(Translated from Cantonese)
JESSICA LEUNG: Those who are familiar with the Red A brand probably know us through our plastic basins, pails, and colanders, which are our most popular products with the widest range. Red A’s injection-moulding, mould-making, and blow-moulding machines are second to none in Southeast Asia.
Under the brand name ACE, Red A’s main product lines were brushes and hair brushes. From 1956 to 1957, the brand gradually repositioned itself to manufacture plastic household products. In 1959, Star Industrial Co., Ltd was established and the Red A brand was born.
At that time, Red A products were practical no-frills items used by every household, like basins, pails, and colanders. We also made other household products, like the faux-crystal product series. Glass products were fashionable back then, but, like crystal products today, the price of glassware was relatively high. So we tested the market before rolling out the faux-crystal series that is still in production today.
The design was derived from a simple soap box. My father thought that rather than just printing a random design on the products, why not try and turn those lines into a design based on varying angles and geometric principles? To create the angle between intersecting lines, our design team devised a certain computation method for the pattern. Back then, of course, we didn’t have computer technology to help us, so we drew every one of the patterns manually. It’s worth noting that besides drawing the length of every line in various angles by hand, the moulds were created by hand chiselling, using a nail in one hand and a hammer in the other.
With our current machinery and technology, we can absolutely recreate these effects. But the beauty of imperfection would definitely be lost. When you see the manpower, ideas, and human touch that we put into our products and consider how products are made today—I’m not saying these qualities are absent in today’s products, but these things are hard to come by in this day and age. And the aesthetics… It would be hard for products today to top the achievement of this series.
We began exporting our products in the early 1960s. Our major markets were the Middle East, Europe, the United States, South America, and Africa. The Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo (HKBPE) was a major event that helped to open up new export markets. The aim of this event was to promote Hong Kong industries and factories and production in Hong Kong. My grandfather used to join dozens of members from the Hong Kong Plastics Manufacturers Association to visit Europe, the US, and the Middle East to exchange ideas, visit exhibitions, or attend talks, not just to promote their brand, although brand promotion has been important. They have also promoted the manufacturing and brand of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong plastics industry as a whole.
So ‘made in Hong Kong’ is something precious. But how one represents it is something I am still thinking about. Generally, products ‘made in Hong Kong’ are made with a human touch. This is how I would define it at this point.
In 1949, the Leung family founded Star Industrial Co., Ltd in Hong Kong. From their 1970s headquarters in San Po Kong, Star Industrial now produces over 600 items.
They are best known for their in-house brand, Red A. Many of their Red A designs are now recognised as iconic examples of ‘non-canonical’ design that represent Hong Kong’s vernacular culture.
Red A plastic household goods are embedded in twentieth-century Hong Kong consumer culture. They speak to the changes in the post-war city and its position as a centre of manufacturing and global trade. Produced by Star Industrial, a firm established in 1949, the line of products was initially known as ‘Ace’, which was shortened to simply ‘A’ during brand registration to avoid infringement on an existing name. The brand’s logo, a white ‘A’ against a red background, led to its popular moniker. Red A goods range from cocktail forks to chandeliers and chairs, illustrating the breadth of consumer demand and the remarkable flexibility of production in plastic.
Globally, plastic rose to prominence alongside economic expansion in the second half of the twentieth century. In Hong Kong, plastic consumer products were an integral part of the city’s development and defined the idea of ‘made in Hong Kong’. This concept quickly became associated with cheap, disposable goods. This connotation belies the complexity of the history of plastics in the city and the innovative designs and approach to technology that characterised the work of Star Industrial and other manufacturers. Hong Kong’s plastics industry began to develop in the mid-1940s when industrialists fleeing the Chinese Civil War brought their capital and technical knowledge to the city. Within a decade, it became one of the largest industries.
Hong Kong’s geographic position and colonial status made it a central hub of trade in Asia, enmeshing plastics manufacturers in an extensive global network that involved importing raw materials and exporting products made expressly for Asian, Middle Eastern, African, European, and North American markets. Domestically, the industry grew alongside the increased purchasing power of the average consumer.
Household goods, alongside artificial flowers and toys, are one of the most significant areas of plastic production in Hong Kong. In addition to fulfilling orders for foreign companies, industry pioneers such as Star Industrial developed original product lines. Red A catalogues feature hundreds of products that respond to the desire for durability, pragmatic solutions, and novelty. The malleable nature of plastic facilitated the imitation of other materials and allowed various colourways and styles. Star Industrial took inspiration from crystal chandeliers, paper lanterns, ceramic dining ware, glass tumblers, and leather suitcases. Everyday items in plastic, such as bowls with rice-grain patterns and chopsticks, were popular on the local market and consumed by Chinese diaspora communities who wished to maintain a familiar way of life in their new home.
With the rising costs of land and labour in Hong Kong and Chinese economic liberalisation in the 1980s, the production of plastic goods gradually moved north. Star Industrial is one of the few manufacturers to keep production in Hong Kong. Inexpensive, ubiquitous Red A products testify to manufacturers’ flexible, imitative modes of production. They have also become a defining part of Hong Kong’s visual culture, serving as ambassadors on the world stage and sources of inspiration for designers who seek to embrace vernacular expressions.
- Produced by
- Curatorial Research
Jennifer Wong, Chloe Chow, Tina Pang
- M+ Video Production
Lara Day, Chris Sullivan
- Special Thanks
Jessica Leung, Alex Lai, Vincent Au-Yeung, Aric Chen