When designer Brian Au established casual sportswear label CHSN1 in Hong Kong last year, little did he know that the ongoing protests against a now-withdrawn extradition bill that started in June would throw his plans for the company into disarray.
As previously reported by the Post, amid the escalating protests, China has decided to ban exports of black clothing to Hong Kong as a result of protesters adopting as their uniform black T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, often paired with a black mask.
CHSN1 sells separates such as hoodies, sweatshirts and sleeveless tops that mainly come in black.
“The black came to me because it’s easy to wear and I had no preconceived ideas of doing all black,” Au says.
Au, who was born in Hong Kong but moved to Vancouver at the age of four before returning to Hong Kong in 2007, has a background as a graphic designer and also runs a company that creates websites. He started CHSN1 as a passion project.
“The concept was to make something I wanted to wear myself and something I could wear at the gym and outside the gym,” he says. “I grew up interested in streetwear, hip-hop, basketball. I was itching to do something else and thinking what else I could do because design is very versatile.”
CHSN1, which stands for “chosen one”, is available through the brand’s own website. Its main market is North America, where Au has built awareness through Instagram and Facebook. Production takes place in a factory near the city of Guangzhou in southern China.
Au has adopted the “drop model” typical of streetwear labels: timed releases of new products that don’t follow the seasonal calendar of conventional brands. However, the brand’s latest drop, which was supposed to be available in September, has not reached Hong Kong yet, due to the Chinese government’s ban.
“All the designs for the latest drop were finalised in July, when all this was bubbling. So there was no going back, and then when it got more serious we started having trouble getting our stuff into Hong Kong,” Au says.
“Right now all my items for the September drop are being held at customs. Couriers won’t even pick them up. There’s no way to get even one shirt into Hong Kong.”
While Au has yet to hear of other brands that have been affected by the ban, he knows of non-apparel companies that had placed orders of black T-shirts for corporate events and couldn’t get them shipped into Hong Kong from China.
In spite of his frustration with this unexpected development, Au is taking it in stride and is hopeful that this standstill will eventually come to an end.
He has not personally seen any protesters wearing his creations on the street but has heard from friends who have seen some clad in CHSN1 items.
While the protests are clearly affecting the bottom line of his brand, Au is not deterred from wearing his favourite colour out and about even in this charged climate when wearing black can have different meanings to different people.
“My brand is mainly black and I still wear it because it’s what I like,” he says. “It’s my style and the essence of the brand and I always wear black, so I don’t let that affect me.”
Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.