HOJE MACAU interview (6 May 2022)
Beatriz da Silva, Macanese fashion designer:
"I'm still in love with what I do"
She trained in fine arts, but the need to have financial autonomy made her turn to the fashion world. 14 years ago, Beatriz da Silva, from Macanese, opened her studio in Soho, Hong Kong, and never stopped creating women's elegant and high-quality pieces. Keeping the mark in the context of pandemic crisis has been one of the great challenges.
How did the passion for the fashion world begin?
I studied fine arts in Canada in the 1980s. I did some solo exhibitions in London, Canada and Macau. It's hard to live one hundred percent of art. I was lucky to meet a person in Shanghai at one of my exhibitions who liked my work and hired me as a designer to work in his factory. At that time, when I was working in a room with samples, I learned how to make a clothing collection, and I fell in love with that area. In addition, realistically, I had to support myself, because being an artist, a painter, it is impossible to achieve that goal. That's why I transformed my career and became a fashion designer. After this experience I worked in London for many years for brands like Burberry. Until I had the opportunity to come to Hong Kong and work in a company linked to the clothing trade. Then I learned a lot about the world of manufacturing and in terms of development [of pieces and collections]. Before, I was in the area of retail and design and did not have much knowledge about the supply of orders and production. After seven or eight years, when the 2008 financial crisis took place, I was on a lay-off basis. It was difficult to find work, and in 2009 I decided to launch my own brand. I rented a store in Soho and I'm still here today.
She ended up building a career almost by chance.
I'm still in love with what I do. I have built a solid career, I have my loyal customers who have supported me since I launched my brand.
What are the great concepts and ideas behind your brand?
It is, above all, about individuality, passion, inspiration, the belief in our own personality. The brand "Beatriz da Silva" focuses a lot on the idea of well-being. I can assure you that my pieces last a long time and timeless. I use good fabrics and my bet is always on making quality fashion and not the so-called fast fashion. A piece of mine made 10 or 15 years ago can continue to be used nowadays, and the quality remains. I believe in the need to protect the environment and I try to do something that is sustainable. There are people who buy a cheap piece, use it two or three times and then that piece ceases to have quality and is thrown away. For me, this is promoting waste. My philosophy is to do something with value, and when you get a piece of mine, you get quality. The price may be a little high, but if we look at the quality of the fabrics and materials, it's not that high. I use linens and silks, natural and elegant fabrics to enrich my collections.
Sustainability is therefore a fundamental aspect of your brand.
For me there is a whole philosophy behind [the brand]. Being a person behind each collection aims to achieve a sense of well-being by wearing a piece and being aware of what is around us. I want to build [pieces] that return something to society and bring something different. Ultimately, we buy something that is not expensive, and I understand that not everyone can buy expensive pieces of clothing, but I understand that, as human beings, we must create something for the benefit of the community. There are many issues around this idea of sustainability.
When someone wears a piece of clothing created by you, how can that person define herself?
I prefer to always make women's clothes in the first place. When I worked in London I even had a degree in men's clothing, and when I arrived in Hong Kong I worked with men's and women's collections, but I've always liked making women's clothes better. I think the women who wear my clothes are smart, elegant and very focused on their career. They are women who know what they want and who have a strong personality. I have no problem selling my collections to women who know how to appreciate the quality of fabrics and materials. Most of my clients are professionally trained people and have a passionate lifestyle, they know how to live fully. Many tell me "I have a party, get me a dress that makes me look fabulous and stunning" . I love making my customers feel good about themselves.
Hong Kong is an important market in the fashion world. What is it like to be a designer in the territory at a time when the territory is facing great changes?
Hong Kong is a difficult market, because it has been a place with a tension between rich and poor. We do not have a middle class, because we have the expatriates who live very well and the local ones, the working class, which lives embarrassed on a daily basis, with low wages. Obviously I don't have a big name, I don't have a big company, I work alone. I can say that it is very difficult to build a brand in Hong Kong, unless we have a financial cushion or a large company behind it. As this is not the case, I have to be very careful in the way I build a collection, because I have to do the advertising work very well. So far I sell my pieces and I also supply them to large companies, such as a designer. I have a limited human resources team, but I believe that if we are good and professional we do not need a great team to help us.
Given the pandemic, were there any more challenges to maintaining the business?
No doubt about it. The protests that took place in downtown Hong Kong in 2019 also greatly affected my business. Even normal people [who were not connected to the protests] did not want to go out and consume. And then it was the pandemic, we all went through something that no one expected, and my business was severely affected again. But I believe that, after all, things will return to normal and I believe that Hong Kong will become a resilient place. I believe in the people who fight every day to keep their lives and their family. The people of Hong Kong work hard and I give them all the credit.
Do you feel that your brand has evolved and changed in recent years?
Yes. I have learned a lot in recent years, since my first collection, although there are things that never change, such as the spirit of my collections. But in 14 years, there are certain elements of my design that I have been changing, because when we have a brand we have to create that commercial value and I have to be a little commercial. This part will represent about 30 percent of my work, and the rest concerns the quality and value [of the pieces] and what we always believe in.
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