Nici Harmonic



Life is good when one is to free to create. Hat maker Nick Leung is living out this simple, enviable dream.

Nick hesitates to call himself a designer, as he is not one who follows a traditional process of design.  Although he deals with hats, he is not a “milliner” in the couture, high-fashion sense. Hat maker sounds like a more fitting description, with the possibilities that the name entails. Indeed, he makes hats out of any unlikely material, thanks to eight years of training in the whimsical world of advertising.

“Working in the production department of an ad agency meant I had to turn crazy ideas the designers had into reality, like making a table out of the most outrageous materials. So in my head I always have a good idea about three-dimensional forms,” Nick said. His first project was a wallet made out of torn jeans. He had an idea about how the wallet should be structured, and asked his mother to sew it up for him. Apparently the six-year-old Nick already had an idea about structures, and up-cycling!

Agency life meant late nights and over time so when Nick changed to an in-house production job with steady hours two years ago, he suddenly found himself with lots of time in his hands.  “I bought a sewing machine and started to make hats because I don’t like to comb my hair!” he explained.

And so Nici Harmonic was born. Nick would go up and down the streets of Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong’s fabric sourcing centre, and forage for materials.  “I always start with materials. I buy things that look interesting to me and then figure out what to do with them. I don’t start with having a mental image of something I want to make.”

Nick likes to use unusual materials and one of his favourites is Raffia, an organic fibre harvested from trees in Southeast Asia. Indigenous cultures use it for crafts but it is not commonly used in hats. He also makes hats out of vinyl fabric used for advertising banners, and even sponge used for children’s play mats. These materials caught his eye because they are breathable, light and have a distinct form. They can also be made into many different colours.

His hats are reasonably priced even though each one is custom made.  “I sell my hats through my site so I don’t have to keep inventory. I teach customers how to measure their hat size so I can make the hat fit perfectly.” Partnering with social enterprises, Nick ensures that all the hats are also proudly made in Hong Kong by skilled workers.

In 2012, Nick won the Bronze Prize in the Apparel and Accessories Design category in the Design for Asia Award.  The media have begun to take notice and his hats can sometimes be spotted on celebrities. However, commercial success is not his immediate concern.  “I can probably still make a living if I do this full time but I’m happier this way. I don’t have to make compromise or crunch the numbers. I spend more time making hats than making sales, which pleases me.”

Freedom is liberating.  Nick is generous in helping others including design students who come to borrow his hats for styling homework, and he is free to seek out stylists from around Asia for collaborative projects. These do not reap immediate rewards but give him the motivation to keep improving.

In the website Nick models the hats by himself.  “I want customers to see how the hats look when worn. But that gives the impression that my hats are for men only.” Of course they are not, and women and men are free to create their own styles with Nici Harmonic hats, currently offered in three lines - Casual, Fancy and Art.

Nici Harmonic
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