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