Buzzy local label Cynthia & Xiao only launched two years ago, but they've already built up a lengthy CV, with shows at Paris, New York and Milan Fashion Week. We talk to the two eponymous founders, best friends and college flatmates, about what it's like starting their brand of “bold basics” in Hong Kong.
How did you two meet?
We met in the dorms at Central St. Martins in London. We were both studying fashion—Xiao specialized in knitwear and I was studying fashion design with marketing. We were neighbours and we became fast friends. We eventually moved out together in London and became flatmates.
How long have you been working in the industry?
Around six years. We launched our brand in 2015, but we spent some time working in a few places beforehand. Xiao designed for a few Chinese labels in Beijing and I worked in a few luxury retailers in Hong Kong. We decided to start our own thing after we got a better grasp of the business.
What’s it like working together?
Both of us are heavily involved in the design process, but we focus on different aspects. Xiao tends to the knitwear side, whereas I will focus on the woven pieces. We also find a balance on the business side of things, Xiao looks after the China market and I take care of the US and European markets.
Can you summarize Cynthia & Xiao in one sentence?
We’re a modern womenswear brand founded on bold graphics and simple shapes.
What’s one of the biggest obstacles about being fashion designers in Hong Kong and China?
For Hong Kong, that would definitely have to be rent. It’s really a struggle to build a proper studio without having to break the bank. For China, it’s the complexity of the market itself. There are lots of established processes and regulations that we need to learn to follow and that takes a lot of time.
What’s one of the biggest benefits of being a brand founded in Asia?
Hong Kong is really amazing for small businesses. The entire company setup process is very simple and efficient. The government is also very supportive with many funds and programs for new companies. China, on the other hand, is a gigantic market and has so much potential. Being in China also means we are close to production.
You’ve hosted fashion shows in New York and Paris—what’s it like?
To be honest, it’s so much work for just a few minutes on the catwalk! Our most recent show was in Paris, and the show was organized by Fashion Farm Foundation and Semeiotics, and we were given a lot of help with PR, model castings, production, styling and even hair and make up.
But at the end of the day, there’s no bigger rush than watching the show you’ve been prepping for from backstage on a little screen.
Who are your biggest style inspirations?
We love Taylor Thomas Hill, Yasmin Sewell, Miroslava Duma. They all have their own personal style and have an amazing masculine side to them.
What's the most memorable shoot you’ve done for the brand?
That would probably be our Autumn/Winter 2015 campaign. We had a very low budget and we couldn’t afford a studio. We ended up shooting in our photographer’s flat in Hong Kong. We had maybe 50 square feet, so we did everything—hair, make up, prepping the clothes—all in that small space.
We somehow managed to squeeze in a team of six inside and there was barely enough space for the model to move around, but the shoot came out great. You just have to make the most with what you have.
What advice would you give to a budding fashion designer?
Have a good plan of how you want to grow your business and always plan for the worst. Great designs are the cornerstones of your brand, but having expertise in the business side is equally important.
And lastly, where do you see yourselves in five years?
All over the world! Hopefully in five years' time, we would have built a company that can allow both of us to work anywhere in the world. Neither of us like to be trapped in one city. We would love to be able to move around and still be able to manage the company and create the collection remotely.
Cynthia & Xiao is available at Lane Crawford.
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