Best known for fashionable, well-cut men’s swimming trunks with prints that often nod to its Hong Kong roots, Māzú has shown agility in surviving a few tough years in the city’s fashion scene. After mass protests followed in quick succession by a pandemic, British-Chinese founder and CEO Adam Raby says that “it’s not been easy on anybody, especially a brand like us that relies on travel, and is very seasonal and niche-market”.
With travel stalled, cities are refocusing the lens on the local. Māzú has likewise gone back to its Hong Kong nautical roots, while ensuring its consumer base in this city is happy. Design notes nod towards the lush coastline, and Chinese seafaring culture and fishing heritage – a new print in the spring/summer 2021 collection is “inspired by an old Chinese nautical map of islands in this region”, Raby explains.
The local focus has also resulted in Māzú’s latest collaboration, a sophisticated Mandarin linen shirt with Atlas The Brand. A markedly more grown-up departure (Māzú is also known for its best-selling bamboo T-shirts, which work well in humid climates), this new collaboration taps an essential Asian style for a dapper summer look fit for the beach. Think a more thoughtful Māzú gentleman and less beach bro. And more new designs are coming soon, Raby promises. “As we progress as a brand, we’ll offer more resort-wear styles in the future,” he says.
For the Mandarin linen-shirt campaign images, shot in The Verandah at The Repulse Bay, Raby enlisted his friend, Hong Kong actor Carl Ng. “Simon Van Damme introduced us quite a long time ago, and I’ve always liked his look,” says Raby. “I’ve always wanted to do a linen shirt. With Carl’s long hair, it’s quite a wise look and just the right style we’re looking for.”
The development is an interesting one. This boutique men’s swim-, beach- and resort-wear label has been a local favourite since it hit the scene eight years ago. Lightweight, carefully crafted and technically minded (key for men’s swimwear), Māzú is most famous for its stylish classic swimming shorts. This summer they come in two new designs – Distant Shores and Blue Harmony – both of which are inspired by Hong Kong’s maritime history and nodding to that blend of East and West. Better yet, both are sustainably made from recycled plastic fabrics.
Sustainability has been at the core of Raby’s vision for Māzú ever since he founded the business. He recalls that back then, the options for finding good-quality recycled plastic materials were practically non-existent.
“There wasn’t much available and the quality wasn’t good enough,” Raby says, so he decided that initially the brand would donate proceeds to the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society. But with plastic being one of the biggest water pollutants, it made sense to work with that in some way.
“It was just finding the right fabrics that met my high standards and quality,” says Raby. “The one we’ve got performs extremely well in water and dries quickly, and I’m very, very proud of it.” The next progression for Māzú is to become even more sustainable. Raby says he hopes the brand transitions its entire range to recycled plastic by 2026. “I’ve always wanted to help ocean conservation,” he explains. “I’ve always had a deep relationship with the water. My grandfather was in the navy, my father was also an avid sailor and I grew up on the water as well.”
We’re at a moment where fashion is looking to future-proof itself, and this niche local men’s label is no exception. Although the eco angle might cover some environmental bases, there’ve been clear commercial challenges too. Raby talks about having to downsize the team to survive during Covid and the all-important big amp up of the online business to drive sales.
“We’ve been spending more wisely and making sure we spend right – and that’s mainly been towards the online business.” With Asia generally being slower than the West to re-open borders at this stage of the pandemic, Māzú’s traditional summer-holiday rush buys have obviously stalled, just as its European competitors are experiencing a small boost from the re-ignition of Western travel. Since 80 percent of Māzú’s sales still come from Asia, business remains reliant on the opening-up of this region for travel. Raby also says that operating in the Hong Kong fashion industry poses challenges.
“I always think to myself that if I’d done exactly the same things in the last eight years, but done it in the US or UK, this business would be far more established than it is now,” he admits. “It’s definitely difficult.” So would Raby ever move away to up his competitive edge in fashion?
“It’s a good question,” he says. “Maybe … eventually. At the end of the day, the business is based here and Hong Kong, obviously pre-pandemic, is still a central hub when it comes to travel and business – and I hope that it gets back to normal soon.”
Adapting to this moment has presented Māzú with several sink- or-swim situations. Although Raby was initially reluctant to follow a trend by adding facemasks to the product line-up at the height of the pandemic, after researching how hundreds of millions of disposable masks were polluting the sea and land, he decided to lean in.
“We worked with another Hong Kong company to produce reusable face-masks that are also made from recycled plastic. We now sell them all around Asia,” says Raby. “I guess it’s a good example of adapting to the times.”
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