Tung Fong Hat Factory (東方帽廠)

York Lo: Tung Fong Hat Factory (東方帽廠)

Tung Fong Hat Factory Image 1 York Lo

Left: Tung Fong Hat Factory’s booth at the 1957 HK Products Expo (WKYP, 1957-12-29); Right: Lee Kung-po delivering a report at a CMA board meeting in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-5-16)

Founded in 1928, Tung Fong Hat Factory was one of the leading hat manufacturers in Hong Kong from the 1930s to the 1960s alongside China Brothers covered earlier on the website and its founder Lee Kung-po (利功甫, 1903-1975) was also the longtime leader of the industry’s association.

Also known as Lee Kei (利奇) or Lee Kei-fun (利奇勳), Lee Kung-po was a native of Kaiping and attended the Chinese Academy (華人書院) in Hong Kong. In 1928, he founded Tung Fong Hat Factory in HK with his younger brother Lee Kung-pok. After the War, he co-founded the HK & Kowloon Hats Manufacturers Association with other fellow hat manufacturers.

In 1951, the Tung Fong Factory was making 300 dozen hats per day with Singapore, Dutch East Indies, Siam and Africa being the largest markets. The warmer weather affected the sales of hats that year. (WKYP, 1951-12-16)

In 1953, there were 30-40 hat factories in HK employing several thousand workers with exported of $20-30 million and Tung Fong being the leader in the industry with over 100 workers making all types of hats with daily output of 200-300 dozen hats with many orders from Burma and Siam while business from Indonesia were down.(WKYP, 1953-1-7) The firm also received approval to build a branch factory in Taiwan to manufacture felt hats in 1953 with investments of US$43464 and commenced production in September 1954. (The factory remained the only hat manufacturer until at least 1957)

During the HK Products Expo in 1953-54, Tung Fong Hat initiated the “Wear a Hat” promotional campaign by offering hats at half price to stimulate local demand. (WKYP, 1953-12-15) Tung Fong participated in the HK Products Expo every year in the 1950s.

Tung Fong Hat Factory Image 2 York Lo

Lee Kung-po at the HK Products Expo in 1958. Right to left: Wong Shek-wah, Shum Choi-sang, Chu Shek-lun, Shum Wai-yau, Cheng Chi-man, Lee Kung-po, Ng Yue-kwong, C.W. Chu (WKYP, 1958-12-21)

In 1954, the British Felt Hat Manufacturers Federation stated that HK was the world’s second largest hat maker and exported 310,005 dozen hats that year (total value of HK$5.4 million) to as far apart as Sweden and Australia and Burma and Thailand being the two largest markets.

In the mid-1950s, many industries in HK try to form alliances between competitors to reduce price competition and enhance its competitiveness against firms from other countries such as the aluminum and enamelware industries covered earlier. In 1955, Lee as head of the hat industry association also tried to form similar alliance, starting with the 15 trading firms in Rangoon and 7 manufacturers from HK which export to the Burmese market. (TKP, 1955-8-21)

In September 1956, Lee Kung-po won the bid in a government land auction for a 10000 sq ft parcel of industrial land in Kwun Tong for $176,000, which was significantly higher than the starting bid of HK$100,000 and Lee suggested that the government should give priority to current factory owners over new factory owners in terms of participation and financing in these auctions. (KSDN, 1956-9-14)

During the HK Products Expo in December 1956, Tung Fong supplied hats for the 5 CMA directors (Wong Toke-sau of Amoy Canning, Wan Tat-ming of Ling Nam Weaving, Poon Wing-kai of Hing Wah Battery, Ngai Shiu-kit of Yuen Hing Dyeing and Paul Lau of Camelpaint and R. Corney) who were playing Santa and also threw in a green hat for laughs. (KSEN, 1956-12-20)

At the 1957-58 HK Products Expo, Tung Fong sold 100 Parisian hats at half price and donated the proceeds of HK$250 to the Wah Kiu Yat Po children’s funds. (WKYP, 1958-1-1)

According to a speech delivered by Lee at the 14th annual meeting of Hats Manufacturers Association in 1961, the late 1950s was more difficult for the industry as the annual revenue dropped from over $10 million in 1955-57 to $9.7 million in 1958 and $8.3 million in 1959 due to protectionism in major markets such as Indonesia, Burma and Thailand and he urged the industry to focus on improving product quality and the government to provide support in order to compete. (WKYP, 1961-4-19)

