20 March 2006
Patently Obvious(HKTDC Fashion - Fabrics & Accessories, Vol 02,2006)
Hing Ngai Co Ltd
|Magnetic fastenings for garments and handbags are a speciality of Hing Ngai Co Ltd|
A magnetic snap might seem too simple for proprietary registration to be feasible, but Wong says Hing Ngai invests heavily in original design and quality manufacturing and likes to ensure that it reaps the rewards of its R&D work.
A good example, and one of the company's major successes, is its magnetic snap designed for brassieres - now much in demand among manufacturers of high quality lingerie.
"We have had a worldwide patent for the bra snap for about three years now, and there is quite a big market for it," explains Wong, adding that leading manufacturer Triumph has purchased "a lot" and Hing Ngai also exports sizeable amounts to factories in Europe, South Africa, Brazil and Thailand.
"The bra snap is popular because it is both secure and easy to fasten yet easy to unclasp - requiring only a simple twist to break the magnetic link."
Another original idea that has proved profitable for the 24-year-old company is an integrated magnetic clasp and light, which illuminates the interior of a handbag when opened and switches off again automatically when the clasp is closed.
"We've had that for about one year, and it's a new area for us," Wong admits, noting that it is also protected by a worldwide patent. "We're the Asia agent for this item, and we manufacture the magnetic element."
Magnetic fastenings such as this for garments and handbags are a speciality of Hing Ngai, which also produces plastic and metal non-magnetic buckles, locks and other fasteners.
"Our major market is the US, followed by Europe, while Japan is also quite big," Wong reveals. "Now that handbags are being manufactured on the Chinese mainland, we often ship the buttons and clasps to the mainland before the finished product is exported to the US."
The majority of Hing Ngai's magnetic clasps bear the company's own A.O. brand logo, which, Wong says, is widely recognised as a mark of quality assurance.
"Our A.O. brand is now well-established and people are prepared to pay a little bit more for our magnetic snaps," Wong maintains. "We also do customer brands, which probably make up about one-third of our business, but most customers prefer to use the A.O. brand because we have a good reputation and are associated with reliability."
The company generates most of the designs of the products it sells, but is also able to execute customer designs if required. "A lot of customers leave design to us," Wong says. "Others come with their own designs, which we can generally improve and then manufacture."
Hing Ngai has its own 400-worker factory in Shenzhen on the mainland, which was expanded last year to increase production and introduce further automation and leave it less vulnerable to labour-market volatility.
"It's getting harder to find workers, so technology steps in to fill that gap," Wong reasons. "Our capacity has increased and so have our orders, and we now make about 15 million snaps per month."
These high production volumes have not meant compromises in quality however, as Hing Ngai continues to source brass and stainless steel from Japan and Korea. "It is not the cheapest, but it is still the best," Wong insists. "We also apply rigorous quality control."
The factory's productivity level, does, however, allow Hing Ngai to offer a higher level of customer service than might be possible for smaller operations.
"We don't have minimum quantity requirements because we are making magnetic buttons all the time, so customers can buy as many as they like," Wong observes. "We also have a lot of stock, so delivery time can often be as short as three or four days."
Ultimately, however, the company established by Wong's father is anticipating a bright future thanks to the burgeoning number of applications for the magnets and fastenings that are its core speciality.
"We now supply magnetic clasps for cases for spectacles, mobile telephones, digital cameras, cosmetic bags, jewellery boxes, paper products and a host of other applications, and the number continues to grow virtually every day," Wong notes contentedly.
WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE