Hearing Mountain Yam speak confidently today, it's hard to believe that he was once a shy kid. But thanks to magic of fashion design and managing a business, the introvert is now happy to front his own brand, 112 mountainyam.
Growing up in a traditional family, Yam was not used to expressing himself. "My family would not chat when we were sitting together for dinner. Instead, we watched television," he said. "After finishing our meals, my siblings and I would return to our own rooms."
People would often describe him as "quiet. Rather than using words to express himself, Yam communicated his feelings through paintings.
"The colors I used were dark and solid, like dark red or black," he recalled. "Thinking back, it felt like I wanted to express something through the paintings, such as loneliness."
His interest in art led him to pursue a fashion design course at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. There, he gradually realized that he could not survive without coming out of his shell.
"If you don't speak, no one will know about your designs or what you want to express with your designs," he said. So he began to work on expressing himself. "When it came to presentations, I used to be very nervous, but it got better and better after several attempts."
He also started asking his peers for feedback on his designs. "In the past, I did not think about the results. I created designs based on my own preferences," said Yam.
He initially focused on intricate evening gowns. "But when I found that womenswear had a larger market, I changed my focus."
It helped that his foray into the commercial world was met with accolades. "When I was still working for a fashion brand, I secretly sold some of my jackets to a Japanese company," he said. "It was a design that I expected would be accepted by the market."
With his profit of HK$10,000, he quit his full time job to design a full collection under his own brand in 2013.
His first collection also attracted buyers.
"The collection was quite commercial too. It consisted of floral and safari-patterned outfits and formal suits," he said. "At the first fashion trade show in Hong Kong, I received a HK$20,000 order from a mainland buyer."
Buoyed by his initial success, he opened his first physical store in the shopping mall Hands in Tuen Mun a year later.
But the move taught him several hard lessons about the fashion industry. "When I was starting my brand, I was part of the Hong Kong Design Centre's design incubation program, which helped with expenses and rent," he said. "But when I started my own store, I realized that it was not so profitable."
At the time, he was also designing uniforms for Link REIT. Although he spent relatively less time on uniform designs, it turned out to be his main source of income.
He also discovered that 112 mountainyam lacked character.
"I was too focused on designing something that I thought would please audiences and be easy to sell," said Yam.
Frustrated at the bottleneck in his career, he contacted the Hong Kong Design Centre again to participate in the fashion incubation program in 2018 for a pause and a reboot.
"After joining FIP in 2018, I started to think about rebranding," he said. "I met with mentors from the program to help me analyze the different aspects of my business, like target audience and business strategy."
Looking back, Yam admits he was not business minded and had always managed his brand based on instinct. Even now, he is still grateful that his mentors took the time to offer suggestions.
Moreover, the program allowed the 36 year old to pursue a formal education in fashion management. "Last June, FIP funded my studies for a month in New York," he said. "This allowed me to step out of Hong Kong and build my network overseas."
He had even planned to participate in New York Fashion Week in February - but then the Covid-19 pandemic worsened.
After two years spent rebooting 112 mountainyam, the brand came out with a new image this year.
"I changed the brand logo from a type font to a handwriting font and moved the store from K11 Select to Tai Kwun," he explained.
Yam chose the location because it echoed the brand's Hong Kong heritage and added personality to his products.
Having now realized he could not do everything by himself, he has hired experts to help in areas such as public relations and website design.
His business direction shifted from having no clear division to 80 percent commercial clothing and 20 percent showpieces, while also actively engaging in collaborations.
"In May, I collaborated with The Murray Hotel to launch my autumn/winter fashion show #112bowtonoone," said Yam.
"I have also launched a crossover series yoga sporting clothing with Taiwan sportswear brand Mollifix, which will be available in the Tai Kwun shop and online."
Yam has even changed the color palette of his designs, going from dark colors to bright and light shades. In a way, the change is a reflection of his personal progression from an introvert to a confident business leader.
Speaking of his next transformation, he dreams of becoming a renowned fashion designer. "I hope one day when people think of a Hong Kong designer, they think of me."