Harry Lee & Company was founded in 1948 by two brothers, Harry and David Lee. Born and raised in Swatow, a village in the southeastern Chinese province of Guangdong, the brothers spent their formative years under Japanese occupation and later Communist rule. Like many others from rural mainland China at the time, however, they sought an opportunity at a better life in what was then the British colony of Hong Kong.

Harry and David Lee, Hong Kong, 1961

Harry (far left) and David (far right) Lee
Hong Kong, 1961

Shortly after the end of World War II, when he was in his late teens, Harry obtained a permit to emigrate to Hong Kong. He arrived with little money and worked whatever jobs he could find. After a year or so, he serendipitously met an older businessman who also had the surname Lee and was also from Swatow (and, might we add, would later become Harry's father-in-law). Being from the same village and all, the elder Mr Lee felt obligated to take Harry under his wing, and thus helped him start a small business selling supplies to the trading ships that docked at Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.

Mr Lee had wonderful stories of his own, which we can only touch on a little here. It turns out that not only was he a successful businessman, he was also an altruistic Christian who helped many refugees fleeing from Communist China to start their new lives in Hong Kong, and regularly housed many of them in his own home. As Harry's children later recall, when they visited their grandfather's home for Chinese New Year, they noticed that many other people also came to offer gifts and pay respects to their grandfather — an odd fact since it is tradition to spend time at one's parent's home on the New Year. This was one of many testaments to the veneration people had for Mr Lee.

Harry Lee with Gavin MacLeod and Bernie Kopell from "The Love Boat", Kowloon, 1983

Harry with Gavin MacLeod and Bernie Kopell from The Love Boat
Kowloon, 1983

Meanwhile, David was not as fortunate in his attempts to join his brother in Hong Kong, as the Communist Party cracked down on people leaving mainland China. Thus David resorted to leaving the mainland illegally, a journey that culminated in his swimming across Victoria Harbor to Hong Kong in the dead of winter. Even when he reached the shores of Hong Kong, he was arrested by the police and detained for two nights. It was only until Harry came and posted bail for David that the brothers were finally reunited after almost two years.

From there, they had little capital but all the freedom in the world to build up their new lives. David joined his brother in selling supplies to sailors; at times the duo even joined some of the sailors on months-long trips. The work was dangerous and laborious, but slowly they saved enough money to buy a small shop and start a business of their own in 1948, named Harry Lee & Company. They started as a tailor shop, but later expanded into jewelry as well. And in 1964, the brothers, with the help of Harry's newly father-in-law Mr Lee, purchased a larger storefront right across the street, which remains to this day the location of Harry Lee & Company.

Grand opening of Harry Lee & Company's storefront on Hankow Road, Kowloon, 1964

Grand opening of Harry Lee & Company's storefront on Hankow Road
Kowloon, 1964

Over the decades, this little shop was enough to provide a comfortable life for the brothers and their family back in Swatow, and even send Harry's children to universities in the United States. Although Harry passed away in 2003, the Company still lives on in the busy fashion district of Kowloon as one of the last remnants of an old era of Hong Kong. The small, family-run storefronts of that era have largely given way to such multinational brands as Tiffany, Chanel, et al. Yet, perhaps as an homage to that era, or to the memory of his brother, David has kept going to work every single day, even to this day at the age of 79.