Standard, Tai Hing and Tung Shing: Distributors of Japanese Sewing Machines

York Lo: Standard, Tai Hing and Tung Shing: Distributors of Japanese Sewing Machines

During the post war industrial boom in Hong Kong, sewing machines were a big business as garment factories and many housewives who made extra money acting as contractors bought them in large numbers. While the American sewing machine giant Singer was the 800-pound gorilla in the business, Japanese players such as Mitsubishi, Pegasus and Brother also captured significant market share in the HK market and Southeast Asia thanks to its local distributors Standard, Tai Hing and Tung Shing. The first one whose ads could be often be found in old newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s has since faded into history but the last two remains major player in the business today with Tung Shing extending its success to the Vietnamese market.

Standard Sewing Machine Co (實用衣車公)

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Chang Kwok-chu (second from right) and his wife and friends at the Kai Tak Airport in August 1954 after returning from Vietnam. (WKYP, 1954-8-11) ); Right: Ad for Standard in 1955 celebrating the opening of its new Phnom Penh branch with listing of all its branches in the bottom and promotional offers (KSEN, 1955-10-15)

Standard Sewing Machine Co was founded in 1948 by Chang Kwok-chu (鄭國柱) as a distributor of sewing machines made by the Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi Electric.

In September 1954, Standard held a 6th anniversary sale where sewing machines including Standard and Mitsubishi brands at its location at 29 Hennessy Road in Wanchai were being offered at 15% discount. (WKYP, 1954-9-2) Earlier in the year, the firm opened branches in Saigon and Cholon in South Vietnam followed by a branch in Singapore.

In 1955, Standard had 5 branches in Hong Kong – 430 King’s Road in North Point, 682 Nathan Road and 1227 Canton Road in Kowloon and 2 Chun Hing Street in Yuen Long  in addition to its Wanchai branch. It also had a branch in Macau in addition to the three overseas branches mentioned earlier and just opened a branch in Phnom Penh. To promote its sewing machines, Standard offered free gifts such as chairs and irons and also sold them by instalments of as low as $8 per month.

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Left: opening of Standard Sewing Machine Co’s Central branch in 1957 (WKYP, 1957-12-24); Right: Standard’s ad for Mitsubishi washing machines and refrigerators in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-1-11)

In December 1957, Standard opened two branches in Central at the Li Po Chun Chambers and Liu Chong Hong Building in Western district. The guest of honor at the opening ceremony shown below was the HK branch manager of Mitsubishi Electric.

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Chang Kwok-chu (third from the right) with the HK branch manager of Mitsubishi Electric at the opening of the Tai Po Road branch of Standard in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-11-23)

By 1962, Standard had branches in Wanchai, North Point, Sai Wan on the HK side, Mody Road and Canton Road in Kowloon and Sun Hing Street in Yuen Long in the New Territories and the firm also added other appliances such as washing machines, air conditioners and refrigerators from Mitsubishi. In November of that year, the firm added another branch on Tai Po Road and the opening ceremony shown below was attended by over 200 guests including many representatives from Mitsubishi Electric.

In 1963, Standard celebrated its 15th anniversary with a newly renovated store on Nathan Road, 10% discount sale and free gifts of parts.It also opened two new branches on Leighton Road on the HK island side and To Kwa Wan in the Kowloon side. As a firm, Standard Sewing Machine Co Ltd was incorporated in 1964 and dissolved in 1995.

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The re-opening of Standard’s Nathan Road branch after renovation in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-8-3)

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Chang Kwok-chu (fourth from the left) with executives of Mitsubishi Electric at Standard’s Chinese New Year banquet at the State Restaurant in Li Po Chun Chambers in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-2-22)

Tai Hing Sewing Machines (大興衣車公司)

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Tai Hing’s Lai Wood-hing (right) with his son Lai Chung-yee at Kai Tak before boarding their plane for a business trip to Japan in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-4-15)

Tai Hing Sewing Machine Co was founded in 1945 by Lai Wood-hing (黎活興) and acted as the sole agent for Pegasus (飛馬牌) brand of sewing machines from Japan for many years. The firm originally operated out of 22 Upper Lascar Row (HK Chinese Business Almanac, 1954) To promote its sewing machines, Tai Hing sponsored word puzzle competition organized by Kung Sheung Daily News by giving out sewing machines. In November 1959, Tai Hing opened a branch at 1C Un Chau Street in Sham Shui Po. (WKYP, 1959-11-28)

