By Expat Living Magazine
Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. Here, we meet BRENDA HOJGAARD and find out about her sustainable fashion label, OctoberEighteen.
Where are you from originally?
I’m born and raised in Hong Kong and definitely consider myself a Hongkonger, through and through!
Where else have you lived?
Doha and Dubai for a couple of years for work back in 2008 – it was a good experience for the much younger me.
Is Hong Kong “home”?
For sure! I didn’t think much about this before, but whenever I travel back here from outside, there’s always a “going home” feeling. However, I do believe home is where the people I love are, and my husband and two younger sisters are all in Hong Kong, so I guess that’s the definition of “home” for me.
What do you do here? Tell us about your business.
I worked as a personal fitness trainer for almost 15 years – fitness was (and still is) my passion. While I love being a fitness trainer and helping clients to achieve their goals, being so close to the fitness industry did take a toll on my physical and mental health. (Yes, fitness is very competitive, sometimes not in a good way!) That’s when I decided to take a break from it and shift my focus away.
I’ve always enjoyed doing things with my hands. I remember I would sit for hours knitting, drawing, painting and so on when I was a kid. But I’d never touched a sewing machine in my life until January 2019 when I signed up for a beginner sewing course. I was hooked right away; the lessons were two hours but I would stay for six! Then I would arrive at the factory early next morning hoping that I could get more hours before they closed.
I was encouraged by my sewing teacher that I should start my own label. OctoberEighteen is the result of my passion and love for dressmaking. As a person whose outfit was pretty much yoga pants and running shoes every day for 15 years, I was never really “fashionable”. I just love putting on beautiful dresses, whether it’s a simple wrap dress for a brunch or a tunic dress for the beach. Dresses are always my go-to outfits, and they have naturally become the staple in OctoberEighteen.
After researching the fashion industry, I knew from the start that I wanted this label to be a sustainable and environmentally friendly one, using only deadstock fabrics (fabrics that are over-ordered and produced by fashion brands and factories) for production. I’m obsessed with details and every item is handmade to order by myself; there’s no mass production or waster, and no sweatshops. All the fabrics I use are sourced locally according to usage and cut cautiously to prevent fabric waste.
When I receive messages from customers saying they love a dress and that it fits perfectly, that’s when I get butterflies in my stomach. At the end of the day, that’s how I want OctoberEighteen to be: no fashion trends, no collections; just beautiful dresses that people can actually wear comfortably every day or for special occasions.
What have been some of the surprises and challenges of starting your business.
I do love a challenge and there’s always something new to learn. Playing every role in running a brand made me learn a lot. I love sewing and making dresses but that’s not the only thing to do. I find the day-to-day business stuff the hardest: learning how to build a website; setting up a payment system; writing product descriptions; setting up customer communication pages; taking product photos and editing them so that they’re presentable; answering customer emails; managing all social media accounts; marketing the brand to different media; working on product development; plus pattern making, fabric sourcing and so on! Doing it all by myself is definitely very hard but also very rewarding at the same time.
Give us an insight into a typical working day for you.
Coffee … and coffee! First, I have a morning cuddle session with my yellow Labrador, Coffee, in bed. Then I’ll wake myself up with a good cup of freshly ground coffee. After that, I do a workout.
The morning hours are usually for admin work, checking orders, updating the website, answering emails, updating social media – all those day-to-day things I mentioned earlier. Once I’ve got them out of the way, I’ll start preparing for the sewing part of the day. A dress typically takes five to seven hours from start to finish; once it’s finished, I’ll check for loose threads, then press it and pack it ready for shipment.
I’m a borderline workaholic, that’s why I try to set a “stop” button for myself – the latest I’ll go is 10pm, otherwise I’ll be up sewing till next morning. And weekends are no-work days, for the sake of my marriage, ha!
What neighbourhood do you live in, and why did you choose it?
I’ve lived in Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay for years, but I made the decision to move to Ho Man Tin two years ago. I moved here mostly for the convenience, and now I absolutely love where we’re living. It’s at the edge of the heart of Kowloon, close to everything, yet peaceful and quiet at the same time. There’s a huge green field just across the road where my dog can run free. This neighbourhood ticks all the boxes for me.
Describe your home to us.
We’re lucky to have found an apartment in the middle of Kowloon with tons of outdoor space. I would describe it as minimalist, quiet most of the time, and doggo-friendly!
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
Hiking and boating! We’ll anchor our day-cruiser boat at random islands (there are 260 in Hong Kong!) and just spend the day absorbing “Vitamin Sea and D”.
Quick questions about Hong Kong: What’s your favourite …
Casual restaurant? Bayfare Social
Date night restaurant? Amber at Mandarin Oriental
Local food? Bowl of noodles from Eat Together – it doesn’t get any more local than this!
Thing to do with visitors? Hiking, sailing and showing them Hong Kong’s beautiful countryside.
Thing to do with kids? We recently discovered an RV campsite on Lantau and we’re waiting to try it out!
Nearby holiday destination? Phuket!