Asian designers are fast gaining ground in the fashion capitals of the West. While many boast their Asian-ness loudly and proudly as part of their brand identity, others remain ethnically ambiguous and reference it in more nuanced ways.
This does not mean they hide it – they are simply not defined by it. This makes it a particularly pleasant surprise when their backgrounds are revealed.
London-based jewellery brand Sweetlimejuice (SLJ) is a prime example of this. The label, founded in 2019, has gained wide recognition and is stocked in stores from London and Milan to Tokyo and Seoul.
“Let’s say you have a really sour glass of lime juice. Give it a little sweetness, and it becomes something quite refreshing. It’s how the name Sweetlimejuice was born,” co-founder and creative director Simpson Ma Siu-hang tells the Post.
“The concept is to create something new, something that isn’t quite there yet, with our fresh touch.” What the brand aims to portray, Ma says, is something bold that is still accessible to a broader audience.
Two years before the founding of SLJ, Ma was in his final year of studying jewellery design at London College of Fashion. It was there that he came across the technique of covering objects with different materials.
Ma wore a lot of denim at the time, especially in the workshop. This largely practical decision – he wore it because it was durable – turned out to be a serendipitous one.
“Every single piece is handcrafted and has unique hand-stitch and fraying details,” Ma says, adding that people find the designs intriguing as they are not familiar with the fusion of textiles and gemstones.
“It is a high-cost and time-consuming production process, but we enjoy crafting pieces that people wear close to their bodies,” he says.
SLJ has launched a “Zong” pendant as the hero piece of its latest collection. Evolved from the brand’s signature stone-swaddling method of setting gems, the “Zong” design uses 3D printing to wrap the gemstone with metal, creating “a skin or a protective shell” which mimics the texture and fraying of denim.
“I’d say 50 per cent of what we do is inspired by our East Asian heritage, whether consciously or unconsciously. Be it research or something else, it naturally flows out as a part of our identity.”
Although the co-founders have never felt the need to overemphasise their Hong Kong background, they do try to invite London-based Hong Kong talent to collaborate with them whenever the opportunity arises.
Ma adds: “When people see SLJ, they may not have the immediate impression that we are from Hong Kong; but it’s all in the backstories of everything we do when you have a deeper understanding of our inspirations.”
Looking ahead, Hon and Ma say that SLJ plans to join the Shanghai Fashion Week season in October 2023 to reconnect with China after a long Covid-related pause. SLJ has created “Eryn”, a puffer-fish-skeleton-inspired line in an attempt to reconnect the wearer with their sense of touch.
“We wanted to make something that is quite stimulating and almost ‘sensual’ with a strong presence on skin contact,” says Ma.
During this time, the brand also launched its “Kamon” style, inspired by Japanese family crests and the shape of the star anise plant.
“We cooked a lot during Covid, so I eventually incorporated it into the pieces’ sharp edges and streamlined curves. I guess this is kind of a ‘home inspiration’,” Ma quips.