Turning the refuse of Hong Kong’s streets into handsome accessories has put Joseph Ng and Billy Potts on the road to success.
Hong Kong wouldn’t be Hong Kong without the manic taxis that dart around the city in hues of red, green and blue. It seems only natural that they would inspire a line of fashion accessories. But Joseph Ng and Billy Potts aren’t interested in what they call “design tourism” – silkscreened taxi t-shirts and taxi lights turned into desklamps. When they started the Handsome Bag Company last July, they set out to deconstruct Hong Kong’s most ubiquitous form of transport by using discarded taxi parts as materials for bags, eyeglass cases and phone pockets.
“We were hanging around a neighbourhood with a lot of shops that service taxis and we noticed a lot of waste,” says Potts. So they asked an upholstery shop if they could buy old material that was being ripped out of taxis and replaced. “They said we could have it.”
The highlight of their modest collection is a tote bag made from seat covers and seatbelts. The stitching and interior lining comes in the three colours of taxi liveries. “It’s strong and easy to clean and it has its own aesthetic,” says Potts. “We treat it as part utilitarian object, part art piece.”
Each bag is made by a former seamstress who worked in a clothing factory that moved across the border to mainland China. “Part of it is developing a community between the seamstresses, making them feel empowered about what they do,” says Ng. He likes the idea of a handmade bag fashioned out of scraps from a mechanical object. “They’re refined-looking but a little raw at the same time. They tell a story,” he says.
Ng and Potts have been surprised by how well their project has been received. When the upholsterer who provided them with taxi scraps learned what they were doing, she rallied other upholstery shops to donate their discarded material, too.
Sales have been small but steady, and the duo hope to gradually expand their entrepreneurial, community-minded design work. They have two distinct advantages: they’re young and they have day jobs. Potts is a 24-year-old lawyer and Ng, 25, is an architect, which gives them the cash and stability they need to pursue only the design projects about which they are most passionate. “I’ve always been the rebellious architect, the one who likes to get down and dirty and just make things,” says Ng. “If you give me the choice between a wrench and a mouse, I’d choose the wrench.” handsomeco.com