Texwood (德士活) and “Apple Jeans”(蘋果牌牛仔褲)
York Lo: Texwood (德士活) and “Apple Jeans”(蘋果牌牛仔褲)
In March 2020, Texwood closed its flagship Apple Jeans store on Argyle Street inMongkok after 35 years, leaving only one store in HK in Diamond Hill although the jeans giant remains a major player in the mainland. Founded in 1959, Texwood was one of the major local brands of jeans in HK along with Bang Bang, Easey and Murjani in the 1970s and 1980s. Its founder Tam Shiu (譚兆 1933-2001) and his family augmented their fortune through prudent investments in real estate but maintain a very low-profile despite their tremendous business success and generous philanthropy.
Building of a Brand and a Jeans Empire: 1959-1979
Left: ad of Texwood Jeans Garment Factory in 1966. Right: Ad for Texwood Jeans in Singapore in 1984 (LHZB, 1984-12-7)
A native of Sun Wui in Guangdong province, Tam Shiu came from a poor family and only had 6 years of primary school education. In 1950, he came to Hong Kong and started his career as an apprentice at a garment factory before starting Texwood (Jeans) Garment Factory (德士活製衣廠) in 1959 (although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1964).
In the early 1960s, Texwood operated out of the 1st floor of 6 Man On Street and 2nd floor of 2-4 Man On Street in Tai KokTsui. (香港製衣廠商會年刊, 1962) By the second half of the 1960s, the firm had relocated to Chung Hing Industrial Mansions at 25-27 Tai Yau Street in San Po Kong (Asian Textile Bi-Annuals, 1967; Xianggang Shikuang, 1968 and the ad above) and by the early 1970s, it was operating out of Vanda House (see article on Joe Law) at 25 Chong Yip Street in Kwun Tong. By 1969, Texwood already had over 1000 workers but it was fined on three occasions for employing labor under the age of (C.A. No 403 of 1970; “Sentencing in Child Labour Cases” by John Rear in HK Law Journal in 1972)
In 1971, Texwood built the 12-story, 200000 sq ft Texwood Plaza (德士活工業中心) at 4-6 How Ming Street and 144 Wai Yip Street in Kwun Tong where it operated one of the largest garment factories in HK. In 1972, Texwood launched the Apple Jeans brand and started working with Productivity Council on computerization. To promote the brand, Texwood engaged multinational ad agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather to produce print and TV ads featuring foreign models. The firm also sponsored promotional events such as the Apple Jeans bowling contests in 1973 and 1974 at Four Seas Bowling (won by the Union team comprised of Lee Chiu-wan of Lee Ka Yuen Emporium and HK Tenpin Bowling Congress chair Vivien Fung Lau Cheung-chu). But the most memorable promotional item was Apple Chess (蘋果棋), a branded version of the Othello game distributed by Texwood to promote Apple jeans that was so popular that the Othello game became known as Apple Chess in Hong Kong.
Left: Texwood director Yip Kok-ming (right) presenting prizes to the weekly winner of the Apple Jeans bowling competition sponsored by Texwood at Four Seas Bowling in 1973 (KSEN, 1973-2-22); Right: Apple Chess.
In 1974, Texwood participated in the HK Fashion Festival which featured 8 scenes at the Hilton. By that time, the firm was the largest jeans manufacturer in HK had over 2500 workers working out of its factory building in HK and shipping its jeans to Europe, US, Japan, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. (WKYP, KSEN, 1974-03-08)
In the second half of 1974 and the first quarter of 1975, the HK jeans industry suffered a temporary slump with prices dropping 40-50% but recovered 20% by March 1975 with orders flowing back to HK. (SCJP, 1975-6-7) By 1976, over 100,000 pairs of Texwood jeans were sold monthly in HK. (Japan Textile News, 1976) The brand was so popular in HK by the mid-1970s that it attracted imitators as evidenced the Commercial Crime Bureau busting a factory in Fuk Wah Street in Sham Shui Po that was producing similar looking “Tevgood” jeans in March 1975. (WKYP, 1975-3-6)
In 1975, Wuhui Enterprise in Taiwan applied to block Texwood from using their trademark in Taiwan given its resemblance to their Apple brand of swimwear. Texwood received the regulatory approval for their trademark in 1972 but Wuhui claimed that they had theirs earlier in 1966. The case dragged on for at least four years through the Executive Yuan and the Control Yuan in Taiwan. (KSDN, 1979-5-12) By the end of 1970s Texwood was doing great business in Taiwan and in 1980, it sponsored 70 Taiwanese distributors to visit HK including a harbor cruise on two of Texwood’s yachts and visit to Texwood’s factory. (WKYP, 1980-6-4)
In the 1970s, Tam Shiu was supported at Texwood by vice chairman Chung Kam-wing (鍾錦榮), director Yip Kok-ming (葉覺明) and Daniel Chu Chiu-man (朱昭文), the son of his chauffeur who later started the competing Lawman Jeans in 1978.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Texwood staged major fashion shows in HK, Japan and Southeast Asia featuring lighting and sets designed by directors and choreographers from the UK and France and hundreds of models of different nationalities. (KSDN, 1977-1-23) In 1976, Texwood’s Apple and Eve Show was banned in Singapore by the Ministry of Culture after two of the models, Jerry George and Joyce Wong from HK stripped down to their briefs during a press preview. At the time, Texwood was represented by Moutrie in Singapore. (New Nation, 1976-1-7) In 1983, Texwood organized a fashion show called “Laser Fantasy” at the HK Hilton featuring eleven different themes staged by British choreographer Christopher Mann and 15 models. (WKYP, 1983-7-5)
In 1978, Texwood sponsored two 9-day tours to Taiwan and Japan for its HK distributors led by director Yip Kok-ming himself. (WKYP, 1978-8-9) As business soared, Texwood sponsored 2 trips to Europe for 40 distributors in 1980 (WKYP, 1980-8-19)
Tam Shiu next to Winnie Yu at the 20th anniversary celebration of Texwood in 1979 (WKYP, 1979-9-21)
In September 1979, Texwood celebrated its 20th anniversary with reception at the HK Hilton (now Cheung Kong Center) followed by Chinese banquet at the International Restaurant in Mongkok with Commercial Radio DJ (later CEO) Winnie Yu as master of ceremonies. In November of the same year, Texwoodlaunched Apple Jeans in the Philippines. (Fookien Times Philippine Yearbook, 1990)
Pivot to Real Estate and China
By the late 1970s, Tam Shiu like other many other HK industrialists had expanded into property development and real estate investments. In 1978, Texwood developed the 14-story Taurus Building (德立大廈) at 21A-21B Granville Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. In 1980, Texwood developed the Appleville condominium named after its famous jeans brand at 501 West 24th Place in Chicago. In 1981, Texwoodbuilt the Texwood Building at 183 Wai Yip Street in Kwun Tong. In 1983, the family developed Casa Del Sol (昭陽花園) at 33 Ching Sau Lane in Chung HomKok which comprises of 22 houses.
