Weaving the past into the present
To celebrate 75 years of history, we decided to use material from the Cathay Pacific archives - literally. We upcycled parts of retired aircraft into metal pens, cardholders and aviation tags, and we restitched hundreds of cockpit and cabin crew uniforms to create an exclusive range of limited-edition merchandise, all with a tangible connection to our past.
The process began several years ago. When an aircraft is retired, it’s normally stripped for parts and sold to the secondary market. But some aircraft are worth hanging on to – like B-HUJ, our record-breaking, final Boeing 747-400 aircraft. We melted parts of the plane into aluminium blocks, ready to be reforged.
‘The Boeing 747 is the Queen of the Skies – it’s an icon of the time when Cathay went international and travel really started to become popular with people in Hong Kong’ says Jessica Lee, Brand Manager at Cathay. ‘When we had the last flight in 2016, we knew that it was very special – so we decided to save it for a big occasion.’
Now that occasion has come: for Cathay’s 75th anniversary, we’ve been celebrating 75 years of bringing people together. Here was the chance to craft something special – a limited-edition run of just 435 cardholder and pen sets, inspired by the shape of the 747-400.
‘For aviation fans it means a lot to own a piece of the aircraft,’ says Lee.
‘And a cardholder represents a moment when you meet somebody. With these cardholders we imagine people asking where it’s from. It becomes a way to start a conversation.’
We had the aluminium blocks, but the real challenge was finding a factory that was willing and able to reforge the aircraft metal for a special collection.
Lee explains: ‘A lot of traditional factories work with raw, new aluminium and it was really hard to find a factory that was willing to create a mould based on our small quantities. But we really wanted to make this a very special, very crafted, very limited-edition item, just a few hundred pieces.’
Eventually, a partner was found and the design process began in earnest.
‘We did a lot of 3D prototyping with plastics, mould after mould. For example, the pen’s weight kept changing: we wanted the composites in one end of the pen to be a bit heavier, so it was better balanced. We also carefully thought about the shape, to make it all look like the front of the plane’, explains Lee.
However, plastic is completely different to metal. Once the team tried the designs in aluminium, more challenges emerged.
‘The mechanics on the slide of the cardholder was completely different with metal. Putting two metal surfaces together and sliding back and forth –wasn’t smooth,’ explains Lee. ‘At the same time, we didn’t want to sandblast it and make it all shiny like it’s a brand-new, off-the-shelf product: we wanted to keep that rawness of little markings, or a bubble, or a scratch.’
‘It’s not every day you get your hands on aircraft aluminium so this was a very unique experience, from working with the material to coming up with the product ideas that will resonate with consumers,’ says Bjorn Fjelddahl, founder of branding and design firm Eight Partnership, which worked on the sets.
It took a lot of effort and a lot of time, but the end results are immaculately crafted pieces that are both beautiful and functional – and the perfect collectable for aviation lovers.
In honour of our 75th anniversary, we’ve also created a range of stylish lifestyle accessories, by upcycling hundreds of cabin crew and cockpit uniforms into teddy bears, pouches, cushions and bags.
To make it happen, we paired with Hong Kong lifestyle label G.O.D., which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
‘We felt confident with G.O.D.’s expertise, their knowledge, and that they could bring their point of view in terms of stylish design,’ says Lee.
‘We wanted it to feel very crafted, unique, and also very Cathay,’ she adds. Hence the unique patchwork design used in the range, created from all the different uniforms. ‘You have the silk ties; you have black, different shades of red; and then a white blouse with a brushwing pattern. It’s quite iconic, it gives a good flavour of the uniforms, aesthetically looks great in the house, and it’s also something that represents G.O.D.’
‘It was definitely a challenge to combine all the different colours, fabrics and details together in a way that didn’t look contrived’, says Douglas Young, Co-founder and CEO of G.O.D. ‘It was also something new for the manufacturers – each item has a unique pattern, requiring a careful selection of fabric. We also wanted to make sure we used as much of the material as possible as it would be a shame to waste any – so we used the offcuts to make stylish woven straps for the bags, for example.’
From cushions to teddies, pouches to bags, the designs are sure to be a hit. ‘I think these items will be very popular with a lot of people in Hong Kong – anyone who’s a lover of the brand, who’s seen this iconic red on cabin crew,’ says Jessica Lee. ‘It’s something that’s very personal to them, and now they can enjoy having a piece of this fabric that’s travelled the world.’