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Online Training Platform in Fashion Industry Sees Hong Kong as a Bridge between Suppliers and Manufacturers

Online Training Platform in Fashion Industry Sees Hong Kong as a Bridge between Suppliers and Manufacturers

Catherine Cole, CEO, MOTIF

“Hong Kong continues to be a bridge in the global apparel supply chain, so it makes sense for us to be headquartered here as we look to be the collaborative hub of industry expertise and innovation.”

Catherine Cole, CEO, MOTIF

Please briefly describe the background of your company, its origin and development milestones.

MOTIF went live from Hong Kong in October 2018, with a mission to bridge a critical industry skills gap by nurturing a place for professional community in the apparel industry and to provide a catalogue of online training material for fashion industry professionals and companies. Our courses are aimed at both individuals in the industry as well as corporate HR or business teams that need to make sure employees have sound fundamentals and cross-functional understanding. Today we offer 8 online training programs, with a plan to at least double this by the end of 2020. These courses cover technical skills as well as commercial and soft skills for the apparel / fashion industry.

Why did the company decide to set up an office in Hong Kong? What do you think about the startup ecosystem in Hong Kong?

MOTIF is a start up here in Hong Kong but we trace our origins to our parent company Alvanon with a long history in the apparel industry and global headquarters in New York City. Even though there is almost zero apparel manufacturing in Hong Kong today, the city still retains a critical role as a bridge between suppliers and manufacturers in the region. There is still production expertise and supply chain know-how that sits in HK, so it made perfect sense for us to base our “apparel knowledge hub” here. Building on Hong Kong’s heritage in the textile and apparel manufacturing industry, there is an impetus to rejuvenate the sector lead by actors such as The Mills and their tech and innovation arm Fabrica and The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) to make Hong Kong an open platform for the development of innovative technologies and solutions to help the industry tackle its most pressing challenges.

The startup ecosystem in Hong Kong is very dynamic and vibrant, the opportunities for collaboration with its different actors are numerous. The start-up community is also diverse in terms of their domain focus, which makes it an interesting ground for cross-fertilisation of ideas and experimentation beyond the norm. We are now part of the Fabrica incubation program.

Could you share with us the strategic plans of your company in Hong Kong and in the region? What is your company’s value proposition in the market?

What makes us unique is our vertical expertise – we are a hub for apparel and fashion industry expertise. So while there are plenty of other e-learning platforms – public and private, we provide a community for individuals to come and interact with others across the supply chain and learn from practitioners. We are the go-to place for learning from experts around the globe. Our plan for 2020 and beyond is to work with industry partners to expand our library of content and also enhance our community features. We hope to bring more training opportunities to a broader range of production markets across Asia. Our current ideas revolve around some exciting new courses that we are exploring. Some that may involve VR-enabled factory visits for professionals that don’t have an opportunity to visit a production floor. We are also exploring some country and region-specific training around strategic sourcing markets where we will work with governments to deploy. This is a hot topic given the current trade wars.

MOTIF is an online training platform dedicated to the textiles, apparel and fashion industry. What made your company decide to adopt this innovative mode of training for a well-established industry which is not known for embracing the latest technologies?  As Hong Kong is a small place with a convenient transportation system, why online training is preferred to conventional face-to-face training? 

The apparel industry is faced with some critical issues and that is, need for supply chain transparency, customer demands for sustainability and intense pressure on margins. All of these are disruptive forces and at MOTIF, we believe many solutions can be linked to people and how we upskill them so that companies can be more efficient and innovative when it comes to production (use of data and technology) and sustainability (use of new materials and new development models). The biggest problem we hear from companies is that training can feel like a “burden”. Managers and employees are too time-poor and focused on the immediate needs of the business. So training has to fit into busy schedules, be engaging and interactive. Furthermore, the industry is highly fragmented with teams, internal and extended, being often dispersed geographically. Thus online learning offers a cost-effective and sustainable solution to scale training across borders for an organisation and its network of supply chain partners.

Could you share with us the highs and lows of your entrepreneurship journey? What does it take for a startup to be successful in Hong Kong?

The highs of our entrepreneurship journey have to definitely be around getting some major industry players to sign on as pilot users. Also our courses are a labor of love for us, so each one we launch is putting a brand new product on the market and nothing better than getting positive reception from customers. The lows are days when we feel constrained by our resources and not being able to do everything that we want to do! We are a lean team of 7 people today so are often constrained by number of hours in a day and financial resources to market and get the word out. We are all about skills and skills are also the nerve of the game. Finding talent and building the right team here or anywhere, a team that keeps learning on the journey, is critical to the success of a start-up.

Do you have any advice for others who are looking to launch a startup in Hong Kong?

Jump in and talk to people! Hong Kong has to still be one of the easiest cities to set up a company and also one of the easiest to network and get feedback.  There is no sense in being worried about others stealing an idea, but better to be out socializing your ideas and getting feedback so you can evolve and refine until you have market validation. It’s a compact city so if your idea is focused on the local market, feedback can be instantaneous. If your idea is global, Hong Kong has a rich diversity of professional contacts here who are more often than not, willing to share their experience and/or connections.

In what ways has InvestHK assisted your company in its setup and development? In your opinion, why are our services provided important for companies like yours?

InvestHK is a wonderful resource for connections and information. Within hours of first contacting InvestHK representatives, we had meetings set up with them that led to brainstorming on things they could do with us.  The approachability of their network and flexibility is refreshing.