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Left: Lai Chung-yee (center) with two winners of the word puzzle contest organized by Kung Sheung Daily News standing in front of the sewing machine prize sponsored by Tai Hing (KSEN, 1955-10-15); Right: Opening of Ta Hing’s branch on Boundary Street in 1972 (WKYP, 1972-11-18)

In 1962, Lai and his second son Lai Chung-yee (黎松意) went to Japan to visit the head office of Pegasus Sewing Machine and the Fifth World Products Expo in Osaka. Outside of work, Lai Wood-hing was the vice chairman of the Lai Family Association in Hong Kong.

In November 1972, Tai Hing opened a branch at 22 Boundary Street in Kowloon and the president of Pegasus Sewing Machine from Japan was the guest of honor at the opening ceremony. In April 1978, Tai Hing held a 3-day expo of Pegasus industrial sewing machines at its location at 209-211 Lai Chi Kok Road. (WKYP, 1978-4-20)

As HK garment manufacturers moved north to the mainland and moved south to Southeast Asia thanks to cost in the recent decades, Tai Hing established branches in Dongguan, Huizhou, Ningbo and Tongxiang in mainland China and Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam in Southeast Asia. Today, the firm which operates under Tai Hing Sewing Machine (Development) Ltd (incorporated in 1992) sells other sewing machine brands such as Maier from Germany and Brother from Japan in addition to Pegasus and Gross Becket needles from Germany and the firm is led by third generation member Horace Lai (黎文富).

Sources (other than what’s cited above):

Tung Shing Sewing Machine Co (東成針車行)

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Chan Tung in front of Tung Shing’s office in Sham Shui Po

Tung Shing Sewing Machine Co., Ltd was founded by Chan Tung (陳東), who came to HK from the mainland in 1951 at the age of 17 and started his career at a firm that specialize in making buttonholes using sewing machines. In the 1960s, he was involved in the transportation business and built a fleet of a dozen minibus and over 50 taxicabs. But sensing bigger opportunities in the burgeoning garment industry, he started Tung Shing in 1975 with 30 staff to distribute sewing machines in Sham Shui Po, then the center of garment manufacturing in Hong Kong.

Tung Shing counted major HK garment manufacturers such as the Law family of Bossini and the Yeung family of Glorious Sun as clients. As many garment factories moved north to the Pearl River Delta starting in the 1980s, Tung Shing followed and did sales of over $70 million a month at its peak. By the late 1980s, Tung Shing was also involved in frontier markets such as North Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam but eventually settled on Vietnam as the first two had political issues and the competition in Guangdong had become cutthroat. In 1991, Tung Shing established a joint venture with the state-owned Viet Tien Garment which controlled 20 factories with 30000 employees to distribute industrial sewing machines in Vietnam and eventually captured over 65% of the market with the help of Chan’s sons Zadig Chan Kin-wah (陳建華) and Albert Chan Kin-kwok (陳建國) and introduced some of his HK clients such as Laws to the market. In the 1990s, Tung Shing became the agents for Brother, Pegasus, Juki, Naomoto, Eastman, Hashima, and other popular brands of garment machines and developed Tung Shing Building at 61-65 Nam Cheong Street in Sham Shui Po where Chan also served as chairman of the District Council.

In the mid-1990s, Tung Shing began its investments in hotel and properties in Vietnam in partnership with the Vietnamese government and currently owns hotels in Saigon (Eastin Grand, acquired in 2014), Hanoi (Hanoi Hotel, 1992), Giang Vo Lake (Lake Side Hotel, 1993) and Ha Long Bay (Tung Shing Halong Pearl Hotel, 2000).By 2007, the sewing machines business in Vietnam had eclipsed that of HK and China for Tung Shing with sales of over HK$300 million coming from the earlier versus $180 million from the latter. The group is also the sole agent for Johnson Controls in Vietnam and Chan Tung is also one of the Honorary Chairmen of Hong Kong Business Association Vietnam. Today, the Tung Shing Group has sales offices in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Vietnam and Yangon-Myanmar (expanded there in 2012) with over 1800 employees.

Sources (other than those cited above):

This article was first posted on 2nd August 2021.

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