Aug 16, 2012|
HK Magazine: That’s a cute name for your store. Incidentally, you also sell handbags made of cork and candy wrappers here.
Christina Teo: The cork [from the cork handbags] is grown in Portugal and some parts of Spain and Italy. Only once every  years, you strip the bark [off the trees], and the tree regenerates itself. It’s not just eco-friendly, it’s natural. If you go to Portugal, you’ll see the [cork] trees are all numbered. If a tree is numbered one, that means in 2001 they stripped it, and in 2011 they stripped it again. There’s a whole system. These trees also absorb more carbon dioxide than other trees. We also carry bubble wrap bags from Italy—they’re very colorful. Our candy wrapper bags are double-layered and we have bags for different personalities. For the Harveys seatbelt bags, my favorite is the new blue jeans model with the orange thread on each seatbelt coupled with bronze buckles. Same upcycle concept: instead of dumping the excess seatbelts in landfills, they are used to create fashion.
HK: Interesting. How did you come across this cork material?
CT: One day, we were working outside our TST store [known as Envi back then]. There was a lady carrying a cork bag. It caught my partner’s eye. I thought, “That looks like something different.” So I started researching, and then I found out Portugal is the leading country [in making cork]. With Portuguese cork, water does not penetrate it. Even if you burn a light flame [against it], it does not burn. If it gets a bit soiled or dusty, you just need to use a sponge or hand detergent—just brush it off and then you’ll be fine.
HK: Tell us more about your background. Did you start out in fashion retail?
CT: I [was] a corporate person, with more than 22 years in corporate life, most of them in Hong Kong. I started with Acer computers, then joined IBM in Singapore, then I moved to Hong Kong on the day of the handover. I was the first GM of Yahoo in Singapore. And then I decided to retire to find [a] husband, so I went to New York to live a “Sex And The City” life, and I did. My friends were laughing at me. They said, “You think you’re in high school, or what?” I said, “You know what, maybe I am.” So I had a good time, found my husband and then came back to Hong Kong. I then helped a friend launch their [upcycled] seatbelt bags. I wanted to be a distribution company rather than retail, so since nobody really took [the bags], I opened a shop and took them in. Then I was forced to look for something else to fill up the shop. Also, once you’ve gone through a lot of corporate life, and aging and stuff like that, you try to give back to the community. This [local] company approached us to carry their bags—they are supporting a local community around Sham Shui Po and Lai Chi Kok, helping poor women who need jobs. [Carrying their bags is] giving jobs to the community. We are not the ones to commission the project, but we’re supporting this company that’s commissioning them.
HK: Do you think the eco-fashion scene in Hong Kong is lagging behind other cities?
CT: If you’re talking about local people, they kind of appreciate the concept, but that’s not the trigger point for buying or wearing a piece of eco-fashion. Because I’m in the shop a lot, I can hear everything that people say. To be honest, as a retailer, “eco” is a story we tell, but I think people are attracted to the colors [and good design]. And that’s still the primary factor, like it or not. We get a lot of Koreans in here. In the Asian market, Koreans are more [savvy about] eco-consciousness. They would buy just because it’s eco.
Check out Teo’s stores at 1/F, 38 Cochrane St., Central and Shop 212A-B, DNA Galleria, 61-65 Chatham Rd. South, Tsim Sha Tsui. For more info, call 6898-9432 or visit www.ecowaah.com.