15 Aug 2016
It was while spearheading the fashion incubator The Mills that iSTYLEUP founder Harry Chai identified a gap in the fashion market. With high-street looks currently in vogue over individual creations produced by young designers, Mr Chai felt it was important to generate opportunities for independent creatives. He developed iSTYLEUP as an e-commerce site to connect the small-batch fashion created by young designers with global style influencers. Set up in Hong Kong in 2014, the company is helping independent designers around the world gain exposure.
The idea to set up the website came after meeting a young designer who had just participated in a fashion week, but failed to receive an order. With the notion that “buyers don’t take risks” driving him forward, Mr Chai’s site promotes hard-to-access designer fashion and accessories. The site features interviews and background details of the designers, as well as an online marketplace to purchase the items.
“Resolving the disconnection problem among designers, consumers and influencers and another commonly painful point of fashion e-commerce, the size measurement and order-return problems, we strive to help fashion designers to generate more sales and scale-up their businesses more effectively,” says Mr Chai.
Since its official launch last January, the site, according to Mr Chai, has struck a chord at all levels of the industry. After initially investing his own time and money to create the prototype and proof of concept, Mr Chai used his personal network to seek angel investors to establish and scale the company.
“We’ve had lots of positive feedback and interest from designers and fashion bloggers,” he said. “Over 100 designers from over 20 countries love our platform and there are more than 3,000 items for sale on the marketplace now.”
By creating sales channels, helping designers to overcome the tyranny of distance and navigate the network of middlemen in the industry, the company has created a platform for brands.
The website engages end-users too, with bloggers and influencers keen to share their ideas. It’s a strategy that Mr Chai says has created an online network that is engaged and engaging.
iSTYLEUP was featured in a showcase of spring/summer fashion collections in London last year, with the fashion press and bloggers responding positively, Mr Chai says. “We got to showcase some of our independent designers and our website portal to industry professionals and received lots of great feedback,” he says.
The overseas exposure has also been valuable for brands such as Sugar da Pill, Joana Almagro and Necro Poon. “This is the first time I’ve cooperated with an online store with a focus on their customers and overseas sales,” says Mr Poon, a contemporary menswear designer who launched his eponymous label in 2015.
“My major market has been Hong Kong and iSTYLEUP helped a lot to take the brand to an international market.” Showing in London with Mr Chai’s website led to additional sales and an expanded customer base, he says, adding that some of his designs have since been mentioned by influential bloggers.
The idea to establish the iSTYLEUP community was no accident. Mr Chai has built a career based on perfecting online platforms, having worked in real estate, venture capital investments and incubators for start-ups in fashion and technology.
He credits “business acumen, commitment and the sales skills of the founders and of the core team” as keys to the success of iSTYLEUP. “We are heading in a good direction,” Mr Chai says. “Right now we are in the stage of further developing the platform. “I expect in the next six months, we will grow more quickly because we will put in more resources to advertise and market our platform to customers.”
iSTYLEUP was invited by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) to take part in the spring/summer edition of Hong Kong Fashion Week last July and the company will partner with the HKTDC at the inaugural CENTRESTAGE in September.
Mr Chai credits Hong Kong’s standing as a global city for its emergence as a start-up hub. “Hong Kong is a good place for launching a start-up,” he says. “[The legal system] is very fair among the majority of people and business owners. The availability of most of the resources, such as funding, incubation, business service providers, such as lawyers and accountants, educated staff and programmers [is a positive].”
Mr Chai says he expects to see Hong Kong further improve its standing on the global start-up scene and hopes the city will follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of the United States. “The start-up culture of people and corporates is pending development,” he says. “Hong Kong is moving in a good direction as we can see that some large corporates in Hong Kong are starting to engage in developing, or investing in start-ups. The largest leading corporates in the US are all technology-driven, which has cultivated next-generation entrepreneurs and management who will further develop or incubate more start-ups.”