Go with the flow and things will happen naturally. This could be the best lesson for Barry Kan, founder of the underwear brand Underxcore and Smilecode, a graphic designer who studied in Japan.
The designer named the business Smilecode, as it playfully refers to “dresscode”.
Due to the pandemic, Kan, who used to live in Japan, was stuck in Hong Kong. “As I needed to stay in Hong Kong for a while anyway, I thought maybe I should make good use of the time and make some contribution to Hong Kong’s creative industry.” Kan seized the opportunity and established Smilecode, which has already held several popups since its launch a year ago. The brand aims to introduce Hong Kong brands to Japan, and by making use of his network in Japan, Kan wants to bring local creations to a larger market. Continuing to receive invitations to hold even more popup stores, Smilecode’s achievements within a short period of time is remarkable.
The designer named the business Smilecode, as it playfully refers to “dresscode”. The author interprets the business name as, “teaching people to smile, which coincides with the unique and interesting products introduced by Smilecode.”
“This kind of pressure creates a need for self-expression in many Japanese people, so more niche things can be found in a living space in Japan.”
Even with his Japanese connections, there is more to Kan’s introduction of Hong Kong brands into Japan. It’s aimed at consumers in the Japanese market who can’t travel due to the pandemic. Various local brands have been carefully selected to provide more interesting options for the Japanese market.
The founder hopes that Smilecode is not just a pop-up store, and thinks the business is better described as an “agency”. Since exporting local brands to Japan, Kan has discovered that the story behind the product has is important to Japanese consumers.
It’s certainly worth taking more time to understand the philosophy behind each designer and brand. What’s more, Smilecode has given the designer a mission, as he felt a responsibility to create a good first impression of local brands in the Japanese market. This takes a great deal and time but there is simply no shortcut, he believes.
Talking about the prospect for local brands, Kan believes that the local market has its limit, and brands targeting niche markets must develop other markets to sustain their development. Asked why Hong Kong cannot support a niche market while Japan is so successful, Kan says, “Japan has a culture of conformity, and everyone wears the same uniform to work. This kind of pressure creates a need for self-expression in many Japanese people, so more niche things can be found in a living space in Japan.”
One benefit of globalisation is that it has become easier for brands to search for suitable markets, and indirectly diversify what is available in the market. It is Kan’s hope that Smilecode can develop into a platform, form a network of local creative talent and reach beyond Hong Kong.