Hong Kong has always been viewed as a gateway to China, and as a Westerner it’s a very easy way to acclimatise to the region.
Everywhere is air conditioned, English is spoken widely, Prets and Starbucks are as prevalent as they are in London and the names of everything from hospitals to pubs reflect the archipelago’s colonialist past.
So it’s no surprise that despite Shanghai show Novomania’s best efforts, it is The Hub that has attracted a crop of emerging and established brands, most of which are in the premium or luxury menswear bracket. It helped of course that the Hong Kong show was organised by ex-pats and well known industry names Richard Hobbs and Peter Caplowe.
Those who are currently exhibiting – the show ends tomorrow (August 30) – are among the more outward looking brands, keen to break into the territory with one of the most compelling long-term economic prospects in the world. But most are realistic about what they hope to achieve from this three day event.
To sum it up as “not very much” might sound a bit unfair, but virtually everyone here has told me they had very low expectations, if they had any expectations at all. For most, even those with a Hong Kong presence, it is an opportunity to set out their stall, show buyers from the mainland what they do and – most importantly – see the whites of the eyes of the people they hope to deal with.
Brands here this week have seen others try to break China full pace and fail, and as a result are taking their time to get things right. John Smedley, for example, has been developing a strategy for China over the last four years and UK and European sales manager Paul Batth still expects it to take another year before he is happy.
But although people have done their homework, there is still a huge lack of knowledge about China, which won’t be fixed by attending an event in an island city several thousand miles away from the key cities of Beijing and Shanghai.
If businesses are really going to understand the country, it’s essential they go beyond the gateway of Hong Kong and into China itself. There is slightly less aircon, slightly fewer Starbucks (only slightly) and much less English being used, but if companies are going to stop equating China to the dark side of the moon they need to go and see what the retail environment is really like.