When designer Brian Au established casual sportswear label CHSN1 in Hong Kong last year, little did he know that mass demonstrations would throw his plans in disarray.
As the protests in Hong Kong have escalated, China has decided to ban exports of black clothing to the city. Many protesters have adopted black T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers as their uniform.
And CHSN1, as it happens, mainly sells hoodies, sweatshirts, and sleeveless tops in black.
“Black came to me because it’s easy to wear,” Au says, “I had no preconceived ideas of doing all black.”
But now, his clothes are stuck in mainland China, where they’re made in a factory near the city of Guangzhou, about 80 miles outside of Hong Kong.
“There’s no way to get even one shirt into Hong Kong.”
Au has adopted the “drop model” typical of streetwear labels—timed releases of new products that don’t follow the seasonal calendar of conventional brands.
(Read more: How Pepe the Frog became a Hong Kong protest symbol)
However, the brand’s latest drop, which was supposed to be available in September, has not reached Hong Kong yet, due to the Chinese government’s ban.
“All the designs for the latest drop were finalized in July, when all this was bubbling,” Au says of the political events that sparked the protests. “So there was no going back, and then when it got more serious, we started having trouble getting our stuff into Hong Kong.”
While Au has yet to hear of other brands that have been affected by the ban, he knows of non-apparel companies that had placed orders of black T-shirts for corporate events and couldn’t get them shipped into Hong Kong from China.
“Right now, all my items for the September drop are being held at customs,” he says. “Couriers won’t even pick them up. There’s no way to get even one shirt into Hong Kong.”
No going black
Au, who was born in Hong Kong but moved to Vancouver at the age of 4 before returning to Hong Kong in 2007, has a background as a graphic designer and also runs a company that creates websites. He started CHSN1 as a passion project.
“My brand is mainly black, and I still wear it because it’s what I like.”
“The concept was to make something I wanted to wear myself and something I could wear at the gym and outside the gym,” he says. “I grew up interested in streetwear, hip-hop, basketball. I was itching to do something else and thinking what else I could do because design is very versatile.”
CHSN1, which stands for “chosen one,” is available through the brand’s own website. Its main market is North America, where Au has built awareness through Instagram and Facebook.
Despite the recent developments, Au is taking it all in stride and remains hopeful that the standstill will eventually come to an end.
He has not personally seen any protesters wearing his creations on the street but has heard from friends who have seen some clad in CHSN1 items.
(Read more: A Hong Kong bakery protests with angry cookies)
While the protests are clearly affecting the bottom line of his brand, Au is not deterred from wearing his favorite color out and about, even in this charged political climate, where the color has been used by police to identify protesters.
“My brand is mainly black, and I still wear it because it’s what I like,” he says. “It’s my style and the essence of the brand and I always wear black, so I don’t let that affect me.”
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.