The group has broad ambitions for The Mills and is backing them with a planned HK$700 million (US$90.3) investment. Speaking at an event yesterday, Antony Leung Kam-chung, Nan Fung Group’s chief executive officer, said Hong Kong should not just be a “financial centre and a city about passing exams and finding a job”.
“We need to start now," he said. "Just as our forefathers made Hong Kong prosperous, we want to build the pillars for the next generation. Facing globalisation and a technology boom, Hong Kong should become a centre for entrepreneurship and creative talent from all over the world.”
Yesterday's event was Pitch Day, a competition that featured eight startups who presented to a judging panel made up of business and fashion experts. Shai Levy's Seventy Eight Percent, which aims to make fashion accessories functional, won the top prize of HK$80,000 (US$10,300) cash and a business development trip and mentorship valued at HK$120,000 (US$15,500).
The Pitch Day competition will run each year leading up to the launch of The Mills in 2018. The location is a 55-year-old textile factory in Tsuen Wan that, if all goes according to plan, will be revamped into a hub for fashion innovation and business.
However, Nan Fung Group’s larger aim is to combine technology and fashion to reach beyond Hong Kong and attract talent, startups and resources from across the globe.
Jason Chiu, chief executive officer at Cherry Picks and director of The Mills, said Hong Kong is in a position to disrupt fashion. "This city's roots are in textiles, fashion and manufacturing, but technology is something new to us," said Chiu. "As a tech entrepreneur focusing on digital and ecommerce, I see a huge opportunity for Hong Kong to combine technology and fashion. This will give us an edge over Silicon Valley."
According to Cherry Chan, person-in-charge of The Mills, the initiative takes cues from other successful programmes such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Centre for Fashion Enterprise in London.
“Fashion is not just consumption," Chan told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "It’s really part of our lives and it’s about creation. What’s different about The Mills and other startup incubators is that the minimum funding of $700 million for the revitalisation of the industry will come directly from [Nan Fung Group].”
The future complex will be made of three components—Fabrica, Gallery and Shopfloor—which will respectively focus on industry incubation; non-profit operations and retail; and food and beverage outlets.
“Going forward we want to be self-sustainable, meaning the rent we collect from the shop floor will eventually cover the cost of running the operation and incubating the entrepreneurs as well giving new brands a showcase,” said Chan.
While the aim will be to nurture these startups and give them independence, The Mills will also invest and have a stake in those that show promise. Chan added that the incubation programme will pick 10 or fewer startups, which might have a chance to be based at The Mills when it opens.