In the 1980s, Texwood built a chain of Apple Jeans shop across HK including its flagship store in Mongkok which opened in 1985. As a result of this strategy, the family became an active investor in retail properties in the major shopping districts in HK and Kowloon. In 1983, the Tam family through Towereed Ltd (厚華有限公司, originally incorporated as Tower Manufacturing in 1963 and renamed in 1977) acquired 9 retail properties on Lockhart Road (No. 455, 503, 505, 509, 512, 516, 518, 520 & 522) in 1983. By 2004, Towereed also owned shops at 17 & 19 Yan Ping Road, 84-94 Percival Street, 16 Pak Sha Road and the building (22 Yee Wo Street) in Causeway Bay alone. In 1988, the family acquired one of the best retail locations in Mongkok on the ground floor of Cheong Kee House on Sai Yeung Choi South Street for $28 million. This property appreciated to $916 million by 2013.
Left: Ad in Singapore for Texwood’s Appleville in Chicago in 1980. (NYSP, 1980-3-18); Right: ad for Texwood’s Taurus Building in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1978 (WKYP, 1978-3-23)
By the late 1980s, Tam Shiu’s two sons – Norman Tam (譚志峰, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin; he has served as president of the Federation of HK Garment Manufacturers) and Herbert Tam (譚志豪,graduate of Northwestern) and daughter Teresa Tam (譚翠華,graduate of Wharton) had joined Texwoodand helped it expand into mainland China and acquired more properties.
In 1985, Texwood began to sell its jeans in Shanghai for RMB25-30 a pair which was considered very expensive by the mainland Chinese consumers at the time. In 1993, Texwood invested HK$120 million in the Tam family’s native Sun Wui to establish the XinhuiDefa Garments Co Ltd. The same year, it opened its first retail outlet in the mainland at Tianhe City in Guangzhou. By the mid-1990s, Texwood had gained popularity in the mainland and attracted counterfeiters. In November 1996, a riot broke out in Dardun village in the Zengcheng district in Guangdong province when 5000 villagers attacked the police and reporters sent by Texwood to investigate the town where large quantities of fake Apple jeans were allegedly produced. The TV crew was held captive by the villagers and were only released after intervention by the Anti-Counterfeit Products Office and the deputy mayor of Zengcheng. (China Insurance News, 1996).By 2006, Texwoodhad built up a network of over 200 stores in the mainland over two decades including two flagship stores in Shanghai (Port Exchange and Chia Tai Plaza).
Ticket for Beyond’s Valentine’s Day concert in 1988 sponsored by Texwood. Concert goers wearing Apple jeans were admitted for free.
In 1998, the Tam family acquired Oriental House (東方大廈) at Argyle Street where its flagship store in Mongkok was located for $83.5 million.In 2009, the family sold 59 Park Lane for $79 million and then in 2010 through Rich Honest International (富置國際有限公司) acquired the ground and first floor of 25 Granville Road from Tung Shun Hing Ltd for HK$178 million. In 2019, the Tam family acquired 54 Shantung Street in Mongkok for $137 million. As of 2020, the aggregate value of the family’s property portfolio in HK alone (which also include 14 Stanley Beach Road in Stanley aside from the properties described above) based on purchase prices is worth over HK$6.1 billion based on the survey conducted by Apple Daily with annual rental income of over HK$123 million. (Apple Daily, 2020-3-26)
Left: Texwood founder Tam Shiu; Right: Tam Shiu (right) presenting a HK$150,000 check to Li Ka-shing who was receiving it on behalf of the Community Chest in 1980 (KSDN, 1980-3-1)
Since the establishment of the Tam ShiuCharitable Trust in 1983, Tam and his family had donated hundreds of millions. In 1992 and 1993, Tam Shiu was named honorary citizen of Sun Wui, Guangzhou and Jiangmen for his generous donations to schools and hospitals in the region.
Sources (other than those cited above):
Texwood Jeans commercials from the 1970s:
Texwood jeans commercial in 1982:
This article was first posted on 14th June 2021.
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