HONG KONG — Christopher Kane spoke to more than 500 people here Monday night for the inaugural Joyce Creative Salon, a forum series launched by the retailer. Titled “Objects of Desire: Fashion, Creation and Innovation Reconsidered,” the panel discussion was moderated by lead anchor at Bloomberg Angie Lau. Speakers included chief executive officer of Intelligence Squared Group Yana Peel, chief catalyst at Fung Academy Richard Kelly and multimedia artist Elaine Ng Yan Ling.
Each panelist highlighted different issues affecting the industry based on their experiences. Ng spoke about her recent project collaborating with local village craftswomen in Guizhou in South China. “Seventy percent of women moved into a factory that doesn’t require their heritage skills,” she lamented. “They are in competition with digital-made woven product and embroidery.” She stressed the need to innovate their skills and apply them to new materials to make them relevant today.
Other speakers concurred that awareness about the origins of clothing and sourcing responsibly were essential. “The question is for consumers at the point of purchase, is it yet another $2 T-shirt? Or [does it] actually mean something to buy something else?” Kelly said.
Kane agreed that as a designer he has a social responsibility to be conscious where clothes are made. He added that he sources a lot of knitwear from Scotland in an effort to support the local community.
Asked about the challenges he experienced over the course of his career, Kane spoke about the struggle to accommodate the quickening pace of the fashion industry and consumers’ constant desire for newness. “Before you’ve even finished the one collection you are working on a further two so you are constantly trying to predict the future and time travel,” he said. “You have so much pressure to come up with new ideas….It can become a prison sentence but for some reason I like it.”
Kelly spoke about Fung Group’s recently opened laboratory in Shanghai, which tests omnichannel business models on consumers. In response to Kane’s comments on the growing demand for speed in fashion, he commented, “Can you change [products] on a week-to-week basis? You probably could but the real question is why do that? And what happens?” He explained that the lab is studying the implications of mass customization and digital manufacturing methods such as 3-D printing. “What are the technologies that enable you to figure out what data-driven retail looks like? Do you start with data and create a collection from that?” he said. “There are so many questions…it’s quite scary.”
Technology was among the top topics of the evening. Each of the panelists questioned the need for wearable technology. “No one has actually asked consumers whether they want it or not. The world of consumer electronics has decided that it can’t grow anymore so it’s entering fashion,” Kelly said. “Ultimately it goes back to how is it useful? How many people wore Fitbits and Up bands but a year later they were no fitter, so what is the point.”
Kane echoed his sentiments. “I’m already over the whole word,” he said of wearable technology. “An LED dress is a great concept but how can you wear it every day?” He explained that functionality was key and gave examples of his use of technology to update traditional lace by mixing plastic and metal. “The fact is we work with fabrics to make life easier. It’s about the wearability, the function and it still has to look good.”
Earlier in the day, Kane mingled with VIPs at the Joyce boutique in Central in a space dedicated to designs from his spring 2016 collection. “The Chinese woman is obviously affluent but she’s also rich in knowledge of fashion, designers, newness and what’s happening,” he said. “In Asia they really appreciate creativity. They want to wear it — they want to feel as if they are wearing art….They are not scared to take risks.”
Asked what’s next, Kane said he is looking to grow different product categories, particularly leather goods. “It’s so easy for everyone to wear from a teenager to a women in her 60s,” he explained. “I think a lot of brands have seen the success of bags and how you can really expand.”