Alumni of the Month: Dr Harry Lee (BSc(Eng) Electrical Engineering)



The perfect weave of science and business


Dr Harry Lee is a humble entrepreneur and role model. As Chairman of TAL Apparel Limited, which makes one in every six dress shirts sold in the US, his philosophy of evolution can be demonstrated in the way he led the company in its modernisation journey. A researcher and innovator at heart, Harry comes to life as he introduces to us his recent research projects and passion for using technology to do social good.


Apart from being a past chairman of the ICAAHK, Harry is also the mastermind behind setting up the ICAAHK Endowment Fund in 2007, and has served as Chairman of the Endowment Fund since. Having been educated in both the UK and the US, he believes in providing a fair opportunity for future leaders to access quality education. This year, Harry is celebrating his 60th anniversary since joining Imperial, and is sharing with us highlights of his Imperial journey and career!



Are there any memorable experiences from Imperial that you can share with us?


When I was at Imperial, I lived in the Southside halls which were just opened. Eight students would share bathrooms and showers, but we enjoyed the proximity to the College campus. In my second year, air pollution and smog became a major health issue in London, at that time the visibility was so low that you literally could not see the cars on the streets, you would only know cars were approaching when you heard drivers shouting “Taxi!” from a distance.


Student life, despite how busy or tough the curriculum seemed at the time, is the most carefree and delightful time of your life. During my time as a student, I enjoyed doing lab work much more than studying. I still recall for my final year thesis, I wrote a 60 page report to explain why there is no solution to my thesis proposition! Back then, our reports were still written with pen and paper.



Under your leadership, TAL has achieved great heights in the last few decades, can you share with us some of your proudest moments in your career?


In 2003, TAL made the front page of the Asian Wall Street Journal, featuring our self-developed supply chain and wholesale management system that helps retailers flatten their inventory while continuing to meet customer pledges. Traditionally, to get rid of unsold inventory, a retailer may need to sell a shirt that cost them $10 at $3, with a net loss of $7. Now with the new system, inventory is optimised and retailers no longer need to stock up in their warehouses - and we’re part of the solution.


After the COVID outbreak, we have also invested in designing and producing a breathable and machine washable mask. The Enro masks come in seven sizes and two designs, and filtration efficiency still preserves 99+% after 100 washings. Our mask has been rated as #1 by the New York Times’ Wirecutter and has received very positive reviews globally, especially among children.



Not only do you fund researches at institutions including Imperial, you are also a passionate researcher yourself. Can you tell us about your R&D experiences?


We have very experienced textile chemists in our R&D team who helped us design best-selling products including this wrinkle-free shirt that I’m wearing. The shirt is manufactured with 100% cotton and baked with a layer wrinkle-resistant coating on top. After multiple trials and errors, we were the first in the market to successfully implement this technology. This coating allows us to produce non-iron shirts with thinner materials, making it more versatile and multifunctional.


Sustainable products are becoming a rising customer trend, but we also need to ensure the price competitiveness of our products. We’ve been able to reduce up to 80% of the water in our wet processing, for our non-iron shirt production. For our waste water treatment, we use bacteria to purify the pollutants in the waste water, rather than adding chemicals to coagulate/precipitate the pollutants. With the bacteria treatment method, we can reduce sludge by about 80%. We are also looking into another solution from one of our suppliers that uses algae, which absorb CO2 in the production cycle, to produce synthetic yarn. Most of the synthetic yarn comes from petroleum at this moment.


Apart from washable masks and other textile innovation, our office has installed a fresh air ventilation system with indoor CO2 sensors, which controls the humidity and thermal comfort of the building. I have the same system at home and it has improved the indoor air quality and reduced the electricity usage. My home electricity bills have gone down 50%, so have the NOx and PM2.5 levels. A side benefit of regulating the CO2 concentration is that it keeps us from falling asleep at work! But this is not the end of the story, we are working on improving the system and will look forward to a broader application in the future.

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