This month’s Super Stylers are pioneers in eco-friendly fashion in Hong Kong. Their online eco-boutique, A Boy Named Sue, stocks beautiful collections of sustainable clothing sourced from designers all over the world. We catch up with them to learn more about why shopping for sustainable fashion is so important, the difficulties of starting a business in Hong Kong and what their secret shopping spots and favourite local brands are…
How did you both meet and what made you decide to start A Boy Named Sue?
T/S: We met through fashion blogging. Tania came from a financial background and wanted an outlet where she could creatively express herself. Sam was already working as a fashion analyst for an online retailer. It all started off with a worldwide blogger collaboration, called The 15/30 Project. Each blogger had to curate a capsule wardrobe of only 15 items to wear for 30 days (a month) to promote creativity through sustainability, the concept of cost per wear and a culture that doesn’t promote reckless fast fashion shopping.
After that, we wanted to take the idea further and began researching designers who incorporated a sustainable ethos into their collections while maintaining a design aesthetic that would seamlessly blend into the contemporary wardrobe. We wanted to change the perception that green fashion was either hemp granola clothing or on the flip side, too conceptual to wear out to a dinner with your girlfriends. Since we came from a background in fashion blogging, online retail seemed like the best place for us to create a platform where ethical and socially conscious clothing could be made available to the global consumer. Thus A Boy Named Sue came to being.
What challenges did you face setting up A Boy Named Sue in Hong Kong?
T/S: Hong Kong is a fast paced, efficient and very business friendly place, there are no export or import fees and you can set up a company in one week. The main issues for any start-up here are the extortionate rents!
As an eco business, we are also faced with a lack of government support or interest in sustainable businesses and a lack of consumer awareness. In Hong Kong and the rest of Asia, people still favour either big brands or fast fashion labels. There is a certain reluctance to pay more than Zara for an unknown designer. We feel this attitude has slowly been changing since we launched two years ago. People are demanding quality and individuality. They are more interested in the story of the pieces they buy and are changing their shopping habits, focusing on timeless unique pieces, rather than cheap trendy items that will fall apart after three washes.
Any advice for those wanting to start their own business (especially in fashion)?
T/S: Do your business plan, speak to people, re-do the business plan and do research. Online fashion in Asia is still a very tough market, so prepare to be patient and know your niche.
What are your roles? Do you have different skills/expertise/responsibilities?
S: Tania is more responsible for the ‘front-end’ of things – strategy, finance, liaising with designers, marketing and PR. I’m in the backend doing the photography, preparing newsletters and uploading products onto the actual website.
Why is it important for people to choose eco-friendly fashion?
T/S: Because it has such a big impact on our social and environmental landscape. If you have a passion for social justice and love our planet, you need to see how detrimental fashion is to the environment. Places like Bangladesh, China and Cambodia do not boast good government regulation and as a result river beds and ecosystems are destroyed with chemicals, people are paid peanuts and child labor still exists. China is changing faster than other textile manufacturing countries, however there is still huge room for improvement. Recently we collaborated with Conscious Magazine to discuss the importance of sustainability in 5 simple points – read it here.
Where do you shop in HK? Any hidden spots you can let us in on?
S: You’ll always find me on Kowloon side – particularly Shanghai Street for kitchenware and Prince Edward for plants.
T: I love the Flower Market, Sam is the best guide. For clothes I like Star Street, they have so many cool stores there and Sheung Wan is getting more exciting by the day. My friends just opened a beautiful lifestyle store there called Chateau Zoobeetle, it was designed by Substance, my husband’s design agency. They sell anything from leather bags and accessories (own brand), to up and coming French wine. I also love the The9thMuse and Callixto for jewellery and last minute gifts. For homeware, I head to Casa Capriz – Irene just opened a new place on Aberdeen Street, where Moustache used to be.
Do you use other eco-friendly products (apart from fashion) in your lives?
S: I try to support local shops/designers whenever I can. I’m a huge homeware person so I try to promote independent ceramicists I come across.
T: I have a baby, so all the chemical products and bath products in my house are organic. I also tend to eat organic as much as possible and try to be vegetarian for 90% of my meals.
How do you source your designers for the website?
T/S: When we initially started A Boy Named Sue, we just used Google! Now with our online shop up, a lot of designers get in touch with us via email/Facebook/Instagram.
Any ethical fashion brands/platforms that you admire and inspire you?
T: Ace&Jig is a brand that never fails to inspire us. The girls, Jenna and Cary, are real textile aficionados and storytellers at heart. They work with a textile specialist based in India that uses recycled water to grow organic produce and provides free childcare for employees. Jenna and Cary work with women one-on-one to create custom yarn-dye woven fabric from an ancient hand loom on site. Every season they come up with brand new exciting prints. The girls are also hands on mums and have a homeware line! Find them on the site here.
What do you love to do in your spare time?
S: Photography (same as at ABNS!), going to the flower market and spending time with friends.
T: Spending time with my 5-month old daughter, hiking with my three dogs, doing long lazy lunches, traveling and working on new projects!
Who are your Top 5 favourite fashion designers?
S: I don’t follow the runways religiously, but if we’re talking about aesthetics only – Givenchy, Low Classic (a Korean brand), Band of Outsiders, Celine and Chloe.
T: Celine, Dries Van Noten, Svilu, Sacai, Roksanda Iincic and Ellery (that’s six… sorry!).
How would you each describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
S: It’s definitely more of a uniform. As boring as it sounds, versatility and comfort is essential since I can be going from shooting to meeting clients to sitting in front of my computer. My style needs to complement each situation. In the ideal world I’d be able to pull off heels, but I’m unfortunately always in sneakers now.
T: Pared down, simple and minimal in the city, laid back and more bohemian on holiday. I always balance masculine and feminine. Recently I have been favouring more feminine styles, like our Hien Le Vegan leather skirt with oversized coats. I like wearing heels once in a while, but HK is not very heel-friendly!
What are you trend predictions for fashion in 2015?
S: Let’s hope it’s the rise of fashion done in a sustainable way.
What are your 5 must-have staple pieces for every girl’s wardrobe?
S: Sneakers, a slouchy summer dress for HK heat, a pair of black denim jeans, an understated piece of classic jewellery and a tailored jacket.
T: Black denim, grey denim, a white silk top, a good grey coat, a pair of versatile shorts (that can be dressed up and dressed down).
T: A cropped Kaarem top!
Which pieces are you currently coveting for yourselves that are on the A Boy Named Sue website now?
S: Tough one. Though I don’t wear that many skirts, the Hien Le Ida Skirt in vegan leather is one of my favourites because of its simplicity.
What are your plans for A Boy Named Sue in the future?
S: To keep doing exactly what we are doing now but better: finding designers who create consistently beautiful clothes, with a passion to do it with a sustainable approach at price point our customers are willing to spend on.