What do you do when you can’t afford to buy the clothes you like, and everything else in the market looks boring? You start your own label. That’s what Sarah Lai did four years ago. Working in the finance industry in Hong Kong, Lai found herself getting bored of all the workwear choices. Brands were also getting more expensive upwards due to rent and an influx of tourists. Even Zara wasn’t a solution.
“You always end up clashing with someone else on the street in the same dress or jacket,” says Lai. “I wanted to create something that was more affordable, contemporary, but also graceful and feminine.”
Fashion design came to Lai easily because it was in her blood. Lai remembers a childhood spent shopping at Pacific Place with her grandmother and mother, watching them try on clothes and shoes from her perch in the dressing room. “They also liked to dress me up in Shirley Temple,” she says. “I remember there was a strawberry one that I really liked.”
With a strong conviction that she would be able to design clothes to fit a niche in the market, Lai enrolled herself into Central St Martin to learn the trade, taking up pattern making and economic courses. Her first collection, which came out in spring/summer 2014, was filled with chic skirts and suit combos in tweed, lace trimmings and high necklines that received raving reviews from the local press.
But to this day, Lai hasn’t given up on her finance career, choosing instead, to juggle both her budding fashion career with her full-time job. “My brand has evolved a lot over the past few years. When I first started I did follow seasons, but in the past year, I’ve decided that since I don’t do fashion weeks, there’s no point following the seasons. I release collections whenever I want,” says Lai. “The bottom line is, it’s all clothes that I would want to wear.”
Her latest collection, Romance Reborn, which is split into two series, took nine months to finish. Where Series I involves more shirting fabrics and exaggerated ruffles, Series II has a more demure silhouette, but used velvet for an edgier feel.
“I wanted the whole collection to be wearable in different ways,” says Lai. “A lot of my ruffle tops could be worn one-shoulder. It’s so flowy. I was quite inspired by the sea view from my apartment, the waves really reminded me of ruffles. Also I had a feeling that ruffles would become trendy again.”
Because ruffles could be too feminine, Lai included elements of menswear to balance the collection, from the shape of the cuffs, to the names of the clothes, like the Charles blouse. “Series I was also inspired by my trip to Paris,” says Lai. “I went to a very famous tailor in Paris, called Charvet and bought a shirt from them off the racks. It was a blue striped shirt, with white cuffs and a white collar, very classic French, and that became the inspiration for a few of my pieces.”
Sarah Lai is currently displaying her latest collections at a pop-up store at Pacific Place until January 2, 2018.
In celebration of the pop-up, two of our lucky readers will get the chance to win a HKD1,000 voucher to shop at the store and meet Lai in person for a personal styling session. All you need to do is enter below for a chance to win.
Pop Up Store
Date: 1 November 2017 – 2 January 2018 (two months)
Address: Shop 200F, L2, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty
(* next to C’est La B and near Burberry)
Business hours: 10.30 a.m. – 8.00 p.m. daily