My mom doesn’t speak much about my grandparents. It’s not surprising for someone who was raised by her sisters and had the unfortunate title of ‘orphan’ brought upon her at an early age. What she does remember fondly was the pilgrimage home she took with her mom, my grandmother, back to her ancestral village. The journey was in the most literal sense, backbreaking. They would each carry two large bags filled with clothes and food to bring as gifts, a real-life Santa if you will. And these bags that they used were the iconic red, white and blue nylon bags – a far cry from the patriotic symbol that dons the fronts of many American houses.
Adopted by the masses, the red, white and blue has been a symbol of Hong Kong culture since its creation. Used on construction sites, as shelters, for storage, luggage, and shopping bags… its adaptability and durability is said to widely represent the resilient spirit of the Hong Kong people.
Before being remodeled into a bag, the nylon material was used heavily around industrial sites as weatherproofing material. And the choice of colour combination was chosen to characterize luck and fortune. Popularized in the 70s as a cheap and very durable alternative to other gear carrying bags, the red, white and blue were manufactured in a multitude of sizes.
As an icon of Hong Kong culture, the red-white-blue insignia was seen flying its ubiquitous patterns around every street corner, tied on market stalls and squirreled away in people’s homes. The tricolor combination was incorporated into artist Stanley Wong’s work – reconceptualizing it into everyday objects and designs, his work shows the pragmatic spirit of the people of Hong Kong under one giant red-white-blue tarpaulin.
Since then, the pattern has weaved its way into fashion. Hong Kong based Goods of Desire, a lifestyle and design store, debuted a ‘Red, White and Blue’ cotton scarf, tying the spirit of the younger generation to the old. In 2015, the red-white-blue was treated to yet another makeover, this time in collaboration between Hong Kong label CLOT and Adidas.
More recently, Balenciaga sparked outrage amongst its Asian fanbase for appropriating the red-white-blue symbol and for putting a hefty price tag on what many families use as a household staple. The luxury bags have had its moment, but on the streets of Hong Kong, its spirit is as durable as its nylon weave.