The Millsby Jana Rock
The Mills is located in the New Territories, not far from Mainland China. It is the former home of Nan Fung Textiles and comprises a series of former factories across a site of 24,000m2. The factories closed in 2008, although Nan Fung Group retained ownership. The developer decided to overhaul the plant in 2014.
Nan Fung Group’s vision was based on the textile heritage of the site, and has created a cultural complex within the original architecture that combines retail, exhibition and gallery spaces, as well as co-working and workshop spaces, all with a textile focus. Nan Fung has dubbed this mix ‘The 3 Pillars’.
The first pillar, the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT), houses permanent and changing exhibitions and workshops. Archival material on display informs visitors of the local area, the history of the building and its industrial importance.
CHAT is linked to the second pillar, The Mills Fabrica, which supports small makers and crafters who have a strong online or social media following but can’t afford to rent space in the typical Hong Kong retail mall. It operates as an incubator programme, providing co-working space, workshops and studios, and allows young start-ups to innovate, collaborate and accelerate their growth.
Tenants at Fabrica can also test their products at The Mills Shopfloor, the third pillar. Shopfloor is different from a typical shopping mall. Focused around experiential retail, it deliberately builds on its links with CHAT and Fabrica to provide shops and F&B in a hands-on, immersive environment to engage and relate to customers.
This mix is The Mills’ USP and is a model for retail in multifunctional buildings. According to Ray Zee, Nan Fung’s Chief Designer, it’s all about giving customers a reason to make the journey. “At the best malls, things are constantly changing. They have an event every few weeks – a car show, a Lego show. There’s always something to draw people to go there. If you don’t make it exciting enough, no one’s going to come.”
Make partner Alfred Ng interviewed workers and shoppers at The Mills to find out what they like about the venue.
This is my first time at The Mills. We chose to come on a weekday so that it would be less busy and we could really explore it.
I love the natural sunlight coming in and the way they make the most of the space. It’s very different from the other places to shop in Hong Kong and away from the hustle of the city.
We’d heard that there are different brands here, and wanted to come and visit. The rates are so high in Central Hong Kong that it’s only the big brands and franchises that can afford it; all the unique shops have gone, which is sad. It’s great that this is here, as it will help regenerate the area and expand the community.
I’m here today with friend who’s just recently returned from Canada. There aren’t many places like this around here, so I’ve been a few times.
I’m not working at the moment, so I wouldn’t call myself a customer, but I used to always visit a grand shopping plaza like PMQ, and I prefer the environment here. I like that it’s different. In terms of how I choose where to go, the stores are almost secondary to the place itself.
I own the Shabibi Sheep Workshop. We make Scandi-style fair-faced concrete products for the home. We do everything, from the designs to the sanding and marketing, right here in this workshop. We love that the old factory is concrete – there’s a really nice connection between what we sell and where we are. This space is big enough for us to hold exhibitions, so it’s more than just retail.
We watched the factory come to life from a deserted place to pop-up markets and now this. We love that they’ve kept the authenticity with the original architecture and the green walls. It suits us because we’re designing handcrafted products. People aren’t used to things with individuality and imperfections; they’re used to a machined, identical finish. Our products are unique, so this is about educating people as well as retail.
Jana Rock is a Partner in Make’s Hong Kong studio, and is working on a range of mixed use interior design and architecture projects across Hong Kong and China.Link
This article appeared in Exchange Issue No. 2, which explores the changing nature of the retail sector with contributions and design analysis from leading retailers, developers, consultants and more.Read more