Interview with Carnaby Fair

Carnaby Fair is an ethical brand based both in London and Hong Kong. Through a passion for streetwear, the company encourages creativity and individuality by collaborating with charities and local artists. Tommaso Crestani speaks to Co-Founder and CEO Karen Ng.

TC: In what ways does your brand express youth’s identity?

K: Carnaby Fair was co-founded by three international students while they were still studying in London. My business partners and I share a common interest for multiculturalism since we all grew up surrounded by many different cultures. With our brand, we try to convey how we perceive reality through our international background. To do so we tend to cast models from all over the world so that our designs become self-expressive, promoting the Cantonese, British and Black culture. Personal input is also one of the keys of our company. 

Co-Founder and CEO Karen Ng

Co-Founder and CEO Karen Ng

TC: Your brand seems to have an ethical approach to fashion, involving charities and local artists. What are the main challenges of an ethical brand in an industry characterised by exploitation and cheap and fast products?

K: I think the millennial generation is becoming more and more aware of the value of sustainability and a general passion for the quality of the product is constantly increasing.  Although I can’t say that our company is already 100% sustainable, with every new collection we try to improve by bringing in ethical manufacturers, designers, photographers, and charities. Above all, we try our best to remain transparent to our customers and be truthful with our words. This can also be said about the percentage of money donated to charities when we are working in collaboration with them. 

TC: How do you collaborate with charities and local artists? What does that involve?

K: When I founded Carnaby Fair in my second year of university, I understood the importance of creating connections and networking as emerging artists. So with our brand, we wanted to create a platform where artists could truly express themselves as designers and potentially earn a profit by commercially merchandising their products. We tend to work with charities we care about and use designs to spread messages which differentiate from mass fashion brands. The design of the products created really reflects the meaning of the charity involved. In the past, we worked with LGBTQ+ charities,, Charity Sane (a fundraising company dealing with mental illnesses) and female movements to help breast cancer patients. 

Water.Org x The Smile Project Cap: a partnership with CharitySane, the UK’s leading mental health charity, and Water.Org.

Water.Org x The Smile Project Cap: a partnership with CharitySane, the UK’s leading mental health charity, and Water.Org.

TC: Social media users are constantly increasing. How do you use them to advertise your products? Has advertisement become easier thanks to social media?

K: The key with social media is using them the right way, which is connecting. It’s become easier to create connections and find possible partners from all over the world; for example, it is through Instagram that we partnered with a popular Hong Kong rap group which eventually became our brand ambassador. Social media is also the easiest and fastest way to approach millennials and create instant connections with them through the perception of sharing something we all love. 

TC: What are the main differences when approaching the Asian market (Hong Kong) and the Western one (London)?

K: There are only subtle differences since both cities are extremely diverse. With Carnaby Fair, we tend to offer different connections for the two areas. The designs for the Hong Kong collections are more personal. We try to use messages and cultural references that most Hong Kong people can understand, and so a strong sense of intimacy is created with our audience. For the UK, we tend to offer a more internationalized version of Hong Kong culture, as if we are introducing the culture for the very first time. We also collaborate with local charities so that every product is integrated into the local culture.

TC: How do you think Brexit is likely to affect the fashion industry?

K:  It will possibly affect me personally since I don’t hold a British Passport, but I am not really afraid of it. Our brand is always evolving and internationality is one of its keys; by connecting with designers from all over the world we will be able to keep bringing people together even if the circumstances separate us.

TC: In an industry where the boundaries between genders are becoming more and more blurred what are your stances on gender expression?

K: Carnaby Fair clothes are all unisex, we are against gender specificity and categorizing individuals. As a brand, we started with making caps because as an accessory it is the most open and accessible one. 

Water.Org x The Smile Project Cap

Water.Org x The Smile Project Cap

TC: How do you normally predict what’s next in terms of future fashion trends

K: I do not look at fashion trends. As a niche company, Carnaby Fair does not have an interest in trends. I think trends really hinder self-expression and individuality which are the central characters of our brand. We want people to be able to express themselves through our clothes. 

TC: Your name comes from London’s famous Carnaby Street: is this place the main inspiration for your brand?

K: Absolutely. When I was thinking about the name of the brand, I really wanted something that could convey creativity and multiculturalism - the main aims of the company. Carnaby Street is the place where something is always going on, designers keep emerging and there is a never-ending evolution of art, fashion, and creativity. A place like this can’t be found in Hong Kong yet, and so we will be the first.