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Complex China founder Bonnie Chan-Woo on Asia’s ‘significant’ growing market for urban culture

Held from March 22 to 24, ComplexCon Hong Kong made its mark as the first international edition of ComplexCon and the first large-scale gathering of its kind in Asia. 

The festival’s theme, “Bridging Cultures,” captured the essence of the curation approach, combining global significance with regional relevance. The event showcased both internationally acclaimed creators and brands, known for their influence on global social media platforms, along with promising talents from the region.

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Over 55 percent of over 30,000 attendees hailed from outside Hong Kong, representing over 40 countries worldwide. The event attracted exhibitors and retailers from the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, mainland China, and Hong Kong.

Retail in Asia speaks with Bonnie Chan-Woo, CEO of Complex China and ComplexCon Hong Kong, on the factors that fuelled the success of ComplexCon Hong Kong’s inaugural edition.

Pictured: Complex China and ComplexCon CEO Bonnie Chan-Woo. Source: Complex China
Retail in Asia: In your view, what factors were key to the success of the first edition of ComplexCon HK?

Bonnie Chan-Woo: This first edition of ComplexCon Hong Kong was not only the first international edition of ComplexCon but also the first large-scale event of this type in Asia. Since I founded Complex China in 2020, I have seen not just tremendous demand for urban culture across the region but also incredible home-grown creative talent that is on the leading edge and driving global trends; as we started the planning for this festival, I knew that we had to create a distinct event that showcased not only international trends and artists but also one that spoke to the creative, connected and discerning community we have all across Asia. 

One of the early critical success factors was the development and organisation of a distinct and sizable community of youth culture enthusiasts in Mainland China with connectivity to the wider markets across Asia. This groundwork, which took us three years to build from the ground up, enabled us to create a platform that not only taps into the potential of this market but also, in turn, supports local artists, promotes collaboration, creates wider economic opportunities, and propels a self-sustaining dynamic that benefits the entire community.

This unwavering conviction in the power and importance of culture gave us the focus to rally the wider community—globally, regionally, and locally—behind our vision, which was instrumental to our success. It was a factor in many of our strategic decisions, from the selection of Hong Kong as the destination to the festival programming down to partner selection and communications strategy.     

Scenes from ComplexCon Hong Kong’s 2024 edition. Source: ComplexCon Hong Kong
Retail in Asia: Tell us about the approach to curating the event. How did ComplexCon bring its theme ‘Bridging Cultures’ to life for this first edition?

Chan-Woo: Festival curation was a major focus and was a major factor behind our success in drawing a wide audience from across the region. We remained laser-focused on the consumers and created a programme that not only suited their interests and tastes but would also inspire and delight them. 

Moreover, understanding that the youth market across Asia is far from a monolith and that Gen Z and Alpha are also hyper-connected, savvy, and selective meant that we had to proceed with a heightened cultural sensitivity when it came to festival curation. 

This cross-cultural sensitivity informed our theme, ‘Bridging Cultures,’ and encapsulated our curation approach to develop a program that maintained both global significance and regional relevance. ComplexCon Hong Kong not only featured the world’s most influential and trending creators and brands who are typically active on global social media platforms such as Instagram, but we also included many of the region’s most influential and promising talents who have taken a more local approach in developing their audience.  It was also critical that the artists and brand line-up be a diverse and inclusive showcase of cultures, media, and follower bases to ensure the event served as an elevated platform for style and artistic expression.

Beyond brand and exhibitor selection, Bridging Cultures came to life in other ways: ComplexLIVE!, our three-night concert series, showcased the rich diversity, deep talent, and broad appeal of hip-hop in the region. The line-up featured the biggest international artists, the top artists from Asia’s hottest label, legendary local icons, and the region’s most promising young talent.

Source: ComplexCon Hong Kong

ComplexCon(versations) featured 10 discussions with 32 thought leaders from 10 regions conducted in four languages (with simultaneous translation into three languages); [these] highlighted Asia’s growing influence on global cultural trends. 

We featured many cross-cultural and cross-sector collaborations [such as] Verdy x McDonald’s, Blackpink x Murakami,  VandyThePink x Faker, Melting Sadness x VandyThePink, CLOT x Crocs, Feng Chen Wang x Converse, Won Soju x Casetify; it was unsurprising that they were amongst the most popular at Complex Marketplace.  

Retail in Asia: Which event programmes and offerings succeeded in drawing attendance to the event, and what was the most attractive draw for participating retailers?

Chan-Woo: The diversity and the global profile of our musical line-up were certainly a factor in creating initial awareness and demand for tickets, but ultimately, we cannot attribute the event’s success to any one part, but rather the combination of all the diverse elements that enabled us to attract such a broad and large audience for our first edition.

As we have many different types of exhibitors and retailers, there are likely different reasons for participating. Certainly, one draw would be our ability to bring together a diverse audience from across the region; equally, the presence of so many leading creators and artists from around the world is itself a draw. Connection and collaboration are critical to creativity and progress; many of the participating brands understand this, and they also recognize our ability to deliver a collaborative and communitarian platform that brings people together and celebrates culture. 

Source: ComplexCon Hong Kong
Retail in Asia: Please can you tell us about your strategy for ComplexCon in Hong Kong going forward? 

Chan-Woo: Complex in China, including Mainland and Hong Kong, will continue to reach and build communities through content, events, and commerce.  Communities are at the heart of everything we do.  We will continue to serve as a platform for communities that gravitate towards urban culture to collaborate and celebrate each other.  We will be looking at scaling for a wider reach to a massive audience pool in Mainland China and beyond. We are already reviewing plans for the next edition of ComplexCon.

The strong community response to this first edition of ComplexCon in Asia further reinforces our conviction that culture and passion points are powerful rallying points for communities and can transcend borders and language. Our experience also shows that people strongly desire to come together and that in-person live events can generate energy and momentum that go well beyond the sum of their parts. 

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Source: ComplexCon Hong Kong
Retail in Asia: In what ways do you think urban and pop culture is evolving in terms of different brands’ participation? Do you think there is a growing appetite for urban culture in Asian markets?

Chan-Woo: This first edition of ComplexCon in Asia is proof that there is a significant growing market for urban culture in Asia. Contemporary culture thrives on innovation and is constantly evolving; not only will more brands begin to be more active in this space, but different verticals will also get involved. 

We’ve already seen the beginnings of this trend through the participation of several technology and Web3 brands in this past edition; given the momentum and the increasingly blurred lines across sectors, many more brands and adjacent industries will engage in urban culture going forward.