From slow fashion to LGBTQ+ activism, Kayla Wong’s projects aren’t in short supply. Wong runs an ethical fashion brand called Basics For Basics, takes beautiful photographs of queer couples and helps out experimental event space The Wild Lot with creative direction and more.
With the pandemic seemingly on the retreat, Kayla Wong has a lot to look forward to, including her marriage to partner Elaine Chen-Fernandez, founder of The Wild Lot, and adding some international travel to her schedule. TMS sat down with the artist and entrepreneur to chat about her advocacy, her projects and how she made a life for herself as a queer child of a celebrity couple in Hong Kong.
Living queer in Hong Kong
Depending on where you live, LGBTQ+ rights might be winning or lagging. Wong and her fiancé, Elaine Chen-Fernandez, must travel to the United States to get married. She spoke with us about what it’s like to live as a queer woman in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong right now is kind of backward," says Wong. “There definitely have been a lot of people in the past couple of years, including myself, that were really trying to push for equality and champion marriage equality. There were some wins. I would say the community is pretty safe in the city. You don’t really get harassed, or you don’t really get violently attacked. But at the same time, there’s that very underlying Asian culture where it’s like a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of situation.
“A lot of people are still very much in the closet with their family members, especially with their older family members," says Wong. “I think that’s just a very ingrained cultural thing that might change over the years. And obviously, on the legal side, I think we’re very, very far away from getting the rights that we want. My partner and I are getting married this year. But we can’t do it here because we won’t be recognized."
Although recent years have seen some small wins in Hong Kong courts when it comes to granting rights and recognition to same-sex marriages legally performed in foreign countries, same-sex marriages as a whole are not legal or recognized in the city. In fact, homosexuality was only decriminalized in Hong Kong in 1991.
Wong’s celebrity parentage, Chinese-American actor Michael Wong and model Janet Ma, meant coming out couldn’t be a private experience. Living in the limelight made it virtually impossible. But Wong found a way to come to terms with the publicity.
“[My girlfriend at the time and I] got caught by the media," Wong recalls. “We were canoodling or whatever. They followed me, which I was very not aware of and was not expecting at all. So it was quite traumatizing at the moment because it was nighttime, and they literally had their cameras flashing in my face. It just felt very much like an invasion of privacy.
“But I actually had already come out to my parents a couple years before that," says Wong. “So instead of letting the media turn it into some crazy, dramatic new show for them, it turned out to be quite a positive experience. Because when they asked me, I just straight up told them. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is who I’m dating.’ It became a very family-oriented thing. And I think a lot of people weren’t expecting that. I am grateful for that experience I had. I can’t say that most Hong Kong artists and celebrities would have had the same fate as I did."
Basics For Basics, Intimacy by K and The Wild Lot
Wong grew up surrounded by the world of fashion. With a model for a mother, it only made sense for Wong to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Concerned about the impact of fast fashion, she made it her mission to found a brand focused not only on style and success but education. Wong’s slow fashion brand Basics For Basics does just that by prioritizing sustainability.
“As I grew older, and after going to college and being in a job where I did a lot of CSR, I wanted to create a brand that had meaning," says Wong. “I wanted to take small steps to try and make the fashion industry a little better. And throughout the journey, obviously I figured out the effects of the fashion industry, how polluting it is, and all the ugly things behind the scenes that happen, and so I just decided to go down that route."
But Wong’s creativity only begins with fashion. She also recently launched a photography project called Intimacy by K, depicting quiet, romantic moments between queer couples in their homes.
“My dad used to always have a camera with him when we were growing up," says Wong. “He would take pictures anywhere and everywhere. And I think that kind of inspired me, and when I got to high school, I always had a camera around me. I wouldn’t say I’m super professional at it."
She may not claim to be a “professional," but Intimacy by K is more of a passion project for Wong. “I like to shoot from the heart," she says. “That’s kind of what I try to portray in my photographs. It’s more of a feeling.
“And obviously with the intimacy project, it’s more about portraying women and love and what that looks like for everybody. We all crave that intimacy with somebody, and at the end of the day, it all kind of looks the same, but we all interpret it differently."
When it comes to The Wild Lot, Wong’s background in marketing gave her the tools she needed to boost engagement and coordinate events with her partner’s space.
“Elaine started the Wild Lot because she had this vision of bringing together local talented artists or creatives in Hong Kong," explains Wong. “She wanted the space to be a safe space for them to create whatever they felt like they wanted to and let their imaginations run wild.
“And so [in] my background, I did a little bit of marketing. And even when I was working in corporate, I also did marketing. So that was kind of my strong suit. So for the Wild Lot, that’s kind of what I did," says Wong.
“In the beginning it was really just trying to push the concept out there," she recalls. “Get people to understand what we are, who we are, what we do. Throughout the journey, you know, I’ve also helped create events. Just kind of everything and anything because we are a small women-led team, so we try to help each other out wherever we can, and it’s very much like a team group effort."
So, what’s next for Kayla Wong?
Wong, her partner and team have plenty of new projects on the horizon. During Pride Month, The Wild Lot will be hosting events for the community, like “Ride or Pride," a “one-of-a-kind, rainbow unicorn-biker-themed block party" all day on June 25. Basics For Basics has also released a limited-edition collaboration with another local Hong Kong brand, with 10% of all sales going to a local LGBTQ+ organization. But, that’s just a short list of things we can expect to see coming soon from this creative mind.