Kenneth Ting: [Cantonese] This is the 'Tic-toc Clock'. There is a pendulum at the back. In putting the clock together, it teaches children to act constructively instead of destructively. It can run for about eight hours when wound up.
Cliff Sun: [Cantonese] This cocktail shaker was designed by Kin Hip. Its body is made of two plastic layers with liquor labels placed in between. This double-layer design provides it with a thermal insulating feature. Older alcohol aficionados are no strangers to these liquor brands.
The plastics industry emerged around the early 1950s. In the early stages, Hong Kong’s industrial and technological capabilities were advanced with assistance from Europe.
Kenneth Ting: [Cantonese] We expanded into Hong Kong in 1948. In the beginning, we made plastic chopsticks as a replacement for ivory chopsticks. However, faults would appear on the moulds after long-term use and require fixing, so we’d send the moulds back to the US for repairs. As repairs took more than a year, we decided to make the plastic moulds ourselves, and that was the dawn of the Hong Kong plastics industry.
Cliff Sun: [Cantonese] My father, the founder, purchased a plastic machine in 1953 to run a small-scale production facility. He didn’t bring much capital with him when he relocated from Shanghai to Hong Kong. I think we were the earliest company to combine two different materials into one product.
Jennifer Wong: [Cantonese] I think what is interesting about the design of Hong Kong plastic products is that many colours are available for one design and they mimic other materials, such as wood, ivory, metal, coral, and jade.
Jessica Leung: [Cantonese] For the ‘Plastic Crystal’ series, my father wondered at the time why we just printed graphics onto the surface. Why didn't we try to utilise different angles or mathematical principles to produce a variety of visual effects from ordinary lines? These designs were created manually one by one.
Bernie Ting: [Cantonese] In the 1970s, Hong Kong started to develop large ready-to-assemble furniture made of plastic and aluminium tubes. This required enormous injection moulding machines. At that time, no one in Hong Kong owned a 1,600-tonne injection moulding machine. It had to be imported from Germany.
Our movie viewer was designed around 1977. The film can be played on a loop for thirty seconds to two minutes.
Cliff Sun: [Cantonese] The earliest customers must have been British. We also produced combs and sold them to Africa. That customer is still with us.
Jessica Leung: [Cantonese] In my grandfather's time, he would not only participate in Hong Kong Brands and Products Expos, but also travel with the Hong Kong Plastics Manufacturers Association to Europe, the US, and the Middle East for exchanges and to promote the 'Made in Hong Kong' brand and the Hong Kong plastics industry.
Lee Chi-wing: [Cantonese] To me, plastic products can be produced at a low cost. They can improve the standard of living and make things more widely available. I hope the products I design can be available for use by many people, so I choose materials that are more economical and don’t require complicated production processes.
This product was made for an exhibition by Hulu Culture about the development of Hong Kong homes. When I was designing this, I wanted to transform the hanging lamps typically found in markets into something different. It can be turned into a desk or floor lamp to be used at home.
Vincent Au-Yeung: [Cantonese] Plastics used to be very durable. It’s just that people today have turned them into something environmentally unfriendly. Plastics can actually be used for a long time, but people use them for a short time and dispose of them too soon. Because I studied design, I found that Hong Kong’s design history has many wonderful aspects. Now when I introduce a product, I do so from a design perspective and tell people to ignore the era of its production. These designs can still have a special, practical value in today's society.
In the manufacturing heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, Hong Kong’s plastic industry took off. From chopsticks to soap boxes, chairs to clocks, locally made products were innovative, affordable, and in-demand. Over time, brands like the Diana camera, Kader toys, and Red A plastic crystal would become household staples in Asia, Europe, and beyond.
In Hong Kong Plastic Pioneers, local manufacturers and their descendants recall the know-how, craftsmanship, and pluck required to get this once-thriving industry off the ground and promote the ‘Made in Hong Kong’ brand near and far.
- Produced by
- M+ Curatorial Research
Jennifer Wong, Sunny Cheung, William Seung, Cyndi Chan
- M+ Video Production
Elaine Wong, Chris Sullivan
- Special Thanks
Jessica Leung, Cliff Sun, Kenneth Ting, Bernie Ting, Lee Chi-wing, Vincent Au Yeung, Chu Wing Kee