a brand born out of love | the teddyfish story

throughout our one hour chat with siu, the co-founder of french / hong kong brand teddyfish, the word “personal” comes up multiple times. he uses it to describe his reasons for starting the brand, the story behind the unusual name, and even as the cause of his eventual return to paris.

“everything started very naturally, my partner yu and i made things by ourselves.”

“在整個一小時的談話中,「個人」這個字在法國香港品牌teddyfish創辦人siu的口中出現好幾次,無論是形容開始品牌的原因,取名的來由,還是最後想要回到巴黎的憧憬。或許正因如此,他對品牌投足的情感亦然不同,特別用心,特別認真,如同是他個人的一部分。”

at the beginning

siu hung, co-founder and designer of teddyfish

siu was born in hong kong and his family moved to paris when he was 7 years old. in the 80s and 90s, there were many south asians sewing clothing in the french city. his mother was also in that trade, thus he was exposed to the concept of making things for his own use since young, starting with drawing and sewing.

“i remember we used to draw on everything, on tables in school, on walls in paris. yu also made things that she used herself since young. when she was tidying her cupboards a few days ago, we found some wool sweaters and small bags that her mother made when she was a child. these are the things you keep with you forever.”

he shows us 2 pouches that are his first designs – a flat pencil case bought from a supermarket and a worn down corduroy pouch.

siu kept this “ugly pencil case” as his first design, where he asked his mom to stitching to the bottom to create volume

“this ugly pencil case is the first one i got when starting school, and i think this is my first design because it was flat, but one day i got my mother to change it and add stitching on the bottom to create some volume.”

“these items are not pretty, they are not precious,” siu says of this corduroy pouch, the first thing he ever designed in his life. he still uses it today to carry his stationery around.

the corduroy pouch was made with some leftover fabric that siu found. after drawing and cutting the pattern, he asked his mother for help to sew it together.

“these items are not pretty, they are not precious, but sometimes we get used to those kind of things mentally and physically, and develop a relationship with the object. i can take a teddyfish pouch to use now, but I don’t need to change.”

“香港出生,7歲移民巴黎,siu的父母與八、九十年代大多的移民一樣,在城市裡從事紡織業。他從小就有非同的設計觸覺,在超市買來扁筆袋自覺不夠大,就向母親提議幫忙改縫兩邊角位,加大容量;又會用家裡剩下來的燈心絨布,縫縫補補成筆袋,這些都竟沿用至今。作為造袋匠,自己用的袋卻舊得不得了,「有些東西並不漂亮,也不特別珍貴,留著它只是我們都習慣了彼此的存在,無論是精神上或是實際需要上寄托著一種連繫。其實我大可以改用新的teddyfish袋,但我不需要這樣的改變。」如同teddyfish品牌的宗旨「ready to get old」,siu hung造袋就是本著能夠一直用到老的心來對待的。”

meeting his partner in life

siu studied in école nationale supérieure de création industrielle (ENSCI), a school in paris for general design. there, he was taught the importance of social impact – designing with the end user in mind. working with different materials, he learned how to make things, “but i did not learn how to sew there,” he says with a laugh.

“i had a friend in school who said ‘we are learning how to learn’, which is very relevant as things are changing so fast now. it is not about gaining some knowledge to keep for life, but to stay open and adapt.”

always fascinated with hong kong as he did not spend much time in the city of his birth, he accepted an internship to work here during his studies. it turned out to be a lifechanging decision as he met yu, his ex-girlfriend and now wife.

“i wanted to come to hong kong for personal reasons, i was born here but grew up in paris, and that made me curious about the city. i met yu while she was studying product design in hong kong polytechnic university. i was back and forth between the 2 cities for some time, and then I decided to take a risk and move here. i didn’t even finish my studies, i was 26 years old. yu and i have been making things for ourselves and our friends for a while, and we started to be more serious about it. yu was working in a product design company in hong kong, she saw her boss making things for himself, and she was inspired to do the same.”

it was in the year 2010 that siu and yu decided to work on teddyfish full time.

“siu誠言大學並沒有學到甚麼實際縫紉知識,卻令他「懂得如何學習」,在𣊬息萬變的世界學會be open,接受和把握生命中不同的機會。一直對出生地香港很好奇的他,在巴黎唸大學期間申請到香港理工大學當交換生,認識了伴侶yu。亦因為這個很「個人」的原因,在26歲那年他毅然決定留在香港,2010年與yu一起開始teddyfish品牌,不卑不亢地做起自己愛做的工作,認真做袋。”

teddy + fish

when asked about the brand’s unusual name and logo, siu explains that it is a private joke between yu and him – a play on their chinese names.

the brand’s logo consists of a bear and a fish, and was illustrated by siu

“my chinese name is hung, which also means bear, while yu’s name shares the same pronunciation as the word for fish,” thus coining the term teddyfish.

at this point it is good to note that throughout the interview, he has constantly spoken fondly of yu, whom he calls his business and life partner.

