27 Oct 2008
Gold Medallists(HKTDC Fashion - Leather Goods & Bags, Vol 04,2008)
The Olympic Games always gets people into the sporting mood, which in turn fuels demand for related equipment
All sportsmen and women - whether amateur, professional, occasional dabbler or Olympian - need a good, durable sports bag that can be relied on whatever the weather and conditions.
Although they are basically utilitarian items that feature separate compartments for socks, shoes and assorted kit, sports bags are also increasingly becoming design statements.
"We get our design ideas from European clients, who are very quick to communicate their needs to us," says Aldous Leung, General Manager of Action Handbag Co Ltd. "But we do the designs ourselves, and have two designers based in Hong Kong who are very responsive to client requests."
The tarpaulin PVC sports bag (model ATB-8-10222) is one of the company's flagship products, along with the tarpaulin PVC shoulder bag (model ASB-8-10309).
Their robust tarpaulin surfaces speak volumes of the high degree of durability and water resistance common to all Action Handbag's products, which has made them popular purchases in major markets such as Europe.
"I am a little concerned, however, the market will be slack very soon in Europe and the US," Mr Leung admits, adding that he's confident that the business cycle will pick up again later in 2009.
Durability is a key feature of Avroy Outdoor Ltd's super lightweight backpack (model AV-8341) that is made of 100D Dupont lightweight fabric and features YKK zips and Duraflex buckles.
"The fabric was engineered by Dupont and has a special silicone coating to make it much stronger, therefore more lightweight and suitable for 1-2 day racing and endurance events," Merchandising Manager, Head of Production and Designer Kevin Chu explains. "This item sells well in Europe and North America."
Avroy uses nylon for the webbing and buckle as the material retains its strength even in the super-low temperatures that can be experienced in colder climates such as Northern Europe. "It doesn't get brittle," Mr Chu says.
The super lightweight backpack comes in light blue, light green, light grey and orange - the latter for high visibility in foggy mountainous areas and similar environments.
Mr Chu has seen the industry change, for better or worse, during his more than 10 years designing outdoor products. "The climate is a little unfavorable these days as the big companies are quick to buy up the small independent companies, and this often results in not only the laying off of talented designers, but also reduced quality control," he believes.
The reputation of brands and products suffer and consumers forget how good the originals were, he adds. "This is not especially healthy, but it is inevitable in a free market," Mr Chu reasons.
Nevertheless, he says Avroy remains "very strong" in the development field and has a strong team of designers on the Chinese mainland. "Despite recent economic growth on the mainland, there are still not too many factories there making backpacks to the high standards that we adhere to," Mr Chu maintains.
Hung Shing Industrial Co Ltd Merchandiser Albert Wong is equally upbeat about the sports bag market. "There may be a bit of a slack period, but strong demand will reassert itself," he believes. "As the importance of sports is increasingly highlighted, we'll always have customers for our sports bags products."
One of Hung Shing's latest products is the HS-1371 sports bag, which took about two years to design and whose development was driven by two overriding concerns. "We wanted it to be colourful as we know that the more colourful a product is the more attractive it is to younger consumers, who equate colours with energy," Mr Wong explains. "Secondly, we wanted the printed pattern to be abstract - rather than representational images - and thus be open to the interpretation of the owner."
He adds that the nickel-coloured zipper provides a pleasing contrast. "We consciously stayed away from boring black and charcoal colours for the zipper," he admits.
Golden Bright is particularly proud of its model LP-16, a sports backpack with extra foam padding on the back, multiple pockets and mesh side pockets for a water bottle.
"We specialise in OEM bags using customers' own designs and specifications," Regional Sales Manager Leo Kwok explains. "We tailor the manufacturing process to the customer's quality demands, material specification and budgets and have been the selected supplier for several international organisations."
Proven capabilities such as these will obviously help Hong Kong sports bags manufacturers maintain the impetus created by the Beijing Olympics and the increasing number of other major sporting events that occur during the year.
Furthermore, with constant improvements in materials leading to ever-lighter products and designers raising their game and responsiveness in the pursuit of a competitive edge, Hong Kong sports bags manufacturers look like winning gold medals far into the foreseeable future.
TEXT BY RICO NGAI