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Left: wedding picture of Lee Kai-cheung and Lee Pik-ying in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-12-29); Right: Lee Kung-po (second from left) with his son in law Shum Choi-sang (first from left) and Shum’s parents Mr & Mrs. Shum Wai-yau on the right in 1961. (WKYP, 1961-1-13)

By the late 1950s, Lee Kung-po’s only son Lee Kai-cheung (利啟章), who had marriedLee Pik-ying (李碧英), the second daughter of leading Nam Pak Hong merchant and Hong Nin Bank director Lee Chun-kwok (李俊國) in 1959, had joined the family business. Kung-po’s only daughter Lee Sau-ling (利秀玲) married Shum Choi-sang (岑才生), Wah Kiu Yat Po publisher and the eldest son of Wah Kiu Yat Po founder Shum Wai-yau (岑維休, see article on Yew Sang Hong) and often appeared with his in-laws in various functions. With his profits from hats, Lee Kung-po began to diversify into other industries. In August 1958, he started the Tung Fong Rice Company at 66 Queen’s Road East in Wanchai and the store was opened by Cantonese opera stars Ng Kwun-lai (吳君麗) and Ho Fei-fan (何非凡) and also in attendance were many of his industrialist friends such as Wan Tat-ming and Shum Choy-wah and also his fellow clansmen the Lee brothers of the Hysan group.  (WKYP, 1958-8-27) He was also the proprietor of Wah Yip Import Export Co (華業出入口行), Lee Sang Manufactory (利生塑膠製品廠), Hip Sing Garment Factory (協誠製衣廠) and Ying Kau Enterprises Ltd (鷹球企業,incorporated in 1970, dissolved in 1986)

In the 1960s, Tung Fong had its offices out of 220 Alexandra House in Central. It manufactured both plain and reversible poplin hats and also added beach bags to its product mix and its main export markets had shifted from Southeast Asia to the US, the UK, Scandinavia and Germany.

In the HK Products Expo of 1960, Tung Fong showcased party hats such as a hat with two eyes, a hat that shaped like a fish and a hat with footprints on it as if the person was stubbled. (TKP, 1960-12-22)

In mid-1963, Lee Kung-po visited Taiwan where he was received by the Chief Justice and the head of Overseas Chinese affairs. He then proceeded to Japan for 2 weeks where he was very impressed with the country’s industrial development and suggested HK to follow suit upon his return. (WKYP, 1963-6-30)

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Left: Hats and bags manufactured by Tung Fong Hat Factory in the mid-1960s (HK Trade bulletin, 1965) ; Right: Lee Kung-po seating in front of R.C. Lee at a celebration hosted by the Lee Family Association in celebration of R.C.’s appointment to the Legislative Council in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-9-5)

In July 1969, Lee Kai-cheung and his wife flew to Taipei to attend the opening ceremony of Lee Sang Plastic Products Factory and afterwards they flew to Tokyo and Osaka in Japan and different cities in the US, Europe and Southeast Asia for two months to survey the hat industry. (WKYP, 1969-7-9)

Tung Fong Hat Factory Image 5 York Lo

The Lee family of Tung Fong Hat Factory at the airport after Lee Kai-cheung and his wife returned from Taiwan and Japan (WKYP, 1965-8-12)

In 1973, Tung Fong Hat relocated its office from Alexandra House to Room 3716-3718 of the new Connaught Building (now Jardine House) where Lee Kai-cheung also opened his Hop Lee Stock Company (合利股票公司) at the same premise.The opening ceremony was attended by several hundred guests including the entire senior management of Hang Seng Bank, the Shums, John Tung, C.K. Chang and Ronald Li. (WKYP, 1973-12-13)

In October 1975, Lee Kung-po died at the age of 75 and his pallbearers included his two in-laws Shum Wai-yau and Lee Chun-kwok and fellow clansman and relative Lee Kam-woon (利錦桓),the younger brother of Sir Q.W. Lee and brother in law of his son in law Shum Choi-sang. A native of Kaiping, Lee founded the Canton Chinese Product Emporium and Canton Hat Factory. (WKYP, 1975-11-1)

Outside of business, he served as chairman of the HK & Kowloon Hat Manufacturers Association and was director of Sze Yup Industrial & Commercial Society, Hoi Ping Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Manufacturers Association.

As a firm, Tung Fong Hat Factory was incorporated in 1968 and dissolved in 1983.

This article was first posted on 10th May 2021.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The Hui family and China Brothers Hat Manufacturing Co. (中華兄弟製帽廠)
  2. Hong Kong made Felt Hats – 22 factories in 1955

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