The Mills Fabrica opens techstyle innovation center in HK

The Mills Fabrica, the innovation arm of The Mills, recently launched a new center to techstyle innovation consisting of Fabrica’s Lab, Space and Store, which seeks to provide a physical center for experimentation, innovation and inspiration.

“Mills Fabrica hopes to become the go-to platform for innovation inspired by our textile history,” said Alexander Chan, co-director at The Mills. “Our mission is to create techstyle startup success stories and to build a global techstyle community.”

Mills Fabrica defines “techstyle: as companies at the intersection of technology and style with three focus areas: materials and supply chain innovation; wearables and products merging technology and style; and, new retail experiences.

Nurturing startup for Hong Kong textile and garment industry

Fabrica Space is a 15,000 sqft flexible co-working space and event space for techstyle community. It will be housing startups from Mills Fabrica’s own incubation program as well as other companies within the techstyle community who seek affordable offices and a place to exchange new ideas around garment manufacturing.

Fabrica Space has private offices that can accommodate teams of up to eight to 10 people; fixed desks that offer extra storage space and more permanent workspace; and flexible hot desks.

To date, 10 startups have been incubated, with four to five more set to graduate while several new incubates will be announced in 2019.

“Our business incubation is a 12-month program that drives meaningful connections, linking startups to partners within the techstyle community, including investors, corporates, brands and manufacturers worldwide,” Chan said.

“Furthermore, the advisory support includes other business, legal and marketing support (such as conducting customer surveys), providing the startup with a unique insight and feedback into the market’s perception of their products and services,” he added.

Applications to participate in Mills Fabrica’s incubation program are accepted on a rolling basis. Some of the criteria include being techstyle-focused, having a registered company in Hong Kong, and being incorporated for at least a year with a viable product ready to go to market.

As part of the opening of the new center at Mills Fabrica, The Mills Fabrica Fund announced two new investments into two of its existing incubatees: Origami Labs and Unspun.

Origami is a local wearable company developing screen-free applications on products used for interfacing with voice assistants. The fresh US$1.5 million investment from The Mills Fabrica Fund will help the company to scale its B2B business and R&D of its next-generation products.

Unspun, on the other hand, is a fashion technology company based in Hong Kong and San Francisco and is working on the next-generation of production-on-demand technology for fashion, beginning with denim jeans.

“Their mission is to reduce global carbon footprint by 1% through 3D automated weaving technology and proprietary software to make customized apparel,” Chan said, adding that the US$600,000 seed investment in Unspun will support the company’s growth in global brand partnerships, accelerating the industry’s adoption of on-demand technologies and continual development of its 3D weaving technology.

Walden Lam, co-founder of Unspun said: “The Mills and the Fabrica team have worked tirelessly to provide us with advice and services customized to our needs. They also connected us to major global fashion brands and industry partners. We are excited that this investment will enable us to scale our sustainable supply chain and to commercialize our 3D weaving technology.”

Fabrica Lab enables hands-on experimentation

The Fabrica Lab, part of the new center at Mills Fabrica, is a state-of-the-art prototyping lab is a place of experimentation.

“One of the challenges with doing applied research is trying to figure out how to get things to market. How do you get from the concept phase to the experimental phase to the commercial phase,” said Edwin Keh, CEO, Hong Kong Research Institute of Textile Apparel (HKRITA).

HKRITA has been tapped to help Mills Fabrica to help curate the lab.

“We are very excited about developing this collaboration with this Lab. We have this opportunity to do this prototyping, some testing and to actually work with ideas for startups who are renting a space and also for other industry partners who want to try out more things,” Keh said.

He added: “We want to provide some content, some programming.  We want this to be a gathering place for some technology transfer, venue for discussions and conversations about technologies that will be useful moving forward. Hopefully in a year’s time we may be able to see at least two unicorns emerge from this effort.

Fabrica Lab has over 20 specialized machines that will help fashion entrepreneurs and other members of the techstyle community to bring ideas into reality. Eleven generous sponsors gave their support in donating the equipment as well as their expertise and network.

To be able to use the facilities at the lab, Fabrica Lab offers memberships of one-month to a year to members of the techstyle community and the general public, following a one-off training session in the proper use of equipment.

Techstyle X: The Fabrica Store

The third pillar of Mills Fabrica is the retail space where techstyle startups and other members of the fashion community can showcase their products and services.

The retail space called Techstyle X is envisioned to deliver experiential shopping dedicated to showcasing the latest techstyle innovations and raising awareness of technologies to the end-consumers

Mills Fabrica is part of The Mills, a landmark revitalization project of the Nan Fung Group. The company has transformed its former textile factories in Tsuen Wan into a new destination for heritage and innovation.

Officially opened this month, it preserves the best of Hong Kong’s past and combining it with the future to offer a new platform for inspiration and creativity as Hong Kong moves from the old to the new economy.