14 Nov 2019
Clothing Industry in Hong Kong
- Starting 1 January 2009, textile and clothing products originating in China no longer require any import licence or surveillance document before entering the EU. Meanwhile, textile and clothing shipments to the US made on or after 1 January 2009 are no longer subject to any quotas.
- Under the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), the mainland has given all products of Hong Kong origin, including clothing items, tariff-free treatment starting from 1 January 2006. According to the stipulated procedures, products which have no existing CEPA rules of origin will enjoy tariff-free treatment upon applications by local manufacturers and upon the CEPA rules of origin being agreed and met.
- Hong Kong clothing companies are reputable for ODM and OEM production. They are able to deliver quality clothing articles in short lead time, as foreign importers and retailers request clothing suppliers to tighten up supply chain management to ensure the ordered merchandise reaching the store floor at the right time. Increasingly, Hong Kong clothing companies, the established ones in particular, have shown enthusiasm for brand promotion.
- Hong Kong’s total exports of clothing decreased by 5% year-on-year in the first half of 2019, when re-exports fell on par and domestic exports dropped by 29%. In January-June 2019, Hong Kong's clothing exports to the US and EU, the two largest markets that accounted for 55% of the total, fell by 9% and 14%, respectively.
Industry Features 
The clothing industry is a major manufacturing sector of Hong Kong. It is one of the largest manufacturing employers in Hong Kong, with 558 establishments hiring 3,468 workers as of March 2019.
Hong Kong's geographic boundary has never constrained the development of the forward-looking clothing industry. The majority of clothing manufacturers have set up offshore production facilities in an attempt to reduce operation costs. Relocation of production facilities offshore has, however, resulted in a largely steady decline in the number of clothing manufacturers in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is not only a leading production centre but also a hub for clothing sourcing globally. Companies doing garment trade in Hong Kong are experienced in fabrics procurement, sales and marketing, quality control, logistic arrangements, clothing designs and international and national rules and regulations. The professionalism that they command and the combined services offered are not easily matched elsewhere. They altogether form one of the largest groups involved in import-export trade in Hong Kong, with 14,170 establishments employing 77,250 people as of Dec 2018.
Performance of Hong Kong’s Exports of Clothing 
In recent years, traditional markets, such as the US, the EU and Japan, have rendered clothing exporters from developing countries, including ASEAN and Bangladesh, more preferential market access, which has in turn impaired the competitiveness of Hong Kong and mainland manufacturers. Along with rising labour costs and stricter environmental regulations in mainland China, an increasing number of Hong Kong and mainland clothing manufacturers have relocated their production of lower-end and mass products to Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. Their manufacturing operations on the mainland are now focused on more sophisticated and higher value-added items or urgent orders.
Hong Kong’s total exports of clothing fell by 5% year-on-year in the first half of 2019 following a 4% decrease in 2018. In January-June 2019, Hong Kong’s domestic exports of clothing slid by 29%, while re-exports fell by 5% on par with total clothing exports.
Among the major export destinations, Hong Kong's clothing exports to the US decreased by 9% in the first six months of 2019, while those to the EU were down by 14%. Clothing exports to major EU markets, including Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and France, fell by 1-17%. Taken together, sales to the US and the EU accounted for more than 55% of Hong Kong’s total clothing exports. On a brighter note, sales to mainland China, ASEAN and Macau grew by 4%, 13% and 24%, respectively.
Product wise, Hong Kong’s exports of woven wear fell by 6% year-on-year in the first half of 2019. Exports of knitted wear decreased by 7%, whereas clothing accessories dropped by 5% on par with other apparel articles.
Source: Hong Kong Trade Statistics, Census and Statistics Department
Hong Kong’s clothing manufacturers have comprehensive knowledge about sourcing and products. They are able to understand and cater to the preferences of the dispersed customer bases. Exporters also have good knowledge of international and national rules and regulations governing clothing exports, such as rules of origin, tariff rates and documentation requirements. Cut, make and trim (CMT) arrangements are common, although many Hong Kong manufacturers have moved to higher value-added activities such as design and brand development, quality control, logistics and material sourcing.
A few well-established local manufacturers have entered into the retailing business, while many of them have retail networks with their own labels locally and overseas. Some well-known manufacturing retailers like Baleno, Bossini, Crocodile, Episode, G-2000, Giordano, I.T, Jeanswest and Moiselle have extended their retail networks not only to developed markets including Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the UK, but also emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America.
