Why Hong Kong is aiming to be the global hub for giftware sourcing

With Covid past and the return of international business travel and tourism, Hong Kong is positioning itself as the heartland of the world’s US$18.41 billion giftware market.    

While exports of giftwares from Hong Kong cooled off by a modest 4 per cent last year, volumes are still running higher than pre-Covid levels after a 44 per cent rebound in 2021. 

With the focus on returning to growth, during the weekend, more than 4800 exhibitors in giftware and allied fields gathered for four exhibition events organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, anchored by a four-day Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Fair.  

“We want to position Hong Kong as the global hub for giftware sourcing,” Helena Chiu, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Exporters Association told a networking breakfast on Sunday morning. 

That’s a challenge not for the faint of heart, given expanding global regulation of trade impacting giftware exports.

Firstly, there is a trend towards consolidation of buyers and retail channels, as a government briefing document shared with the media during this week’s event explains: “In particular, large‐scale retail chains and mass merchants are minimising inventory and shortening delivery lead times in an effort to lower costs and business risks. Such developments will continue to pose a threat to smaller manufacturers, as giant retailers, doing their own direct sourcing, may tend to favour large suppliers. 

“On the other hand, the rise of giant retailers has provided new opportunities for private label items.”

Regulatory hurdles

Product requirements have become more stringent in overseas markets, mainly in areas of product safety and environmental protection, the paper continues, citing EU toy rule harmonisation and the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act covering toy safety standards including a tightening of lead limits, prohibitions of some phthalates and third‐party testing requirements.

Trade measures, such as anti-dumping charges affect giftware exports – especially paper-made products and wax candles in the US, and some ring binder mechanisms in the EU – can impact Hong Kong exporters if their products are manufactured in Mainland China.

On top of all that, there is intense competition in the industry on price – and increasing environmental awareness, both prompting giftware manufacturers to explore more affordable and non‐polluting substitutes to traditional materials. 

“Prominent examples include recyclable or renewable packaging materials,” explained the briefing paper. “In addition, giftware firms are finding they need to turn out an increasing number of new models and designs in order to stay competitive.”

The push to recycle

HKTDC’s research estimates that Hong Kong’s green technology and environmental services industry was worth US$1.3 billion in 2021, growing by about 2.2 per cent annually, and boosted by the territory government’s implementation of plastic-free measures.  

Sophia Chong, deputy executive director of the HKTDC, said the government body is dedicated to promoting sustainable development in the business sector “through diversified support services and online-to-offline sourcing platforms, assisting the industry to promote and procure green products and solutions”. 

The push towards sustainability was highly evident at this year’s fair, which spans everything from corporate gifts and branded trinkets through to high-end glassware and unique homewares. Green zones and green labels – which exhibitors offering green products in other zones could display for the easy identification by buyers – encouraged those companies that have embraced ecologically friendly solutions. That said, on many stands such eco-friendly products were often loosely mixed with those made from more traditional and less green materials, suggesting many companies are on a journey to develop their ‘green cred’ rather than having reached the destination as yet.

“No, this product is not made from recycled materials,” one exhibitor explained to Inside Retail on a stand with heavy sustainability messaging, when we asked about a certain item. “But we are working on it.”

Perhaps predictably, the most obvious category were sustainable solutions were being promoted was among a plethora of bag makers, reflecting the growing adoption of reusable shopping bags and bans on single-use plastic bags. (In Hong Kong, consumers are charged HK$1 (13 US cents) per bag by law, which the retailer is allowed to keep, but in other markets, such as Australian states, plastic bags are being phased out entirely at retail checkouts).

Over the past 15 years, Jinya Bags in Wenzhou has grown to produce around 1 million bags per month.  

Jeffrey Xu, sales manager, told us the company produces tote bags, drawstring bags and cooler bags for clients including Foot Locker, Target, Auchan and KFC. “We take sustainability seriously. Our certifications ensure our manufacturing practices align with the highest standards of social responsibility and environmental consciousness.”

Bags were displayed made from recycled PET plastics, paper, cardboard and cotton – along witha  range of eco-friendly virgin materials.   

Beyond bags, the fair reflected the growing global movement to replace single-use beverage cups with dozens of exhibitors displaying keep cups in literally every colour and size imaginable. It seems keep cups can even be incorporated into stationery gift sets: open a faux-leather compendium and right there alongside the note pad, pen and utilities is a refillable water bottle…

Some manufacturers were proudly displaying eco-friendly versions of traditional plastic goods. Ningbo Biofriendly International’s B-Recycled range hair brushes uses plastic waste in the brush body. “Our philosophy is beautiful hair, beautiful environment, because what we pursue is not only the beauty of individuals but the beauty of nature”. That said, the brushes’ ball-tip bristles are still made from traditional materials, suggesting a work still in progress.  

Matrix Promotion chose the fair to launch a version of the popular Monopoly game called Go Green, which uses recycled paper and FSC-certified timber and integrates eco-friendly concepts in the game. Build a ‘green house’ to earn more rent, for example, or invest in solar and windpower utilities. 

This version of the globally famous game features houses and dice made from FSC-certified wood, and tokens made from sugar cane-based plastic. The game board, money, cards, money tray, game instructions and packaging are all made from 100 per cent recycled paper. 

Sustainability is also a feature of the annual Smart Design Awards, co-organised by the Hong Kong Exports Association and the HKTDC. 

A bronze winner of the 2021 Hong Kong Smart Design Awards showcased at the fair was Evopad Eco which created a portable multi-functional desktop tool serving as mouse pad, phone and pen holder – all made from recycled PET bottles – with a 15W fast wireless charger integrated. Ultra slim and foldable, it is portable for people who travel or commute. 

Another Smart Design Award winner was Hong Kong entrepreneur Alex Sum whose venture Bravestorming has used three rounds of crowdfunding on the Kickstarter program to create reusable sticky notes. As most people living in humid Asia can attest, sticky paper notes are prone to fall off. What, thought, Sum, if you could use mini white-boards instead, with magnets or a permanent sticky texture on the back (which lasts 1000 times) that don’t fall off. Better still, one can use a white board marker to write the note, erasing it afterwards so the same ‘post-it’ can be used time and time again, placed on fridges, computer monitors or glass.

The Hong Kong Gift Fair concludes on Tuesday, with a business matching feature remaining online into next month.    

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