Header image courtesy of Made by Camel 駱駝牌 (via Facebook)
For a few decades following the post-war era, Hong Kong was one of the top manufacturers in the world. “Made in Hong Kong” was synonymous with high quality and bang for your buck, with products bearing the coveted label including everything from everyday tools to complex electronic components.
Despite rising production costs leading to an industry downturn in the late 1980s, many beloved Hong Kong brands have stuck through the times and are still around—and still produced locally! Here are some of the most iconic items that are made in Hong Kong.
Unassuming and ordinary, there might be several objects around you right now that are part of the output from Red A. Perhaps the most iconic of them all are the red plastic lampshades found at Hong Kong wet markets!
Founded in 1949 under the Star Industrial Company, the brand has been producing a wide range of plastic products in its San Po Kong factory. Having started off making toothbrushes, the family business managed to stay in the game by constantly transforming its product line to meet the needs of the times.
In the 1970s, they responded to a local drought and the problems that came from less-than-ideal water management systems by putting out sturdy buckets for collecting and rationing water. Red A has also proven its strength in helping the battle against epidemics; they amped up their production of cages during swine flu and helped to produce more medical equipment during SARS.
Currently, their product collection encompasses over 600 items that continue to represent the brand’s commitment to durability, affordability, and quality.
Named after the humped desert animal, Camel is a brand that symbolises the tenacity behind Hong Kong’s local industries. Founded in 1940—when demand for vacuum flasks was high while supply was low—Camel was brought over to Hong Kong by the Penang-based Leung family.
In a stroke of resourcefulness, the business made use of spare glass and metal parts to mass-produce thermoses that would soon be found everywhere in Hong Kong, from dining establishments to ordinary homes.
Having only operated for six months at that point, Camel encountered its first hump during the Japanese invasion. Production was temporarily thwarted, but the company bounced back harder than ever after the war, and they returned to sculpting their iconic Model 147 flasks. Based on its recent re-release (in a series of delightfully trendy colours and patterns), we would say that modern consumers still have a thirst for the classic flask.
Lomography enthusiasts may be surprised to learn that the famous Diana and Holga toy cameras, which helped advance the eponymous pop photography genre, were both created in Hong Kong.
Both brands design simple models with plastic bodies and inexpensive lenses, paving the way for many hobby photographers to try their hand at capturing different artistic visions. Due to their low-fi functionality, the cameras are great for artistic effects like vignettes, light leaks, soft focus, and blurring, in addition to other distortions.
Diana cameras came first in 120-millimetre format, appearing in the Great Wall Plastic Factory’s production line in 1955. The majority of output was exported to the US and UK, where the Diana soon gained a cult following, before the company developed its more popular 35-millimetre format.
Meanwhile, the 120-millimetre format Holga was drawn up by Lee Ting-mo in 1982, its name an anglicisation of “好光” (hou2 gwong1), meaning “very bright.” Initially, the Holga was conceived as a low-cost means of allowing the masses to record family portraits, but gained widespread use as an experimental photography medium when exported in 35-millimetre format to the West.
It is undeniable that these interlocking red-white-blue stripes have earned their icon status in the fabric of Hong Kong’s culture. The pattern is most recognisable in the form of a large carrier duffle or laundry bag, also colloquially known as a “red-white-blue bag” (紅白藍袋; hung4 baak6 laam4 doi6).
The bag itself was the invention of a local tailor by the name of Lee Wah (李華), who decided to sew together a sturdy yet lightweight vessel for multi-purpose use in the 1960s. The initial versions of this nylon fabric were drafted up in Japan, before taking a detour to Taiwan, and finally making its way to Hong Kong—perhaps a premonition of its later use as a popular travel bag. At first, it was only white and blue, but Lee threw red into the colourway to add a stroke of auspiciousness.
Many look fondly to the bag as a representation of the unyielding Hong Kong spirit. This wind- and water-proof textile has taken shape as temporary shelters, protection for farmland, and even as a makeshift roof over squatter homes. Its tenacity and versatility express Hong Kong people’s resilience and ingenuity in the face of hardship.
A respected manufacturer with over half a century of experience, Twemco is the sole manufacturer of its patented and fully automated flip clocks. Ever since the 1950s, the company has been producing perpetual calendar digital clocks for official as well as commercial use. In fact, many of their main clients are official departments and corporate institutions that rely on accurate time-telling for their affairs.
