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LUXE Chats To: Vanessa Cheung, Founder of The Mills

Tsuen Wan. Tsuen where? Until recently the onetime textile manufacturing district in the New Territories wasn’t the most obvious go-to for visitors to Hong Kong – that is until the opening of creative-tech compound The Mills at the end of 2018.

Part of Hong Kong’s recent wave of cultural-arts facelifts, the hulking factories of Nam Fung Textiles have been transformed into a forward-leaning hub for heritage, fashion, tech, art and retail, plus a slew of eateries, but natch.

The Mills is still getting into its stride with new outlets opening almost weekly, and the much-anticipated launch of CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile) in March to coincide with Hong Kong Arts Month. We chatted to entrepreneurial founder Vanessa Cheung about this year’s plans for the complex and how it relates to Hong Kong’s arts scene.

Congratulations on the launch of The Mills. What’s the response been like so far?

We’ve had a very encouraging response from the community and professionals. It’s been very positive, everyone’s so supportive. Our aim was that it would always be a cross-generational project, and people of all ages are travelling from across Hong Kong to Tsuen Wan. We’ve also had a lot of visitors who were workers in the textile mills – it’s heartwarming to hear their stories.

Tell us more about your plans for this year…

The grand opening of CHAT will be March 16th, and it opens to the public the next day. We’ve been planning this for a couple of years; we’re opening CHAT in March so that it coincides with other arts events happening during Hong Kong Arts Month. The opening exhibition is called Unfolding: Fabric of Our Life and it brings together the works of and performances by 17 contemporary artists from the Asia-Pacific region. It will be textile-focused and it will have a huge community component.

We’ll also be opening the permanent exhibit which will be more about the history of the textile industry in Hong Kong. We’ve been collecting donations from former factories and some of the community work will be done with an artists’ collective from Sabah, Malaysia (Pangrok Sulap) who specialise in wood-block printing.

And, Taiwanese artist Michael Lin will unveil a permanent installation, a community-sized set of furniture pieces with patterns inspired by the old school floral print of Hong Kong textiles.

What’s the significance of Hong Kong Arts Month and big-name events for The Mills?

We’ve been part of Art Basel and Art Central and last year and even the year before and we were really grateful and kind of surprised as we didn’t have a physical presence. They recognise us an art organisation that can contribute to the art scene in Hong Kong.

10 years from now: what will The Mills be like, and how will the Hong Kong arts scene have evolved?

We’ve always wanted The Mills to be both an innovation and heritage landmark; a destination where everyone of all ages can come – if The Mills can make it as one of the must-go places in Hong Kong, I consider that very successful!

The creative scene will grow richer and it’s not going to be confined in the arts community – I think a lot of times there’s a disconnect between the big events and what’s really going on, but I think the creative side will permeate through all sorts of industry, not just through sponsorship. Hopefully, it will be more relatable as well.

What are the cultural highlights for visitors to Hong Kong?

Tai Kwun for sure. I’m a huge fan. I also really like the Hong Kong Heritage Museum; a lot of times its overlooked. I like the ‘Hong Kong House of Stories’ at Wan Chai Blue House, it brings out a real flavour of Hong Kong life and the workshops they put together are usually very cool. I think Xiqu Centre is an interesting destination for its architecture and it’s also housing a traditional art form that should be celebrated.

The Mills, 45 Pak Tin Par St, Tsuen Wan, tel: +852 3979 2300.

Written by LUXE as one of a series of articles about Hong Kong Arts Month for Discover Hong Kong.

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