#Brand Story | PabePabe : Mainstream Non-Mainstream
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While the 1920’s was a decade of vanity and decadence, the 1960’s were about imagining about the future. Post-2000’s, modern consumers are obsessed with accessories such as handbags. If we examine the history of the Chinese wardrobe, the handbag is rarely seen until the Qing dynasty, when  pockets were fused into clothing for practical reasons. Just like a smartphone, the handbag is a product of the modern world.

Having undergone more than three decades of revolution, the handbag is the ultimate accessory. It’s now the fashion star of our age, replacing couture. Hong Kong fashion accessories brand PabePabe challenges mainstream fashion expectations with quirky designs not seen elsewhere, with one bag incorporating a pair of rainboots, and another created from a diving flipper.

PabePabe has two founders, including Logan Chan. There is no doubt that Chan is a fashionista, and even in his early secondary school days, he had his own ideas about fashion. After studying fashion briefly, however, he found his true love lay in experimental arts. The handbag project in which he participated on invitation shortly before graduation turned out to be hugely successful. Orders found their way to Chan for the purchase of what were supposed to be exhibits. From this point onwards, he began designing handbags for paying customers.

Many people came to know PabePabe after local singer Serrini repeatedly recited the brand's name in Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw's tone of voice . Even on social media, PabePabe handbags are easily recognisable. Their distinctive designs are inseparable from the founders' lives, which adds to the character of their products. For instance, the pandemic had begun when they decided to conceptualise a season on escape. During the early days of the pandemic, when everyday essentials were running out, their creative minds were thinking, "What do I need right now, if I'm to make an escape?" This led to the use of inflatable materials on their handbags, which imitate the texture of inflatable boats.

PabePabe began as an online shop and the brand opened its first concept store last year with a mini photography exhibition featuring the work of Issac Lam. Rather strangely, you don’t  find PabePabe products in the photos. Without an invitation card, one wouldn’t have even noticed the presence of PabePabe at the event. “The point of having a store is not to boast about sales but to brand ourselves properly by making good use of this space. This was a marketing strategy,” says Chan. “We once had an eye-opening trip to Europe, and people there went to some lengths to get to know your brand.” Even though the brand is young, PabePabe places a lot of emphasis on branding. However, when local customers are making their purchase, they rarely pay attention to the backstory of the brand or its origin. Chan’s experience in Europe served as a reminder him about the significance of branding and is preparing him for the showroom at next season’s Paris Fashion Week.

As for being ‘non-mainstream’, the designer says, “I don't need to be mainstream. I just need to be mainstream for my own customers.” Given their distinct design, PabePabe’s handbags are relatively affordable, which illustrates that brands can persuade customers to try out unconventional designs  if the price is right. In this day and age, there are many fashion choices, but mostly it’s more of the same. Hopefully more brands like PabePabe will emerge and give people the courage to show their true self, and emphasise that it’s good to be different.

Interview & text : Daniel Cheung

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