Picking up on a family passion, Will Lam has raised the bar in intelligent, responsible garment manufacturing. The Managing Director of High Fashion International Group cuts to the chase, advocating innovation, education and the occasional game of chess…
Interview by Gafencu:
Your family has more than 40 years of experience in the fashion industry. What does fashion mean to you?
From a business perspective, I think fashion, simply put, is to fulfil desires. It’s about understanding the constantly changing market and what customers want -– listening to and meeting those demands.
Fashion is ever changing and I’ve had time to build up my knowledge of the industry. Both my parents started fashion businesses, so I was exposed to it early on in life. From a young age, I spent a lot of time watching my parents gain insight into the world of fashion; even our Sundays were spent together visiting brands for a better understanding of the market.
What path did your education take, and how has it impacted your professional life?
I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong before completing my Master’s at one of the most prestigious institutions in the United States, Princeton University. Both experiences were very beneficial to my personal and professional growth. I was especially impressed by the engagement and interactive discussions between students and professors when I was in Princeton University. The students were very intelligent and the professors were supportive; this helped mould how I run my own company.
For the past decade, you’ve been the top management of High Fashion, the company founded by your father. Did you have other career aspirations growing up or did you always see yourself within the family fold? I was quite heavily influenced by both my parents. They were both entrepreneurs, and I think witnessing them build their businesses from scratch inspired me to run a business myself.
But beyond the fashion industry, I love the technology industry. In fact, our company – as well as my family and I, on a personal level – has invested in several start-ups. We develop ecovation programmes that help young entrepreneurs aspiring to start big businesses. I love new ideas that contribute to innovative business models to transform industries – not only in fashion but every sector of the economy.
What have been the major contributing factors to your company’s success?
High Fashion is the global leader in silk manufacturing and one of Asia’s leaders in sustainability and providing affordable, luxurious garments. We are also a fully vertical supply chain. We provide a one-stop service for all types of customers from all over the world, from textiles to garment production.
I believe that innovation has been the most important factor in our success. Our clients are some of the most well-known brands in the world, and they are constantly looking for unique and creative ways to meet the demands of their consumers. At High Fashion, we seek out new fabrics, new ways of servicing, new re-engineering processes, as well as forms of technologies that allow us to produce a consistent flow of innovative products.
But on top of that, our diverse team has been key to the growth of our business. I believe that having an office culture that nurtures creativity is another important factor for a company’s success. We encourage staff to share new ideas and be open to collaborations, and embrace trial and error as part of the learning process.
Could you give us an example of how creativity and innovation have boosted your business?
I am always grateful to our staff and their support in growing a successful company. In turn, I feel that it is my responsibility to provide them with the best environment in which to perform and grow. We offer platforms that allow them to continue learning, which is especially important now that we see new businesses disrupting traditional organisations. We like to promote a fast-learning culture that encourages staff to learn about new market trends, visit different exhibitions, take part in seminars and network with other professionals. We also guide them through three to five years of career planning, organise management programmes and sponsor Executive MBA programmes outside of our company.
This allows the team to consistently contribute new and diverse ideas in meetings. It’s a very effective process that we focus on in order to deliver a continuous stream of innovative products. I believe this is one of the reasons why the majority of our staff have stayed loyal to the company – most of them have been with us for more than 20 to 30 years.
You’re known as a supporter of intelligent garment manufacturing. Can you tell us how this has changed and benefited the company’s productivity?
I think intelligent garment manufacturing is a trend that will last long into the future. Everyone is talking about the new economy, implying how technology plays a huge role in transforming traditional businesses. Because the garment industry is quite labour intensive, technologies like robotics and digitalisation offer businesses a leg up.
We look for ways to capture different ideas that are imbedded in technologies and apply them to garment manufacturing. In the past few years, we’ve spent a lot of time on automation. We were able to increase our productivity by 30 to 40 percent without having to reduce our labour force. And this is just the beginning: we will continue to learn about integrating automation into garment production. New companies are already adopting automation and advanced technology, which is why I believe technology will be an inevitable transition for the garment business, and will transform traditional companies into faster-growing entities.
Sustainability has become a hot topic in fashion. Could you share your thoughts on the subject?
Sustainability is the key to a more secure future for the generations to come. We hold great value in the initiative to help our customers transition from less sustainable into more sustainable products. This is where my belief in education comes in. Whenever we work with clients and consumers, we inform them about the importance of sustainability and how we can provide them with sustainable products. For example, incorporating sustainable production processes such as recycling and up-cycling.
Our factory is one of the best known for sustainability; it holds a green-level certification – the highest level in China – and we are one of the few garment factories that uses solar power to recycle energy throughout the production process. Thinking two or three decades into the future and how our business affects the planet, we will introduce new elements of sustainability in our production process and supply chain wherever possible – ensuring more eco-friendly production that avoids excessive waste and reduces the carbon footprint.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has also been a priority for High Fashion. Why do you feel it’s so important to give back?
I think education is very important; I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to learn a lot when I was at university. Which is why I feel that it’s important to provide that same exposure to youngsters who have limited resources and avenues in which to develop their interests and career path. We strongly support education by providing opportunities for university students to join exchange programmes overseas. We have also built schools in Asia – China, mainly – such as the High Fashion Women’s Institute in Hangzhou that has offered tertiary fashion education for over 10 years.
What upcoming projects or new initiatives are you most excited about?
Since 2020, we have been working on WL District, a newly renovated, open shared space that allows CEOs and creatives to collaborate and network. Whether hosting an event or holding an exhibition, we aim to provide a space that allows like-minded individuals to come together with their unique backgrounds, expertise and skills. From the concept to the interior design, we’ve put careful consideration into every aspect of creating a venue that inspires creativity, collaboration and innovation.
What’s your favourite way to relax? Do you have any hobbies?
My favourite sport is tennis. Before I joined the company, I didn’t do much exercise, but I found that exercising helps me both mentally and physically – I feel more energised and focused. You need to be quite determined and disciplined to do well at tennis, and it’s helped me stick to my routine and improve my efficiency.
I also like chess, a game my father introduced me to when I was a child. Not only does it help with my concentration and problem-solving skills, it’s an activity that I enjoy doing with friends, as we can catch up over a game. Although it might seem mentally strenuous, I actually find it relaxing: it offers me mental clarity.
Interview: Roberliza Eugenio
Photographer: Jack Law
Videographer: Andy Wan
Art Direction & Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma