuguese graffiti artist Alexandre Farto (aka Vhils), who carved in concrete, two portraits of anonymous mill workers. The work, entitled Scratching the Surface, Tsuen Wan, was “to create awareness of the project, and attract people to the site as a preamble to the opening,” says Mr Young.
While The Mills could be likened to Central’s creative hub PMQ, which also provides subsidised studio space for local design talent, there is more scope for experimentation and creativity at The Mills, as it is not housed in a government building, says Mr Young.