After launching athleisure brand Autopilot incognito, friends-turned-business partners Antonia Li and Harris Chan finally step out of the shadows for an exclusive interview with Tatler

You hear it all the time: never mix business and friendship. But childhood friends Antonia Li and Harris Chan aren’t fazed by this at all. Last year, the duo co-founded Autopilot, a brand that blends activewear with everyday attire, designed for people on the go.

In just 12 months, the Autopilot brand has released four collections, and has become known within Hong Kong’s fashion-savvy circles for its gym-to-cocktails approach to dressing. With functional layering as its core concept, Autopilot has found fast fans among Tatler friends including Patricia Tung-Gaw, Faye Tsui and Lindsay Jang, who have all embraced the brand’s “one-minute transformation” style of dressing.

The brand focuses on three areas: performance—using innovative fabrics like ultra-smooth Japanese wakayama mesh and Ceravida Fresh, a chemical-free antimicrobial and anti-odour garment-coating technique; transition—for easy, pull-on items such as a sheer, colour-blocked maxi skirts; and layers—which involves fashion-forward pieces designed to elevate any look. Think military-inspired boleros, windbreakers and trench coats with pockets big enough to fit an iPad in them.

When Tatler interviewed Chan and Li in June the pair had, until then, remained largely anonymous. Despite living in an age when social media has made privacy a commodity, only their inner circle knew they were behind the Autopilot launch. “We wanted our products to speak for themselves without us being part of the narrative. It’s our one-year anniversary now and our presence is growing, and we feel it’s the right time to come forward,” Li says.

Tatler Asia
Hi ResOTK August24-06-2022Ph Affa ChanHarris ChanAntonia Li
Above Harris Chan (Photo: Affa Chan)
Tatler Asia
Hi ResOTK August24-06-2022Ph Affa ChanHarris ChanAntonia Li
Above Antonia Li (Photo: Affa Chan)

"No one should have to give up their workouts or rich social lives simply because their clothing can’t keep up"

- Antonia Li -

Although Li and Chan were first introduced in London in their late teens by friends Alison Chan El-Azar, Edward Tang and Chan’s godsister, Queenie Rosita Law, the duo’s family connection predates this encounter: Li’s mother, Sandra Wong, is an intellectual property lawyer who worked on a case for Harris’s father, Boby Chan—who, along with Harris’s mother Shirley, co-founded womenswear brand Moiselle in 1997.

Much like their clothing, there is an ease to Chan and Li’s friendship. “I’ve always admired Antonia’s perspective and talent. We have a deep connection and we respect each other’s dreams,” says Chan, who is also CEO of Moiselle. Li agrees: “I’ve always admired his work ethic [with Moiselle] and we like bouncing ideas off each other. He’s my work husband, and he gives me the space and freedom to create.”

The pair made the decision to go into business together during a hike in 2020. “Harris asked me: ‘What do you think women will want in the future?’ and I thought, people need outfits that they can wear throughout the entire day: outfits that encourage exercise and support a hands-free and handbag-free lifestyle. How do we make [dressing] easy for people? No one should have to give up their workouts or rich social lives simply because their clothing can’t keep up,” Li says.

For Li, launching a fashion brand was a new experience, but her MBA in entrepreneurship and marketing, and a background in branding gave her a foundation. In 2014, with her best friend Ruth Chao, Li founded digital creative agency Indicube, which has serviced clients such as Lily and Bloom, Estée Lauder and Mr Porter. “[With branding], it’s all about how you want to convey yourself. It’s very similar to fashion,” says Li, who is now in charge of creative direction and marketing for Autopilot.

Chan’s background in fashion from his studies at the London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, and experience managing Moiselle equipped him well to run the day-to-day operations and strategic planning for this new venture. Moiselle and Autopilot’s customers differ, but Chan likes the challenge of designing for each: “[Working on both] benefits each brand. One minute, I’m thinking like Gen Z, and the next, like a young, chic mom. It’s fun and keeps me on my toes.”

In June, Autopilot moved into its first physical location: a 1,000 sq ft shop at K11 Musea. In July, the brand’s second store opened on Queen’s Road Central and, later that month, it dropped its new pre-fall collection, this time featuring men’s pieces for the first time.

That the brand is going from strength to strength is a sign that the pair have found a niche in the market and customers are responding to smart, fuss-free designs that simplify busy routines. “Nowadays life is very stressful. Between social media, the news, Covid-19 and work, it’s just too much,” says Chan. “With our designs, we want to make people’s lives better. The clothes aren’t just pretty; they’re useful too.”

Autopilot locations: G01, G/F, No.9 Queen’s Road, Central  | Shop 216, Level 2, K11 Musea, Tsim Sha Tsui

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Credits

Photography  

Affa Chan

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