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Weaving a story of Tsuen Wan’s past

LUXE City Guides
  • Written by LUXE City Guides, Images by Jeremy Cheung

Grey, deteriorating, and hulking low to the ground, the former Nan Fung Textiles factory buildings in Tsuen Wan look out of place among the modern high-rises that surround them. Relics of a bygone era, they hark back to Tsuen Wan’s former status as a textile manufacturing district.


The Mills

Instead of demolishing them, however, the owners recognised the cultural worth of the structures and embarked on a revitalisation plan that would preserve the buildings’ history, enrich the local community and establish a new creative hotspot. Welcome to The Mills Get me there {{title}} Address {{address}} Website {{website}} More info : a groundbreaking project that includes a non-profit cultural institute, a retail area, and a business incubator focused on startups straddling technology and style aka ‘techstyle’.

The Mills is the brainchild of Vanessa Cheung, the granddaughter of Nan Fung Textiles’ founder Dr Chen Din-hwa. "I came up with the idea of The Mills project with the aim of preserving both my family roots and Hong Kong’s textile history," she explains, after realising the buildings were still owned by the company.

The Mills

The first textile manufacturers arrived in Hong Kong in the 1940s from Shanghai, seeking a less turbulent place for their factories following wartime and post-war social and political upheavals in China. By the mid-1950s, business was booming. When Nan Fung Textiles factory was founded in 1954, 30 per cent of manufacturing workers were in textiles. “The textile industry was a large contributor in shaping Hong Kong’s economy and people,” Cheung elaborates. “It supported the livelihoods of over 230,000 people during the 1970s. It was also instrumental in shifting cultural norms as it was women who made up a significant proportion of the workforce in the textile industry.”

WEAVING A STORY OF TSUEN WAN’S PAST

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, rising land and labour costs gradually forced textile production to move to Mainland. Nan Fung Textiles ceased its cotton-spinning operations in 2008 and the buildings were converted into warehouses until Cheung kick-started The Mills project in 2013. Now, the textiles industry might have all but disappeared, but its legacy remains. “

 

Aside from appraising the building itself, visitors will be able to learn more about the history of the area from The Mills’ non-profit institution, the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT), where art and cultural exhibitions and other programming related to textiles will run.

The Mills sign

The Mills will also be cultivating new businesses related to ‘techstyle’ at incubator Fabrica. Brands that have already taken advantage of the resources and networking opportunities the organisation has to offer include Unspun, which is dedicated to improving sustainability through 3D weaving technology and customised denim, and Origami Labs (ORii), which is creating a voice-assistant smart ring.

 

Of course it wouldn’t be Hong Kong without retail. The Shopfloor is home to a slew of independent and artisanal stores and workshops, spanning sleek Book B and Modena Stationery to homegrown multi-brand art, design and gift shop Concept to Go.

“We believe that textile history is worth preserving since there are many lessons to be learned from our past,” Cheung concludes. “We are inspired to take these lessons to future industries that will change our city just like the textile industry did.” The Mills is set to provide a valuable platform for aspiring ‘techstyle’ entrepreneurs, just as much as it is a lens through which visitors can appreciate Tsuen Wan’s past.

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The Hong Kong Tourism Board disclaims any liability as to the quality or fitness for purpose of third party products and services; and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, adequacy or reliability of any information contained herein.


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