Once operating from a purely manufacturing base, players in Hong Kong's garment and textile industry have transformed themselves into high-tech service providers that link the world with factories in mainland China.
Since manufacturers moved their production lines to the land- and labour-rich mainland, Hong Kong has taken advantage of its gateway position and highly skilled professionals to maintain its standing as a market leader.
"The vision and flexibility of Hong Kong people have helped us overcome difficulties both in good times and when the going has been tough," says Albert Mong, director and general manager, Brightex Industries Limited. "By anticipating challenges in advance, we are able to prepare and make the necessary adjustments."
Since its establishment in 1989, Brightex has expanded into a group of companies running large-scale textile and garment-manufacturing facilities in mainland China. The company has sales offices in Hong Kong, the US and Jiaxing, China. The group currently has an average annual turnover of US$100 million.
With its solid foundation and strong financial basis, Brightex is equipped to take orders, mainly for mid-range and high-end products, directly from major international clients including prestigious fashion brands and large department stores in Europe, the US, Japan, Australia and South Africa.
"Our clients don't want to take the risk that their merchandise may go missing or be delayed. Our large capital investment and ability to produce considerable volumes therefore differentiate us from smaller manufacturers," Mr Mong explains.
On the marketing front, Brightex uses an active approach to offer enhanced services. It has a comprehensive in-house product-development department to create new fabrics and garments, which are promoted to potential customers through presentations at least twice a year.
Challenges to Brightex and its competitors in mainland China include increasing standards of living, declining labour supplies in major industrial centres, stringent product safety regulations, higher energy costs and stricter environmental protection measures.
As such, Mr Mong notes that the industry is becoming more service driven, with clients expecting quality and new ideas. "We must ensure the standard of every item that we produce; and broaden our business portfolio by capitalising on our strengths in order to increase our profit margins," he stresses.
The company is, for instance, building its own menswear brand, Silvio Scarlatti, as part of their effort to gain a foothold in the Chinese retail market.
Brightex therefore needs skilled employees to ensure the quality and on-time delivery of products, as well as to control costs and comply with industry standards.
At the same time, the company needs professionals with the necessary know-how to explore new products and designs, while hardware and software systems need to be constantly updated to ensure improved efficiency.
"With the help of sophisticated equipment and technology, the Hong Kong garment and textile industry has come a long way since its labour-intensive era," Mr Mong points out. "People who want to make a career in the industry must learn to use their heads rather than their hands, since no machinery can replace the soft side of our jobs, such as communication and presentation."
The textile and garment industry is a tough sector to work in, Mr Mong concedes. Time differences and the need for communication with clients across the globe can lead to long working hours.
In addition, growing competition, greater demands from customers and stricter controls by authorities all contribute to a hectic and potentially stressful working environment.
"We understand the nature of the job, so we try to make our workplace comfortable. We also offer generous salary packages and benefits to attract quality staff," Mr Mong notes. To maintain an edge, the company will continue to assess staff's performances and compensate people accordingly.
"We promote good performers, with accompanying pay rises. We also empower team leaders by giving them increasing responsibilities. This has worked well and many of our managers have stayed with the company for more than 10 years," Mr Mong points out.
The group sees its human resources as its greatest asset and invests substantially in developing its people.
Brightex regularly sends staff to Europe to increase their exposure to the international market and to new developments in the world of fashion. Locally, staff are encouraged to take courses to expand their knowledge and skills.
"It's hard work, but a career in the garment and textile industry provides tremendous room for creativity. People who are interested in fashion will find the sector beneficial for their personal development, and can look forward to a secure and rewarding career," Mr Mong says.