Catherine Cole, CEO of Motif
Hong Kong Business Spotlight
Motif, an e-learning platform and knowledge hub for fashion and apparel professionals, carries on the legacy of Hong Kong’s history as a center of fashion production.
Back in the 1970s heyday of Hong Kong’s textile and apparel industry, Kwai Chung, New Territories was home to many of Hong Kong’s largest textile factories. Today Kwai Chung is home to many small trading companies and shipping and logistics businesses, which benefit from Kwai Chung’s proximity to one of the world’s largest container port terminals.
Beyond the weathered facade of industrial buildings, Kwai Chung has also attracted creative startups like Motif — an e-learning platform and knowledge hub for fashion and apparel professionals. Although Hong Kong’s apparel factories are no more, Motif carries on the legacy of Hong Kong’s history as a center of fashion production.
Launched in 2018 by global apparel technology company Alvanon, Motif tackles the apparel industry’s need for evolving skill sets and continuous professional development. Through practical online courses taught by expert industry practitioners, Motif’s individual and corporate users (hailing from North America, Europe and Asia) can access world-class content from anywhere, at any time, gaining the skills and industry expertise they need to transform their businesses, lives and careers.
Motif’s CEO, Catherine Cole, spoke to Living and Investing in Hong Kong about how Hong Kong’s manufacturing history has informed its startup present, and what makes Hong Kong a special place to start a business.
Catherine Cole, Motif: Founded in Hong Kong, Motif is the brainchild of Alvanon, who recognized the industry was facing a serious future-of-work issue. Between the progressive loss of hard technical skills due to the retirement of the last generation with production floor expertise, and the lack of next-gen digital and technological skills, the industry is both failing to preserve heritage and core skills and to get ready for Industry 4.0 and sustainability imperatives.
In order to bridge this acute skills gap, Motif was born, and spun off from its parent company in 2019. The motif.org platform was launched in October 2018 with four online courses focused on apparel product development and sustainability, and we now offer 12 courses covering a wide spectrum of topics in the fashion supply chain, with many more in the works.
CC: While Alvanon has its global headquarters in New York, its roots are in Hong Kong in the garment industry. Hong Kong has a long apparel industry heritage and even today still plays a critical role as a bridge in global manufacturing supply chains. It only makes sense that an industry hub of expertise for this same global manufacturing supply chain, like Motif, is located here. We are a truly global provider that enables capability building within brands, retailers and factories. So even though we are primarily an online business, we physically sit where much of the industry still passes through.
CC: The beauty of Hong Kong is the ability to network and access resources. It is a very international and open market, yet small enough where everyone is approachable. The startup ecosystem continues to evolve and with a little persistence by an entrepreneur, there is a wealth of resources to discover.
“The beauty of Hong Kong is the ability to network and access resources. It is a very international and open market, yet small enough where everyone is approachable.”
— Catherine Cole, Motif
There are many kinds of incubators and accelerators, communities like WHub or organizations like AmCham that support and encourage startups. For Motif, we have benefited from membership of organizations like AmCham tremendously, just for its access to the business network and relevant programming. We have also actively made use of resources and support from InvestHK.
Lastly, we are part of the incubator program at The Mills Fabrica which means we have access to their beautiful Tsuen Wan lab and coworking space plus the support of that startup community.
CC: Many of the sourcing offices of major international brands, as well as trading offices still sit here. And today a large percentage of cargo still moves through Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is also positioning itself as a design hub, so there is a lot of funding and support for young startups and fashion designers who want to launch their own brands. All of this makes Hong Kong still a vibrant scene for production and design and with its easy-to-access physical location, still a key industry node in Asia.
“The startup ecosystem may not have the established funding networks as places like Silicon Valley, but this is also changing and with out-of-the-box thinking, there are gems to be found.”
LAIHK: What does it take to be a successful startup in Hong Kong?
CC: Persistence and creativity. There is a wealth of expertise and resources available but one does have to be creative and persistent in seeking out what is right for a young brand. The startup ecosystem may not have the established funding networks as places like Silicon Valley, but this is also changing and with out-of-the-box thinking, there are gems to be found.
CC: From a business point of view, Hong Kong is still strongly characterized by its ease of doing business. From setting up a company to day-to-day business operations, the transparent business environment and legal system make this a low-risk place to operate. This may change over time, but this city still operates with the fundamental principles of an open market and transparency.
LAIHK: From a personal standpoint, what is your favorite thing about Hong Kong?
CC: From a personal standpoint, my favorite thing about Hong Kong is its vibrancy and that it is full of contradictions! There is no city in the world where I can live with the trails and mountains outside my door, and within 30 minutes be in the heart of Asia’s financial center, or at one of the largest cargo ports in the world. It also has a complex and colorful history with roots in both the East and the West, and layered on top, all the latest in technology and convenience. I’ve lived here over 15 years and still think there is no other city in the world like Hong Kong!