The first concept store in Sham Shui Po sells an eclectic mix of consumer products designed mostly by Hong Kong designers. Can it pave the way for other creative entrepreneurs in one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighborhoods?
22 Degrees North is a concept store in Sham Shui Po run by four young designers selling an eclectic mix of consumer goods.
Ambrose Ho graduated from Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in knitwear design.
Following his graduation from PolyU, Ambrose decided to further his studies at the University of London, where he majored in fashion merchandising.
He returned to Hong Kong in 2011, working briefly as a designer at the United Colours of Benetton. Then he opened boutiques in Tsim Sha Tsui, where he sold products he had designed himself.
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Thanks to the popularity of all things Korean, Ambrose spent 10 months flying back and forth between Hong Kong and Seoul in 2012 and 13.
He soon realized that he couldn’t just focus on design. He also needed to make money.
So he started spending more time doing things that were “more commercial” such as merchandising, wholesaling, shipping, sourcing, and supplying shops in Tsim Sha Tsui, a commercial and residential district in Kowloon that is popular with both locals and tourists.
Ambrose and some friends with similar ideas decided to collaborate with each other and open a concept store selling their own designs.
In addition to selling their own products, they would also sell other products designed by both local and overseas designers on a consignment basis.
Showcase for Hong Kong Design
Located on bustling commercial strip in Kowloon’s gritty Sham Shui Po district, 22 Degrees North was named after Hong Kong’s geographical latitude.
One of the reasons they chose the location was because of the relatively low rents compared to Hong Kong Island. On the downside, there is also considerably less foot traffic.
According to an Italian designer that sells products on consignment at the shop, however, he sells more there than at a boutique at PMQ on Hong Kong Island!
“We hope it represents Hong Kong design,” Ambrose says. “We want it to be a place to showcase the work of Hong Kong designers to the world.”
The product mix runs from bags, backpacks, and travel totes to briefcases, luggage, and men’s clothing. There are also assorted stationery items and a handful of products for the home.
There are two floors upstairs, including a workshop and a space where art exhibitions, film festivals, mini concerts, dramatic film presentations, fashion shows, and lectures are sometimes held.
Ambrose describes Sham Shui Po as raw, poor, and dirty. And therein lies much of the district’s charm.
“It is representative of the Old Hong Kong,” Ambrose says. “Most of buildings are 60 to 70 years old.”
As one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighborhoods, Sham Shui Po is home to crowded public housing estates, crumbling tenements, two large shopping malls, and numerous street markets.
Cafes and tea houses and noodle shops line the streets, and dai-pai-dong, Hong Kong’s answer to sidewalk cafes, set up shop after dark – along with a thriving “thieves market”.
Here and there a traditional shop house or a Chinese temple remain.
Some of the old buildings have been left to age gracefully. Others have been painted in gaudy colours.
Sham Shui Po once played host to hundreds of garment factories, which manufactured clothing and accessories for major labels on a OEM basis.
While most of the factories moved north of the border to Guangdong province in decades past, many of the shops that supplied them with fabrics, accessories, and equipment remain.
The district continues to attract fashion designers and merchandisers as well as design students from SCAD Hong Kong, which has a campus in Sham Shui Po, as well as other tertiary institutions in Hong Kong and visiting students from overseas.
“Designers did their sourcing here,” Ambrose says.
“When we were young, we bought our fabrics, buttons, zippers, and sewing machines here. As a design student or working as a designer you could get everything you wanted here. Sham Shui Po was the basement for the design industry in Hong Kong.”
When 22 Degrees North opened two years ago, it was first retail shop of its type to plant its flag in a district dominated by wholesalers.
Several other retailers quickly followed suit, opening shops on nearby Tai Nan Street: four shops selling leather goods as well as a tattoo parlour, a paperworks, a coffee house, and a French style patisserie.
Is the Po, as some people refer to the district, on the Road to Recovery, is it Hong Kong’s next hot neighborhood, or is it past its “sell-by” date?
“I give it two to three years – five years max,” Ambrose says.
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“Sham Shui Po is poor. It’s not for shopping. I don’t foresee more people moving in. The peak is over.”
Ambrose would like to “keep the rhythm going,” but he says no new shops have opened in recent months. And he understands that the younger generation doesn’t want to take over the family businesses.
The only hope, Ambrose believes, is for the government to step in and redevelop the area. But he would like to see the old face preserved – along with all the rawness that gives Sham Shui Po its unique identity.
22 Degrees North, 88 Nam Cheong Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Telephone: (852) 2568 1148. Store Website: 22 Degrees North.
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