852Fabric Founder Pui on HK as a Fabric of Inspiration
Hong Kong/ Fashionista/ Style

852Fabric Founder Pui Gardiner on Hong Kong as a Tapestry for Inspiration

Header 852 Fabric interview

An unending tessellation of Sunday dim sum favourites, a visual cacophony of Hong Kong’s streetcars and buses in bright watercolour, and a whimsical umbrella blending the Victoria Harbour skyline into a jumble of icons from the tale of Alice in Wonderland.

These are just a few captivatingly unique patterns that make up the 852Fabric catalogue. Helmed by founder Pui Gardiner, 852Fabric is a homage to Hong Kong’s iconography, cityscapes, and distinct local elements captured through artisanal textiles.

Beginning in 2018 as a group of sewing enthusiasts who banded together to produce small batches of bespoke fabrics, Pui has now grown the project into a small business, pushing out one-of-a-kind designs of her own or from artists that reflect the aesthetics of Hong Kong in all its cultural mishmash.

Beginning as a meeting point for crafters who shared a passion for sewing and textile-based arts, the joy of sharing a creative process and introducing sewing to newbies has always been a fibre in the 852Fabric DNA. Weaving together her experiences as a femme entrepreneur who gained most of her business expertise through independent learning, Pui shares with The Beat Asia how fabric-making has shaped her journey so far.

852Fabric Founder Pui Gardiner on Hong Kong as a Tapestry for Inspirationshares her journey in growing the business.

Coming from a family with a history in tailoring, how did that inform your learning journey in the art of sewing, and in the process of creating 852Fabric?

I have always had an interest in not only fabric, but also a broader attraction to fibre arts in general. I remember being fascinated as a child with my grandfather’s ancient black and gold Singer sewing machine, even when my feet couldn’t reach the pedal. I recall the heavy metal fabric scissors, which I was always warned not to play with as they were so sharp, and the cut threads, which seemed to get everywhere.

These memories always stayed with me, and although I have not developed the same technical sewing abilities — perhaps because of [not being allowed to use scissors]! — I noticed that amazing fabric prints and showstopping fabric in general took [my] attention away from basic sewing skills. Cool fabric was almost a hack for the beginner sewist; it enables you to create garments which make people look twice without [requiring] advanced sewing ability. When I started sewing, I had difficulty finding the cool and original fabric I desired, so I followed the old adage: “create the things [you] wish existed.”

What inspired you to first build the 852Fabric online community?

When 852Fabric started, I didn’t intend to build a company or a fabric brand.

Actually, in the process of printing the fabric design I wanted for my own sewing, I discovered fabric printers had minimum print runs. So, the 852Fabric Facebook group was initially created as a place for me to sell the excess fabric I couldn’t use. However, it soon became apparent there was more demand for our fabric designs than anticipated…

852Fabric Founder Pui Gardiner on Hong Kong as a Tapestry for Inspiration

How has the 852Fabric community grown since its early days?

In the beginning, most of the group were Hong Kong-based sewists who had come over from the Sew Hong Kong Facebook group. Slowly, over the last four years, the group has expanded to [include] many fabric lovers from the U.K., Australia, Singapore, the U.S. and other countries.

What’s your design process like? How has Hong Kong inspired your fabric design?

Our design process is not very structured. Basically, an idea can come into my head, and I make a few drafts to see if it works in a seamless repeat pattern for fabric printing.

For every bestselling design like HK Districts, with calligraphy inspired by “King of Kowloon,” Stained Glass, or Starry Night, there’s been a few which were not quite as popular. Hong Kong and all the various elements of Hong Kong run deep in our design philosophy. I still have more ideas than I have time to execute, so I don’t think I’ll ever run out of ideas - knocks on bamboo.

What particular fabric design are you proud of, which you feel represents your view of Hong Kong?

I am quite proud of the HK Districts design, which is now recognisable across our packaging and products. I’ve just received some umbrella samples using it, and they look amazing. The Districts design literally represents all the key districts in HK, and visually the calligraphy is so striking, even from a distance.

Any word of advice for other women who are thinking of leading their own small business?

Prepare to work hard, and to drive yourself forward consistently. The idea of being an entrepreneur is much more glamourous than reality. Sure, designing fabric sounds like fun, but the other aspects such as dealing with accounting software, tax reporting, [and] getting a website to work effectively without throwing tons of money into customization [are] not quite as fun.

And I should also mention the hard manual labour involved in fabric processing, cutting, folding, packing, and taking parcels to the post office and SF Express. You need to be incredibly organised and [pay] attention to detail. Small mistakes or oversights can become expensive very quickly. You also need to have a solid researched business model, and understand exactly what it is that differentiates your product or service from all the other similar products available to your customers.

What do you hope visitors/clients can feel when they visit your new Fo Tan showroom?

Customers can finally see and feel the fabric before they purchase. We won’t be able to have all our designs in stock (we have hundreds!), but [we have made available] at least the most popular.

Also, we are aiming to set [the venue] up as a comfortable sewing space and maybe even consider sewing gatherings or classes in the future. It’s a convenient location, only a five-minute walk from Fo Tan MTR station.

What does 852Fabrics have in store for the future?

Hard to say, but we hope we keep coming up with fresh designs that make people smile!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Shop 852Fabric here, and keep up with Pui at @852fabric on Instagram.

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