Andy Wong discusses fur and fashion

_MG_6166Andy Wong is a director of both Mandarin Fur and the Hong Kong Fur Federation.

Your childhood was split between Hong Kong and Toronto. How was growing up in Canada different to growing up here?

First of all, the weather is completely different. One is freezing and the other is humid. I was raised in Toronto from when I was seven years old. My whole family emigrated in the run-up to 1997, along with many other Hong Kongers.

As my father still worked in Hong Kong, though, he travelled back and forth quite frequently. In my case, I didn’t come back to Hong Kong permanently until I was 22 and had graduated from university.

Initially, it wasn’t easy to adjust to life in Canada, especially with regards to the language differences and the need to learn English. It took me about a year to adapt to Toronto’s culture. As I was the youngest, it was easier for me. My older brother and sister found it more of a struggle.

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How would you describe your university experience?

I was a student for one year at the University of Toronto. I was studying economics, but then I realised I didn’t really like it. I found it boring and it really wasn’t me. Fashion, though, was something I’d liked since I was a teenager. When I was about 13, I started following designers, reading fashion magazines, going shopping and doing a lot of fashion research. So, after one year of university, without telling my family, I transferred to another school – the International Academy of Design and Technology. There they taught vocational programmes in areas such as interior design, fashion design and computer graphics. I graduated from there in 2002.

It was quite a fun time. I made a lot of new friends at college, especially in the fashion design department. I came to realise you could wear whatever you wanted to. I used to wear skirts and dresses to school and had my hair in dreadlocks. I can’t even begin to describe how I looked back then. After turning 30, my look became a little more mature. As you age,your fashion tastes change in line with your advancing years. It wouldn’t be so easy to wear a skirt now.

After I graduated, I moved back to Hong Kong, believing I would have better chances of work here. My family had already returned, which was another incentive.


How did your family get started in the fur trade and what made you join the family business, Mandarin Fur Limited?

My grandfather worked in Nanjing, one of the centres of the mainland fur industry. Way, way back the emperor of China was said to have commissioned workers from Nanjing to make fur items for the royal family, believing them to be the most skilled in his kingdom.

Sadly, my grandfather passed away when my dad was just 14. He then travelled to Hong Kong on his own and found work under a master who taught him the secrets of the fur trade. After that, he got married and, in the 1970s, he started his own business – Mandarin Fur.

Once I had graduated, he asked if I wanted to work for the company, recognising that I was already working in the fashion sector. Although, initially, I feared it might be a little dull, in the first two years of working for my father I had to travel all over the world for work. It was then that I realised what a fascinating role it was.

I wasn’t expected just to look at the business angle. I also had to consider the factory requirements, current fashions, available fur materials and the role played by auctions. All fur is bought through auctions.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the industry. Some think that the animals are skinned alive, but I can tell you that’s not true. Some 97 percent of all fur is sourced from farm-raised animals. They die painlessly and their fur is then sent to auction. Once we have successfully bid for particular fur pieces, we send them to a semi-dressing factory, where they treat the skins and make them softer. They are then sent to another factory for the processing to be completed.

_MG_6079“My favourite designer would have to be Hedi Slimane, Yves Saint Laurent’s former creative director”

As you travel extensively for work, do you still enjoy leisure travel?

Before I went to college, I visited Japan with my father on a couple of occasions in order to meet customers, which was a great experience. After I joined the business full-time, travel became something of a burden. Now I don’t fly if I can possibly avoid it.
I work alongside my brother, so he tends to do the travelling while I stay in Hong Kong and take care of business here. In the first two years, though, I couldn’t even speculate as to just how many miles I covered.

The most painful experience – and hence the most memorable – was when I went to Milan for a trade fair for a week. As soon as I arrived back in Hong Kong, my father told me I had to go to Denmark for another event. That was really draining and I have been reluctant to fly ever since.

While I used to like travelling, as I get older I tend to like relaxing and spending time with family and friends far more. I still love Japan, so that’s maybe my number one choice if I have to travel. I used to like going to Western Europe, too, but I came to realise that Eastern Europe is fascinating when it comes to sightseeing. There are still a lot of Eastern European countries that I haven’t had a chance to visit.


You are also involved with the Hong Kong Fur Federation. What does that entail?

I am actually one of its directors. It involves quite a lot of meetings, most of them related to fur fairs. The next one is taking place in February – the Hong Kong International Fur and Fashion Fair – which is the largest event we organise. Aside from that, we’re also responsible for the general promotion of fur in Hong Kong.

When people think of fur, they tend to think of Italy or Europe as being the focal point of the industry. Hong Kong, though, is actually number one in the world when it comes to fur exports. Our international fur fair is a four-day event and, on the first day, we always hold the Hong Kong Fur Gala. This is a huge event with about 140 tables. It’s the biggest event of its kind in the world, never mind just in Asia. It’s far bigger than anything Milan can offer.

During those four days, it’s basically an open exhibition, allowing overseas clients and buyers to shop for furs. More than 100 companies and buyers from around the world take part, visiting each booth and selecting pieces that they like. It’s a hugely important event.


Is it a seasonal business? Do Hong Kong’s hot summer months see a downturn in sales?

Actually, our primary market is not in Hong Kong at all. So, in terms of sales, the weather here doesn’t affect us. Overall, some 95 percent of sales do not come from Hong Kong, but from our export markets instead.

In Hong Kong, we tend to mostly sell to friends or to someone who is looking for a particular luxury item. As Hong Kong is quite warm, people wear fur mainly to parties or high-profile events. They don’t wear it on the street. Looking beyond Hong Kong, though, the market is immense. People still wear a lot of fur in Russia, for example, where they really need it. It’s freezing there and the same applies to northern China. In fact, most of our buyers are in Korea, Russia or America.


As a self-confessed fashion fan, which designers do you most admire?

My favourite would have to be Hedi Slimane, Yves Saint Laurent’s former creative director. He left the brand in March last year and now I’m looking forward to seeing where he ends up. He’s definitely my number one, the closest I get to having a fashion idol. My second choice would be Raf Simons, the chief creative officer of Calvin Klein. He’s simply amazing. Essentially, he incorporates architecture into his design. He doesn’t follow trends, so his collections are always one-of-a-kind. The last one would be Thom Browne, the founder of the Thom Browne menswear line. He’s always my first choice for suits.

When you are not working, how do you unwind?

In addition to spending as much time with my family as I can, for the past 10 months I’ve been a regular visitor to Zerve Bar in Causeway Bay. I come a few times a week and always play beer pong. It’s got to the point where I don’t even have to come with my friends because they’ll already be here when I show up. Back in September, some friends asked me to join their beer pong tournament. At the time, I declined, thinking I was too new to the game. The next one is going to be held in June and then I will be taking part. It will be my first ever beer pong competition. I regret never having tried it in college. It really is hugely enjoyable.

Thank you.

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