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Hong Kong fashion designer Johanna Ho turns old Puma jackets into athleisure wear

Hong Kong designer Johanna Ho Chi-yan is known for her celebrity clientele and playful knitwear, but her latest project sees her venture into new territory. Launched at the T Galleria by DFS store in Macau, the “Johanna Ho Empowered by Puma” is a limited collection of upcycled vintage Puma tracksuits that are sporty, fashionable and eco-friendly.

“It all began with a pair of shoes,” jokes Ho at its recent launch.

“My good friend [former actress] Hilary Tsui [Ho-ying] was wearing a pair of wedges with netting from Puma and I was impressed, so I asked for an introduction with the people at Puma. I’ve always wanted to do something that combines sports and fashion, especially because sportswear is playing a bigger role in women’s wardrobes today. The concept of sustainability added a new element to the collaboration,” she says.

For Ho, the idea of a sustainable collection was a long time coming. While her eponymous label has featured designs made from eco-friendly yarns, she really started to explore the concept of upcycling this year while designing outfits for Hong Kong Canto-pop star Eason Chan Yik-shun [Tsui’s husband]. Instead of creating pieces for him to wear at his concerts, she began upcycling clothes from his existing wardrobe. By the time the Puma collaboration was confirmed she had decided that upcycling – converting old or discarded materials into something of higher quality – was ideal, especially as Asian customers have an aversion to second-hand clothing.

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The next step was selecting the raw materials.

“If you look at any mass market brand you know that there is going to be plenty of excess of materials due to factory minimums. One item Puma had in plentiful supply was their T7 jackets. It was the perfect item to convey the message that you can always reinvent something in your closet even if it’s classic or simple,” she says.

Designing the collection was challenging and fun for Ho. Unlike her eponymous collections, which usually start from a blank slate, this collection had restrictions due to the raw materials. This allowed Ho to be creative with new silhouettes, materials and embellishments.

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“The most challenging part, which was always at the back of mind, was the fact that these clothes needed to sell. Not only was I collaborating with two big names, but I also needed to ensure that I didn’t lose my identity in the process. I had to impart my sensibility and style into every single piece,” she says.

The final result is a collection of couture-meets-streetwear pieces. Because all the jackets were originally made for men, Ho feminised them with pleats at the back to create an hourglass silhouette and voluminous sleeves. Others come decorated with hand crochet details, cable knit panels, knitted rosettes or embroideries. In addition to several jackets, she has also designed architectural skirts and T-shirts with cut-outs and netting draped across the front. Each piece is unique and prices range from 3,000 to 7,000 patacas.

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While there are also plans to develop another collection for Hong Kong, Ho says she is hoping that sustainability will become a core part of her branding.

“As a fashion designer today you need to think about how to be more mindful. It’s impossible to ask a woman to buy less clothing – besides, that doesn’t make any business sense. Instead you have to think beyond the eco fabrics and yarns and create something that feels not only sustainable but is about a craft,” she says.

Pointing at her collection, she says many pieces are handmade and “pay tribute to a culture or art that is being endangered right now”.

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She says as technology advances, fashion has lost its personal touch. “I hope I can help bring some of that back to fashion,” she says.