As a global sourcing hub in Asia, Hong Kong attracts a number of international trading houses and major retailers. Buyers sourcing from Hong Kong include American and European department stores (e.g. Macy's, JCPenney, Federated, Karstadt Quelle, C&A), discount stores (e.g. Sears, Target and Carrefour), speciality chains (e.g. House of Holland, Temperley London, Willsoor, Zoot) and e-tailers (e.g. Zalora). Many international premium designer labels – such as Calvin Klein, Donna Karen, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Yves Saint Laurent – source clothes in Hong Kong through their buying offices or other intermediaries.
Hong Kong’s fashion designers have been gaining worldwide reputation for their professional expertise, sensitivity to current trends and ability to blend commercialism with innovation. In the New York Fashion Week February 2019, three Hong Kong fashion designer labels, 112 MOUNTAINYAM, Anveglosa and HEAVEN PLEASE+ were invited to take part to showcase their Fall/Winter 2019 collections. In addition, medium to high-priced fashion clothing bearing Hong Kong designer labels is being sold/has been sold in renowned department stores and e-tailing platforms such as Bloomingdale's, Ferd.com, Net-A-Porter and Macy's.
Trade fairs and exhibitions remain common places for buyers and suppliers of clothing to congregate. To establish connections and explore market opportunities, Hong Kong manufacturers and traders have involved themselves actively in international shows led by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), including the ones in Beijing, Budapest, Chengdu, Dalian, Dubai, Dusseldorf, Moscow, Mumbai, Paris, Tokyo, Warsaw, Istanbul and Jakarta. ‘Hong Kong Fashion Week’ is organised twice a year and attracts international suppliers and buyers to participate in the exhibition. Organised by HKTDC, ‘World Boutique, Hong Kong’ was the first independent event in Hong Kong dedicated to promoting designers’ collection and brands from around the world. To better align the event with the international fashion trade calendar, the fair, from 2016 onwards, was rescheduled from January to September and re-named CENTRESTAGE, serving as a dedicated marketing platform for international and regional brands, ready-to-wear and designer labels to showcase their collections.
Online shopping is increasingly an integral part of worldwide apparel sales and marketing, especially in the US and mainland China markets where more than 30% of clothing sales were done online in 2018. The e-tailing eco-system is quickly evolving, with some major marketplaces, including global leaders such as Amazon, Tmall, JD.com and Secoo.com, jockeying for market shares and brand participation. Aligning their market strategies with ever-growing customer experience requirements, industry players are striving to enhance their ordering and fulfillment with the aid of novel technologies such as virtual fitting, visual search and AI-powered chatbots.
On the supply side, by collecting individual consumer data from different consumer touchpoints (e.g. social media, company website, digital advertisements, physical stores and customer centres), apparel manufacturers and designers not only could better identify consumer needs, but also draw inferences from data and make better and quicker response to the fast-changing demand and fashion trends. Going hand-in-hand with digital transformation, advanced production technologies, such as digital and laser printing, 3D knitting, semi-automated sewing and robotics, are breeding new generations of smart factories which could produce just-in-time and on-demand items in small batches.
The lucrative mainland market continues to draw the attention of both Hong Kong and foreign clothing companies and fashion brands. Some well-established foreign players including Champion, Mango, Nike, Skechers and Zadig & Voltaire are fast expanding, online and offline, on the mainland. Some luxury fashion brands, such as the SMCP Group (carrying brands such as Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot), Italian Moschino and German Karl Lagerfeld, are also pairing up with major Chinese e-tailing platforms to deliver omni-channel services. As the market getting more mature, Chinese consumers are becoming more fashionable and conscious about brands and product quality.
Private or house labels, in essence, have become an increasingly effective marketing tool among garment retailers, especially when many consumers in developed markets still remain conservative in view of the nascent economic recovery. In order to differentiate as well as upgrade the image of their products, major retailers have started to put a stronger emphasis on their own labels. Renowned retailers such as H&M, Marks & Spencer, Orsay, Palmers, Pimkie, Springfield and Kookai have owned their private labels. Even IKEA’s first limited-edition private-label fashion accessory, the IKEA fisherman hat, has achieved great success in the US. As consumers desire to have private labels on everyday garments like jeans, accessories and T-shirts, the doors are also open to the supply of these clothing items to private label owners.
