We’re all pretty familiar now with the idea of eco-fashion, and the current sustainability trend has given startups like Redress and Guiltless the boost they need to create a fashion-forward, eco-conscious community. But the environment isn’t the only thing that needs conserving.
Enter Polly Ho. The local designer has featured collections from her brand Loom Loop in New York Fashion Week, and last year set up her first store in Hong Kong’s PMQ. Her collections, which use luxurious Canton silk, place a heavy emphasis on heritage conservation and the protection of traditional craftsmanship.
Over afternoon tea at Hotel Icon’s Above & Beyond, whom Ho has collaborated with for a special summer menu, we chat with the designer about the importance of cultural preservation and how to modernise clothes-making traditions.
What made you choose Canton silk for your designs?
On a trip to South China, near Guangzhou, I met up with a friend. He and his entire family are farmers, have been for generations. They farm this traditional silk material that uses all natural dyes and takes a lot of labour to make. My friend was worried about the industry disappearing—he told me fewer and fewer people know the techniques, and they have already had to close parts of the farm. I wanted to protect that and make these traditions more mainstream.
Why is protecting this tradition important when there are easier and cheaper materials available?
This fabric is already appearing in history museums, but it shouldn’t only be a part of our past. We need to find ways to modernise and add value to these old traditions because it is a part of our culture. In Hong Kong, we are always building new things and focused on the future: but if we forget our past, it disappears.
What other traditional techniques do you incorporate in your designs?
My grandma taught me how to make a traditional Chinese knot. When I realised my mother didn’t know how to do it, though, I realised this was also a disappearing craft. We recycle garments and use the fabric to make Chinese buttons for me to add to my designs. We send orders to a small village in north China, where a group of women make them for us. It lets them stay at home and take care of their children, but also practice this craft of our culture.
How has shopping culture changed in Hong Kong?
I think people don’t enjoy the big mall shopping experience as much anymore. They prefer to travel around and find brands that make a place unique and special. Our store in Hong Kong is based in PMQ, which has a lot of heritage. The history of the building makes the experience different, but my customers come again and again to find clothes they can’t get anywhere else. People don’t want the same patterns as everyone else.
How do you make your clothes eco-conscious, as well as culturally important?
I don’t like fast fashion. The world is over-consuming and overloading. I want to find something that has a story or meaning behind it and share that story so that people buy it and keep it forever or give it to the next generation. I use recycled garments and organic dyes, and we only make each item once, in small, medium and large. If it sells out, we will make it again but we keep the orders small so there is no waste.
Is fashion doing enough to counteract environmental damage?
I think even big brands like H&M are changing a bit: they are becoming more sustainable and they are now recycling old garments. But how many times can you recycle it? I think it’s better to make quality things that last. Who has made it if you have a garment that cheap? What are their working conditions like? This is your second skin: think about where it comes from.
I think projects like Redress are a great thing. Eco-fashion has become ‘in’, but even as a trend, it’s meaningful and I think it can change the concept of what fashion is in the world.
Polly Ho and Hotel Icon have joined forces to celebrate the launch of her latest line, based on the Chinese story The Weaver Girl and The Cowherd, with a limited edition afternoon tea at Above & Beyond. Check it out until the end of July, and explore Ho's latest collection at her PMQ store.
Studio Unit S205, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong, loom-loop.com
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