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Partnerships with online retailers Yoho and Zalora have helped Hong Kong designer Steffi Chan extend the reach of her Dare to Dream clothing brand beyond China.
Chan combined her business know-how and love of fashion to set up the business in 2013. Her signature Indigo knitwear, and the company opened a flagship store in Macau in 2014.
On the Hong Kong Means Business website, run by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), Chan explains how she developed an eye for quality clothes from her grandfather, who was a textile manufacturer. She started designing T-shirts for a society at the University of Nottingham in the UK, from which she has since graduated with a business degree.
“The satisfaction of producing clothes inspired me to build Dare to Dream, and made me think about branding and setting up my own company.”
After interning for various brands during summer vacations, including Urban Outfitters, she began to understand the communication process between designers and factories. “Inspiration can come from bizarre places and moments, including from the food you’re eating,” says Chan.
Her first trip to the Chinese mainland was organised by the HKTDC in 2013 so she could participate in the Chic trade fair in Beijing.
“It was an unusual experience to see so many established brands in once place,” says Chan.
“We organised a fashion show, which greatly helped to boost our brand’s exposure. Unlike buyers from the US, people on the mainland make decisions quickly. Many wholesale and consignment deals were struck during our first meeting.”
It was at the fair that Chan met representatives of Yoho, which became her first online buyer. The following year she met with people from Zalora at the HKTDC World Boutique expo.
“We came prepared for the 15-minute business-matching meeting, bringing many examples and brand profile information. We were able to enter Zalora’s main catalogue within one month.
“Starting this season, we moved to Zalora’s marketplace, where we manage our own site. Instead of relying on Zalora, we hope to develop our brand image using our own resources.”
Discussing the difference between an outlet and online presence, Chan says visuals are critical in eCommerce “because customers cannot feel the fabric until the buy it”.
With a new online team,  Dare to Dream produces and edits photographs to align with its image.
“Social media engagement is also important. We have to put in a lot of effort to draw people’s attention, but the returns are rewarding – about two to three times that of a physical store.”
Chan says she was surprised to learn that Chinese customers are open to bold designs, including items in bright colours and large prints. Mobile shopping is popular, and the price range is broad as mainland consumers are drawn to a wide variety.
In Macau, tourists – particularly from Japan and Portugal – also like colourful clothes.
“Winter collections perform better in Hong Kong than Singapore, which rarely gets cold. But Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia share relatively conservative tastes, gravitating toward black and white items.”
Chan says that wholesaling partners from the US place emphasis on the fabric, and generally find Asian brands cool.
“We will continue to expand to new markets,” says Chan. “We learn different things from different shows. We were in Taipei In Style in November, and at the Who’s Next show in Paris we met another online retailer, BuyMeDesign.
“Buyers from Italy and Spain like our indigo knit, and people from France like our accessories. I think the HKTDC’s new fashion event Centrestage, in September, will be very interesting, and we hope to be part of the debut show.”

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