Consumers are becoming more practical, thoughtful and socially conscious. The drive to embed sustainability within the clothing industry will likely bring forth new materials and innovative ways of production, while the concept of a circular economy will become more widely applied throughout the supply chain by committing to such ideas as end-of-life collection and closed-loop fashion products to enable the reuse and recycling of textile fibres and fabrics. Against this backdrop, clothing manufacturers have increasingly become certified to traceability standards such as OE Blended, OE 100 standard and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Meanwhile, the number of GOTS certified facilities demonstrated a 15% increase from 5,024 in 2017 to 5,760 facilities last year.
On 18 October 2005, the mainland and Hong Kong agreed to further liberalise the mainland market for Hong Kong companies under the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA). Along with other products of Hong Kong origin, the mainland has given all products of Hong Kong origin, including clothing items, tariff-free treatment starting from 1 January 2006. According to the stipulated procedures, products which have no existing CEPA rules of origin will enjoy tariff-free treatment upon applications by local manufacturers and upon the CEPA rules of origin being agreed and met.
To further facilitate the importation of Hong Kong goods into the mainland with zero tariff, the mainland and Hong Kong recently signed the Agreement on Trade in Goods under CEPA to provide exporters with a flexible option to choose between the existing Build-up method and introduced new Build-down method when calculating the value added to the products in Hong Kong. More details are available here.
The promulgated rules of origin for clothing items to benefit from CEPA's tariff preference are basically similar to the existing rules governing Hong Kong's exports of these products. Generally speaking, the principal manufacturing process of cut-and-sewn garment is sewing of parts into garments. If linking and/or stitching is/are required, such process/processes must also be done in Hong Kong. For piece-knitted garment, if it is manufactured from yarn, the principal process is knitting of yarn into knit-to-shape panel. If the piece-knitted garment is manufactured from knit-to-shape-panels, the principal process is linking of knit-to-shape panels into garment. If stitching is required, it must also be done in Hong Kong. Detailed information is available here.
Consumers in mature markets continue to resume spending on fashion products, but still opt for items that offer comfort, function and value-for-money. Longevity remains an important element, while items with recognisable, fashionable brands and decent quality are still highly sought-after.
Childrenswear continues to shape the clothing industry. The global market for children’s apparel is forecast to top US$200 billion by 2021. Parents worldwide are becoming more willing and able to pamper their children with more exquisite apparel, with a rising trend of gender-neutral childrenswear. The sturdiness is particularly visible in China market where the implementation of the two-child policy has ever since given rise to a double-digit sales growth of childrenswear since 2016.
The ageing population becomes a common phenomenon in many developed countries in Europe, Japan as well as the US. United Nations projects that population aged 60 or over in more developed regions accounts for 33% of their respective population. Elderly people constitute a major market segment called the ‘silver market’. Supported by savings, social security benefits and pensions, many elderly people have a rather strong spending power. A survey conducted by the Japanese government also shows that people who are 60 years old and above possess almost three times the financial assets of those in the 40-50 age group.
The plus-size market has been an area of growth for many years, and the trend is expected to continue, particularly in the US and UK. For instance, it is estimated that the average American woman is about 25 pounds heavier than she was in 1960, whereas nearly 40% of American adults and 19% of youth were obese according to recent research by the US’s National Center for Health Statistics. To tap the trend, some renowned brands such as Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and H&M have already responded by offering merchandise of larger size.
Clothes made of easy-care fabrics are well received in the market. While major apparel brands like Dockers and Liz Claiborne have already marketed extensively easy-care clothes, Hong Kong brands, such as LXN Collection, have chosen to focus on tailor-made quick-dry and stain-resistant business attire.
As people embrace a healthier urban lifestyle, the demand for athleisure that is suitable for multiple occasions is on the rise. This has seen athleisure brands to expand their product lines to include office wear, such as blouses and blazers. The demand for functional clothing is also climbing, thanks to the rapid development of anti-UV, anti-ray, good sweat management, thermal insulation, and self-cleaning technology.
The growth of technology allows consumers to search the internet and find a way to create their own custom made outfits. This is the modern way to express their creativity on making their own fashion designs and clothes. In response, some reputable clothing stores like Nike, Adidas and Walmart have started to sell personalised apparel, while companies in smaller business allow consumers to customise clothes and accessories with their own design online.
 Industry statistics cover activities in Hong Kong only.
 Since offshore trade has not been captured by ordinary trade figures, these numbers do not necessarily reflect the export business managed by Hong Kong companies.