“we had a brand name, a logo and a website. we started to work with kapok quite early, and it felt really satisfying to receive positive feedback from customers online, and everything just continued its natural growth from there.”

at this point arnault joins in to share a little bit on how he found teddyfish.

不時有人問起品牌名字的意思,siu顯得有點不好意思,teddyfish是siu的中文名hung及伴侶名字yu的合體。其實在訪問途中,他每次提起yu都止不住微笑,「我們創立品牌、設計logo、成立網店,直到我們與kapok合作,終於在實體店賣出自己的產品,收到客人實質的意見和想法,一起慢慢成長。」”

le ballon rouge

“i think from one of the blogs, i saw they had a project where the bag was linked to a red balloon. this red balloon is from a french movie, it is very nice and i love this movie very much. when I saw it I thought ‘okay, i have to contact this brand,’” reminisces arnault.

the article in question is one by hypebeast, and the movie is le ballon rouge by albert lamorisse. siu was just starting the brand and experimented with a latex and acrylic mix inspired by vuitton’s coated canvas material, handpainted on the bags. they had just 6 styles and his mother was still helping to sew them together.

this yellow tote is the first bag siu made for teddyfish, from the same series as le ballon rouge

he shows us the very first teddyfish bag, made in paris with its logo stamped by a hand carved wooden block.

this logo was stamped in latex paint using a wood block handcarved by siu himself

“如果你有留意,teddyfish的標誌是個紅圓點,靈感來自法國電影《le ballon rouge》,也是 kapok 創辦人 arnault 最喜歡的其中一部電影,成為了日後合作的契機。當初在kapok賣的第一袋teddyfish,是用帆巾製的,由siu的母親逐個人手上色、縫紉。”

the move to hong kong

our conversation shifts to how it easy it is to have a network for production in hong kong, where suppliers, sewers and even logistics are much simpler to organise than in paris.

naturally, we asked if his move to hong kong was for this advantage, to which he laughs and says, “no, actually once again it is for personal reasons. yu lives in hong kong, and i didn’t want to keep shuttling between the 2 cities anymore, so i moved here to be with her.”

the journey thus far

it has been seven years since the birth of teddyfish, and siu’s favourite part of the journey is definitely seeing people with their products.

“we started from nothing, and there are tough times. we had to learn everything from the experience of just doing – learning how to learn. there are some nice surprises with new retailers, and yet having no news could be good news,” he laughs.

on the current challenges, siu says that the market is changing very fast. “now not all the buyers can be found at trade shows, and sometimes we don’t even know where to look. also for our production, many of our sewers in hong kong are very old, in their 50s and 60s. the job is quite physical as the materials are heavy, it is not so easy for them but it is challenging to find younger people who are willing to take up this job.”

yet, he chooses to focus on positive thoughts and has no regrets.

“there is nothing i would really like to change. maybe i would finish my studies and work in product design, but then i may not be doing what i am doing now, so no, there really isn’t anything i’d change,” he muses.

“選擇留在香港,除了因為yu,也是欣賞這裡採購、運輸、製作上比巴黎多支援。不過,在陌生的城市由零開始,困難重重,堅持人手造的製作方式很難在行內找到新血,只剩幾個老師傅專做縫紉。難做,但他永遠態度樂觀,繼續做對的事總有出路。”

ready to get old

siu has a natural knack of breathing life into otherwise inanimate objects, as he describes developing a relationship with items. he coined the term “ready to get old” as a challenge against the negative connotation of the word old, as he liked the contradiction. teddyfish’s products started with nothing but raw cotton canvas and leather, yet each piece has now evolved according to the customer’s needs.

the evolution of teddyfish products over the last 7 years

“once again, the term has a personal meaning for me. it also describes my relationship with yu, that we are ready to get old together,” he adds shyly.

for their next chapter, siu yearns to return to paris.

“i’m missing the city, her culture is so nourishing and so diverse. it allows for very strong imagination and brings a lot of knowledge and experience.” he also wants to develop and build the brand in the american west coast, while strengthening their following in asia.

“由第一代帆布袋、皮革,到現在的尼龍系列,siu不斷改善機能和外型,希望出品真正做到與客人「ready to get old」。這也是siu對yu和teddyfish的期許,一起變老。下一步,他卻想回到成長地巴黎,那個充滿文化厚度和活力的城市。”

our last question was one that we get asked a lot from our customers in the store – is there a story behind the unique shape of the 10TF?

the 10TF’s unique shape is a combination of yu’s organic design experimentation and siu’s practical approach

“yu and i have a very different approach to creating a product, her style is much more organic while mine is systematic. one day, she was playing with some fabrics and somehow it developed into a shape, which i then refined. looking back now, this design is actually great because paris is infamous for pickpockets, but with the opening placed on the side, it offers better protection for the user’s valuables.”

discover teddyfish’s products in kapok sun street, pmq, k11, ndc and online.

 

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