Having trained at Central Saint Martins in London, Hong Kong designer Chailie Ho wants to redefine how women dress with her fashion brand. Read her story and take on empowerment through femininity.
It’s late afternoon, and all you can hear in Chailie Ho’s fashion boutique located in Hong Kong’s creative hub PMQ is the rattling sound of a sewing machine. Standing quietly behind her work desk, the designer diligently mulls over her latest creations. Set up in 2010, her colour-splashed, feminine designs have been earning her accolades ever since – from winning the Fashion World Talent Award in 2010, to being named one of the 40 Under 40 by Perspective Magazine in The Next Generation of Design Talent Award 2012. It’s not bad for a designer who says she may well have never struck out on her own if it wasn’t for a simple twist of fate.
Chailie, it turns out, didn’t always aspire to be a fashion designer. “I might well have become a buyer for fashion brands if it weren’t for something my friend once said to me; the difference between being a fashion buyer and a fashion designer is that no one will ever be able to replace you if you become the latter.” Spurred on, she enrolled at one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the world, Central Saint Martins in London, where she first headed to aged 23 to study womenswear and then later for a postgraduate degree in pattern cutting.
Four years later and back home, Chailie went on to set up her own brand in 2010, despite stiff opposition from family and friends. “No one supported me at the time,” she remembers. “But to be frank, having their support doesn’t guarantee your success, and alternatively, having no support doesn’t mean you’re going to fail. It was my choice to spend all those years studying design. If I hadn’t given it a go, I would have regretted it my whole life. Even worse, I would have wasted my gift and efforts.”
Fast forward to the present day, and Chailie has more than put those efforts into practice. Colourful collections of hand-drawn watercolour prints are her signature. Her brand’s recurring theme of gentle femininity can be traced back to the influence of Chailie’s mother, whom the designer remembers as a great artisan with a penchant for lace and chiffon. “Everything has been created with women in mind. My designs welcome the fragility of women, allowing girls to have more softness, to show off their feminine side. Power dressing is an idea of the past. You don’t need a suit to be confident and independent. Now, embracing your femininity can also be an act of confidence,” she explains.
Permanently hunting for ideas, Chailie’s creativity takes inspiration from far and wide. “Each print carries a story,” she says. “I like using watercolour to transform dreary subjects into something that’s romantic and beautiful.” That extends to her motif inspired by Hong Kong’s skyline.“It is my romanticised version of Hong Kong. I want to capture the beauty of my city, as opposed to the usual depiction of Hong Kong as a concrete jungle.”
Priced between HKD 1000-6000, each piece in Chailie’s collections is made out of premium materials such as cashmere, lace and satin. In her tiny boutique, customers get a sneak peek into the production process. “The concept behind this is to showcase the quality and creative process of our locally-made fashion,” she explains. “It’s also a great way to foster a closer relationship with my customers.”
Having recently launched two more shops, one in Mong Kok and one at Hong Kong’s airport, Chailie is keen to grow her business. “Having my own brand has given me the freedom to follow my approach to fashion,” she says of what she likes most about running her own label. “I was told before that my designs were too revealing,” she recalls. “But, as a designer, what matters most is persevering in creating what you’ve envisioned. Not just a stubborn insistence that fails to respond to criticism or advice, but the will to continually improve what you’ve created.”