15 July 2019
Supporting young fashion designers
One-stop shop Designerooms gives young fashion designers an affordable space in which to work and connects them with pattern-makers, sewers and factories willing to take on small orders. The facility was founded by designer Kit Shen, who seeks to provide fashion start-ups with a head-start to break into this competitive industry. The co-working space is located in San Po Kong, Hong Kong’s oldest garment district, where Mr Shen is on hand to offer technical advice while another designer, Vickie Au, helps designers put their marketing plan together.
Mr Shen told us more about what inspired him to set up the platform and how young designers have responded to the initiative.
What prompted the decision to set up Designerooms?
As an experienced designer, I understand the difficulties of setting up a fashion business in Hong Kong, like high rent and lack of space. I found there weren’t many co-working spaces specialising in fashion design and production. That’s the reason why I set up Designerooms – I wanted to create a fashion hub where designers can co-work, co-create and co-market, to reduce cost and maximise their power.
You graduated from the University for the Creative Arts in the United Kingdom and have more than 10 years’ experience in womenswear and menswear, working for Blanc de Chine and G2000 among others. What did that experience teach you?
In the past few years, I spent quite a lot of time in factories and sample rooms gaining experience in production. I found there is sometimes a communication problem between the designer and technician. Pattern-makers cannot give the designer what they want, while the designer finds it difficult to explain their idea.
Now I’m in the position to help each party communicate better and make the process smoother.
What were some of the challenges of setting up the platform and how did you overcome them?
Hong Kong is a small city and our target audience is niche, being only fashion designers. Promotion was initially the big challenge; no people came at all in the beginning. Now, we’re placing advertising on social media to promote this space to anyone who needs it. In addition to designers, there are other people who need a space and machinery to make their own garments. Some come to learn how to sew, or master pattern-making – our full-time technician provides one-on-one tutorials to anyone keen to learn.
Tell us about the designers you currently work with
We currently have 10 monthly renters, four from overseas. They are fashion and accessory designers, pattern-makers and one fresh graduate. Our foreign designers need help with sample development and rely on our connections with Mainland China manufacturers. Some of the designers here are in sustainable fashion, and are doing some collaborative projects and promotions.
There are machines and tools in addition to pattern-makers and sewers at your facility. How else do you support designers?
I’ve hired a full-time technician to help designers with any technical problems, and we provide free consultation for renters here. We also take orders from designers for pattern-cutting and sample development, and we have some freelance sewers, who work here when designers have jobs for them.
You also offer sample-making and small-batch manufacturing…
Yes – while the cost is higher than in the mainland, it’s much easier for designers to follow up the process and communicate with staff here. It can also reduce mistakes and save time. As a start-up designer, it can be difficult to hire pattern-makers and sewers. Some designers also need to connect with mainland manufacturers, and I can help with that. Quality control is also very important: I can act as an agent for designers if they lack manufacturing experience.
You provide private functions and workshops; tell us about those
Yes, we offer regular workshops where customers can learn how to make qipaos, men’s suit jackets and eveningwear. Some of the tutors are already retired – one is 81 years old! – but they are very skilful and willing to teach. We’ve also hosted natural dyeing, tote bag, embroidery and sustainable upcycling workshops.
You have exhibited at CENTRESTAGE and Shanghai Fashion Week. How was that?
We collaborated with several local fashion designers and fresh graduates to have a booth at CENTRESTAGE last year, and rented a showroom for in during Shanghai Fashion Week. Both were good networking experiences.
What are your long-term plans for Designerooms – would you like to open up other facilities in Hong Kong or elsewhere?
We would love to expand the studio area if more designers need our space in the future. The maximum hot desks here is 16 seats, and we have 10 renters here now.