The design is simple, effective, and remains chic even in current times. Utilising an electro-mechanical motor, the time and date are displayed using flaps that sequentially adjust to the ever-pleasing rhythm of a passing minute, emitting a satisfying “flip” sound during transitions.
Fun fact: A horopalettologist is somebody who has a passion for the collecting, restoring, and trading of flip clocks! Although it is a rather niche timepiece to become preoccupied with, the device has managed to somehow win over the hearts of aficionado groups.
There’s nothing like the feeling of cracking open a bottle of warm Vitasoy in the colder months. Its conception came about after a local doctor, Lo Kwee-seong, was appalled at the sight of children around him who were barely skin and bones, and he turned to soy—which was known traditionally as “meat without the bones”—to create a nourishing beverage.
First bottled and doled out during harsh times, the brand was created in 1939 to stock high-protein drinks meant as an affordable and efficient source of nutrition and calories for malnourished refugees affected by the war.
Witnessing the boom of mass production in the 1960s, the company began to step into other beverage markets as well, and diversified its portfolio to include other varieties of delicious drinks.
Aside from the comforting boxed soy milk, the Vita brand also produces an extensive selection of flavoured teas, various fruit juices, fresh milk options, and bottled water. Take a swig and dive deep into the full story behind their plant-based milk alternative here.
If it hadn’t been for one absent-minded chef, Chinese-style cooking would be a lot less flavourful. The story behind the invention of oyster sauce follows chef Lee Kum-sheung (李錦裳), who, on one fateful day in 1888, left a pot of oysters to cook over the stove for far too long. Upon discovering the charred black sludge that remained, he gave the fragrant mixture a taste and discovered that it was actually quite delicious—and thus, oyster sauce was born!
The flavour of oyster sauce is in itself both salty and sweet, omitting the need to add excessive salt and sugar. Its well-rounded taste has cemented its place as an all-purpose fixture of Cantonese cuisine in the form of a marinade, an addition to stir-fry, or even simply as a dip.
Over the years, the company continued to develop other sauces and now carry over 200 varieties. Some of the most popular items in its line-up include the original oyster sauce, deluxe soy sauce, and MSG-free chicken bouillon powder.
With Hong Kong’s mid-century plastic boom came a great upturn in toy manufacturing. Although most of the local output was produced for foreign brands like Mattel, there was still the exception of items like the watermelon ball.
Its design is attributed to industrial engineer Chiang Chen (蔣震), who was believed to have been inspired by the intersecting curves of the Yangtze and Jialiang rivers (rather than the stripes on the tropical fruit that give the toy its name).
Developing a two-toned extrusion blow method to manufacture the plastic, Chiang was able to manufacture the ball for the masses, giving the children a product of Hong Kong through and through.
Hailed as the pinnacle of cool, Bruce Lee is one of the figures that many outside of Hong Kong point to as a sort of mythologised celebrity representative of the city. One of his signature looks is a minimalistic, round-collared t-shirt with three buttons on the front. Made out of cotton, this garment was actually constructed as an undershirt by local manufacturer Lee Kung Man Knitting Factory.
Founded by Shun Tak native Fung Sau-yu (馮壽如), the brand has always been associated with quality and comfort. With a name that incorporates a translation of “benefitting workers and farmers,” the brand delivered high-standard products to a civilian target audience.
Production utilised wool imported from the United Kingdom, and treated the raw elements with caustic soda, a process that allows the fabric to gain a silk-like texture that wicks away sweat in hot weather while retaining heat in cooler climes.
The brand still maintains the same traditional operating style and has preserved the exact same layout in its retail outlet to this day.
Although the Nin Jiom company was only founded 75 years ago in 1946, the recipe for this herbal cough remedy dates back over 400 years to the Qing dynasty! The story goes that a provincial commander concocted the syrup out of 15 herbs to present to his ill mother, as referenced in its name—“nin jiom” (念慈菴) supposedly translates to “remembrance of the mother.”
Aside from being nourishing, the sweet syrup is also quite delicious, making it an ideal ingredient for adaptation into desserts and drinks. Perhaps it is the menthol and honey base that gives it the sweetness to counterbalance the medicinal fragrance of the healing herbs.
While the thick and soothing syrup has enjoyed enduring popularity in Asia, it has also become a popular sore throat remedy in New York in recent years, where it commands a much higher price than you would find on shelves here!