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PabePabe: Hong Kong’s Own Handbags of “Ridiculous Aesthetics”

Local art accessory maker PabePabe is an unconventional brand with an even more unconventional storefront that acts sometimes as an art space. 

By Ashlyn Chak
September 13, 2022

Walking around town, you must’ve seen PabePabe’s handbags of strange shapes with wondrous additions like sockets, forks, and perfume nozzles. As it turns out, despite its impressive come-up since its humble beginning in 2019, this local brand has had some unusual challenges as well as innovative solutions. ECHELON sits down with cofounder Logan Chan for more insight. 

Photo: Logan Chan

PabePabe’s products are intriguing, but so is its shop located on Central’s Staunton Street, right across from the PMQ building. It’s a small storefront that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of Soho’s fancy eateries and trendy bars. Just earlier in July, the walls at PabePabe’s “Gallery+Store” were a rich shade of burgundy, adorned by affordable paintings and prints alike; and just a few months ago, the store was the most catchy and sharp neon green that complemented the works of local artists Amy Maria Tong and Wu Jiaru. 

Despite appearances, the shop is, of course, not a full-blown gallery. At its core, PabePabe is Hong Kong’s own brand of originality, offering affordable and quirky handbags and accessories of “ridiculous aesthetics”. 

Photo: PabePabe

To fully understand the PabePabe story, we have to go back to how it all began. Logan Chan first met Liu Xing during his studies at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts. The students quickly got along and began to create artworks and exhibitions together. In their collaboration, they realised their shared passions for fashion design, unconventional aesthetics, and the reinvention of finished goods. For this shared vision, the creative duo founded PabePabe in 2019. 

“We have a lot of fun altering the use and appearance of everyday objects,” Chan tells us. “Applying it to accessory design is an accessible way for us to showcase our ideas of a new aesthetic and design trend.” And it’s true—in the past three years or so, the label has steadily gained a following among Hong Kong and China’s young fashion enthusiasts, clocking 11.3K followers on Instagram (@pabepabeofficial) alone. 

Photo: PabePab

On PabePabe’s online popularity, Chan says that the duo never really saw the point in paid promotion: “First of all, it’s not easy to find the appropriate platform locally for what we do. On the other hand, we believe that it is more sustainable to grow a follower base organically.” 

However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the brand. Last October, it launched “Pabelectrician” at the Paris and Shanghai fashion weeks—a highly creative and original collection that incorporated a wide variety of everyday electronics as details. Some put the “fun” in “functional”, while some were simply decorative. Among the collection, the Socket bag did especially well and garnered support from fashion influencers on Mainland Chinese social media platforms Xiaohongshu and Douyin. 

Photo: PabePabe

It was all fun and games until it wasn’t. Almost overnight, counterfeits appeared all over the internet. “It was out of control!” Chan explained as he found several online sales events that sold more than 2,000 items a night, “We were quite upset at first—PabePabe wasn’t even selling that much back then!” 

After some much-needed introspection, the duo acknowledged—or rather, optimistically accepted—that the people who were willing to pay for the real thing would never settle for cheaply made fake goods. Chan elaborates, “Because of the bootlegs, more people found out about us. We quickly adjusted our mindset and established that we simply needed to be faster and more determined in surprising our target audience with new designs that they can resonate with. After all, we’re the brains behind the designs, not the copycats.” 

Photo: PabePabe

To further communicate with their fanbase in today’s world where online shopping reigns supreme, Chan and Liu decided to turn their one-year-old Central location into something of an art space. “As our online sales number grows more stable, we just want to do what we like with the physical store.” Chan concludes, “Call it branding, call it marketing—the truth is, many of our customers already know us as a brand that doesn’t really follow conventions, so we might as well use the space to exhibit what inspires us!” 

With an exciting new collection on the way, the PabePabe store is currently under construction to prepare for a showcase of its upcoming products. Bouncing between visual merchandising and exhibition space, there is much to look forward to in this Hong Kong brand and its Central shopfront.