Career Advice Successful entrepreneurs’ story

Passion for fashion

Chailie Ho failed to shine at school but hard work saw her cut out a top career

With their sophisticated and elegant designs, the dresses of Chailie Ho have taken the local fashion scene by storm, with celebrities across town ordering tailor-made creations to attend red-carpet events. At only 27 and already with her own fashion label, Ho is living the dream of many young people who want to play a part in this exciting and fast-moving industry.

Ho started her own business, the Chailie Ho Fashion Studio, in 2010. She had limited capital, but was able to go ahead thanks to the support of a design incubation project run by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation.

“When I first got started, nobody knew about me,” she says. “I would go from shop to shop, trying to talk boutique owners into letting me sell my dresses in their shops. It was tough at first, but as more people started to buy and ask about my dresses, things began to change for the better. Actresses began approaching me to tailor-make dresses for them to attend functions.”

Despite enjoying so much early success, Ho says she will never forget how long and hard she had to work. Having not been a very good student at school meant that she did not get the best education, but she has made up for it with her burning desire to succeed and love of drawing.

“From a young age, I dreamt about being a university student, but studying was not my strength,” she says. “I was no stranger to being put on waiting lists when I applied to schools. I was on the waiting list trying to apply for a Form Six place [at my school] because I finished my HKCEE with 13 points [one less than required]. But I got lucky. The school had an opening in its art class, on condition that I took art at A-level. This turned out to be the perfect plan.”

Although Ho loves to draw, she says her artwork never really caught the attention of her teachers. “My clients love my watercolour prints, but when I was at school my teacher told me that I was doing it wrong because my colours were not bright enough,” she says. “But I never felt discouraged, because I love drawing so much. During my A-level studies, I kept a diary of the drawings and designs that I had done as part of the coursework assessment. That diary later turned out to provide the turning point in my life.”

After her A-levels, Ho was admitted to a higher diploma programme at Polytechnic University (PolyU) to study fashion retail. “Again I was on the waiting list, and school term was about to begin when I received a call from the school that someone had quit and I got the place,” she says.

In her final year, she thought of becoming a fashion buyer, but friends said she could be a designer instead. “My friends told me that the designer was the irreplaceable soul of a brand, so I began looking up fashion design programmes,” she says.

“I ran into a girl studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in Britain, who helped me with my application. At that time, I had no idea Saint Martins was such a prestigious school. If I had known, I don’t think I would have applied, because of my underwhelming academic record. At the interview I showed them my design diary and they loved it. It really was a blessing. As much as I wanted to study at university, going to school was never a smooth ride for me, and now all of a sudden I had the chance to attend one of the best [fashion institutions] in the world.”

After graduating, Ho studied a postgraduate certificate in innovative pattern-cutting. “A pattern cutter is someone who transforms a great design idea into reality. I got many offers from designers to cut patterns for them and I learned a lot from them. The designers were very willing to share their design concepts with me in order to enable me to do my job right. I was having a great time in Britain, but I missed my mother so I decided to return to Hong Kong in 2008,” she says.

Back in Hong Kong, Ho worked as a fashion designer and continued making her own clothes in her spare time. “I wanted to do more so I began looking for funding to help start my own brand,” she says.

Having found success with her dresses, Ho is opening her first boutique at the Former Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road in Central in April. She is thinking about more than just fashion, however. “The boutique is not only a place to showcase my designs, it is a space for me to promote my other two passions: education and healthy eating. I have collaborated with institutes to run fashion workshops for children and I hope that with my new shop I can host more on a consistent basis,” she says.

She also hopes to be able to contribute to the Hong Kong education system, as she feels there is room for improvement in the way art is taught in Hong Kong. “Having gone through so many obstacles at school I want to help,” she says. “I don’t think local children enjoy art. They do it because it enhances their résumé. Creative education should not be like this. I hope to inspire children to love art.”

Her other passion – healthy eating – sees her worry about the fast-food eating habits among local children and she aims to raise awareness of healthy eating through fashion. “I plan to make a dress from mushrooms to tell people about the importance of eating food that is natural, with no additives,” she says. “People are born to eat natural food, but it seems they would rather take vitamins and other supplements instead of having a healthy diet.”


Chailie Ho lists her five favourite fashion designers

Hussein Chalayan “I interned for him when I was studying in Britain. Unlike some designers who can be difficult to work with, he has excellent project-management skills and takes care of everyone. His designs are among the most innovative I have seen.”
Roland Mouret “He is the creator of the ‘Moon’ dress. His works inspired me to create designs that are fabulous, yet simple.”
Alberta Ferretti “Her use of layering is extraordinary, and she makes clothes that are comfortable to wear. She taught me the definition of elegance.”
Alexander McQueen “No doubt he is an all-time great designer and the idol of every student from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. He was a true trend-setter in fashion and his death was a huge lost to the industry.”
Nicolas Ghesquière “His clothing is very sophisticated, I can tell he focuses a lot of attention on the design detail. He was head designer at Balenciaga, a brand I would have died to work for when I left school. My career would have been very different.”