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First Person: Prudence Mak
Fashion and accessories designer Prudence Mak opened a store in SoHo with her first collection, Chocolate Rain. Now her adorable products are in every corner of Hong Kong and beyond, even appearing in the British Museum. Mak tells Emily Wu about how she went from an aspiring designer to a noted local entrepreneur.

By Emily Wu | Jun 09, 2011

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  • First Person: Prudence Mak

I come from a traditional family. My dad was a translator at the Stanley Prison and my mom worked in a garment factory.

I knew how to sew when I was three. I turned a bag into a Bruce Lee doll.

I admire my mom. When I was young, she brought home a few fabric scraps from curtains, pillowcases and t-shirts. [She] patched them together and made my dresses and everything.

She even worked for Donna Karen. When she brought home old branded clothes, I took the label, cut it out and sewed it onto my shirt.

My dad found out that I liked drawing and he bought me colored pencils.

But he kept telling me that I definitely couldn’t live on my talent alone. I hated him because he often stopped me from drawing.

I was granted a scholarship to study at Central Saint Martins [College of Art and Design, in London]. It was like going back to Mars, my planet, where I met friends who speak the same alien language that I do.

There was a financial crisis in 1996, when I finished my study of graphic design. None of the 4As [accredited advertising agencies] were hiring. I sent out around 60 resumes to design houses and did not hear back from any.

Finally I got hired by a hotel to be a waitress. I told them I was even fit to wash dishes.

I came up with the name Chocolate Rain because I love chocolate, and to me, rain symbolizes something unfortunate. I hate it, because no one shops on rainy days, and is a contrast to chocolate, which is sweet and happy. It’s just like life.

I am always prepared for rainy days.

I happened to know a girl with good administrative skills. I thought we would be good partners, but on the first day of our shop’s launch, she disappeared. I couldn’t reach her.

Maybe she was right, as it was a great risk to take—to run a tiny shop that sells hand-made, cute items by an unknown local designer.

I started Chocolate Rain by pouring in all my savings, $50,000 from freelance work. I had to sort everything out by myself—the setting of my upstairs store, hand-making the jewelry, serving the customers.

I created Fatina [the iconic character of Chocolate Rain] when I had no models for my hand-made jewelry.

Fatina always has her eyes closed. She’s always imaging her own dreamland, the ultimate utopia.

I had no friends, and I saw my parents once a year. I didn’t have the courage to face them. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t make good use of the skills that my mom had taught me.

Thanks to the media, my work started to be known by people. Then some TVB stars came to get tailor-made costumes. They said my designs were unique and cheap.

More foreigners came up to my shop, and later I started to ship my products to New York and London.

I met my Italian husband in the hotel where I worked; he was a chef there and I helped him design the menu. I always knew that I was gonna marry a foreigner, ever since I was a kid.

I spent my childhood in Stanley, and I was amazed by backpackers with dirty long hair, carrying with them adventurous experiences.

I fight with clients—those big brands like IT—to keep my originality. If you want fireworks, something surprising, then just trust my imagination.

My crossover work with Hong Kong Post was recognized by the British Museum, which invited me to design a special collection.

A local theme park is my dream, with a resort full of mushroom-like houses and an organic farm where kids can learn to farm, drive in a hippie van and do hand-made artwork.

I wish I could talk to [Ocean Park Chairman] Allan Zeman, and see if he can give me any space in Ocean Park to build my dreamland.

Find Mak’s loveable toys and accessories at: www.chocolaterain.com

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