Heart & Sole: The shoe fits KIBO’s Natalie Chow very well as she kick-starts zero-waste Hong Kong retailing

In the vibrant city of Hong Kong, where consumerism has long been synonymous with high-rises and luxury malls, one woman is revolutionising the shopping landscape by infusing sustainability into the heart of retail. Natalie Chow, the visionary co- founder of sustainable sneaker-maker KIBO (K!BO in branding parlance), is leading the charge to redefine the shopping experience, placing environmental consciousness at the forefront.

From the get-go, it was important to Chow that her marketing and message did not make consumers feel bad about their shopping and lifestyle choices while offering them a guilt-free planet-friendly alternative. The savvy businesswoman is aware that there are a lot of unexpected implications associated with the food, clothing and accessories we use and own – consequences that affect not just animals but also society and the environment. She is keen to stress that the objective isn’t guilt, even when discussing the appalling circumstances people endure in fast-fashion factories or the catastrophic effects of animal husbandry on the planet.

“I was always drawn to beautiful things and advertising was actually what I really wanted to get into; hence, I started studying marketing,” says the University of Melbourne alumnus. “I did both marketing and psychology, which are extremely correlated. I think the human brain is fascinating, and quite often we make irrational choices, and I wanted to understand how people make choices every day, and what influences them to do so.”

Equal footing

Chow chooses to wear independent brands for our shoot, as a way to support the local creative scene. Arriving back from a 4-hour Singapore-to-Hong Kong flight, she looks fresh and ready to pose in the hallways of PMQ, where fellow start-up projects and businesses reside.

“Was I there for Taylor Swift? I wish!” she exclaims, breaking into laughter. “But no, I was in Singapore for a sneaker convention. The sneaker world is still a man- dominated industry – surprise, surprise! When I started my own business, I realised how big of a gender gap there is out there in other industries, especially in the start-up space.”

Denim top and skirt by Vincent Li Studio & sneakers by KIBO

While the majority of sneaker firms were started by men, KIBO was conceived, is run, and the products are designed, by women. Men have long controlled the shoe industry, which is reflected in the preponderance of masculine designs and styles. Conversely, KIBO was created with a heavy emphasis on equality, which is understandable given that it is backed by a sizable female community.

Green path

Chow’s journey towards becoming a trailblazer in sustainable fashion is rooted in her early life and background. Born in Hong Kong, she and her two sisters were raised in Australia by their mother, and she developed a deep appreciation for the unique blend of culture, energy and commerce in the city they lived in. She traces her connection with nature back to her childhood, recalling that she separated the household recyclables from the age of seven.

“I believe this is a journey for myself, and for everyone out there too,” she says. “When I started there was no such thing as ESG (environmental, social and governance) and now it’s mandatory for many companies. The framework and the bar have become clearer over the years, so in both the corporate world and schools, there are standards to comply with and a goal to achieve. As for myself, I have learnt the different credentials in material sourcing, GRS (Global Recycled Standard), BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative), FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and so on, and how to make decisions in production.”

Driven by a desire to effect change, Chow dedicated herself to understanding the complexities of sustainability in fashion. She immersed herself in extensive research, exploring alternative materials, ethical production methods and the concept of circular fashion. Through her studies and personal experiences, she realised she had a unique opportunity to create a brand that could challenge the status quo and inspire others to embrace sustainable fashion.


One step at a time

KIBO, meaning hope in Japanese, was founded in 2019 and was officially launched in 2020, with the goal of giving life and waste new hope. ‘Kind to the planet and kind to your feet’ is their promise, as Chow and her team employ materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, such as leather scraps from manufacturers, recovered post-consumer plastic waste, and most recently, imitation leather made from apple waste.

“I was on maternity leave when my husband [KIBO co-founder Simon Chow] and I started to brainstorm. At that time, we noticed there really was a gap as well as an opportunity in the sneakers space and I guess that’s how the seed was planted,” she recalls. Her husband’s family runs a shoe- manufacturing company.

“Moreover, as a mother of two, I wanted to pursue something meaningful and purposeful that my kids would grow up and be proud of. Sustainability has to encompass ethics and transparency, otherwise, it’s quite meaningless. Since we have an edge of having relevant backgrounds in this industry, we decided to take this leap of faith.”

As the introductory lines on the KIBO website spell out, ‘the ! is a reminder to do things differently. The fashion industry needs to change and tackle big issues such as climate change and modern slavery.

And that’s only possible if we adapt ourselves and unite as a community. Because we know that every small step goes a long way.’

Walk the walk

Through her brand’s ethical practices and commitment to transparency, she has successfully challenged the conventional notion that fashion and sustainability are incompatible. But she is far from settling, and will continue to improve.

“Problem-solving has been a skill that I was fortunate to have adopted with my previous work experiences, but being a brand founder has taken it to the next level just because we have problems to solve every single day. From production hiccups to liaising with partners, both soft skills and hard skills are required such as managing my own time and analytical skills,” she says.

T shirt by KIBO, skirt by Vincent Li Studio & sneakers by KIBO

By making conscious consumerism accessible and stylish, KIBO has inspired a broader movement towards a more sustainable future for Hong Kong’s retail industry. Its success serves as a testament to the power of idealists to effect meaningful change, reminding us that a person can go into an industry they are passionate about without compromising their beliefs.

As Chow emphasises throughout our conversation, sustainability and style can indeed go hand in hand. But behind it all is a drive to connect with consumers through her shoes. She considers fashion a service industry. When she’s working on a collection, she is thinking about how a KIBO piece should make you feel: confident, comfortable, alive and effortless.

“It’s timely that this is for the April issue,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “Earth Month; let’s do it right!”

Interview, Text and Art Direction by: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Brands: KiBO and Vincent Li Studio

Ace of Space: Led by owner Rasheed Shroff, social consciousness and sustainability flourish at Banyan Workspace

Rasheed Shroff’s co-working space is located in a three-decade-old industrial building in Quarry Bay. But inside, it’s a blueprint of what a modern office should look like, with a feel of zen and a killer harbour view. As we ring the bell, Shroff joyfully hops into the office’s cavernous foyer. There’s something undeniably adolescent about his demeanour – like that of a teenager left alone in a grown-up’s house. Throwing open the door, he says hello, and leads us past a marble reception counter and a hard-to-miss framed letter B – the company logo, Banyan Workspace.

“I guess this is what a positive working environment does? Less stress means looking young?” he laughs. “At the peak of the pandemic years, there was a time when I was the only person in this space. That was hard and mentally exhausting. Thank god that’s over!”

As a visionary entrepreneur with a deep understanding of the evolving landscape of work and business, Shroff recognises the limitations of traditional office spaces. Thus, he set out to create a new paradigm that fosters collaboration, creativity and productivity. With a clear vision and an entrepreneurial spirit, he and his wife, Amy, founded Banyan Workspace in 2019 to offer a fresh, socially conscious perspective on shared workspaces.

Knit V-neck gilet in two-toned dove grey geometric jacquard by Emporio Armani, Melange wool blazer and wool pants by SANDRO and watch by Zodiac Watches

Amy Shroff stays close during our photoshoot in the space’s sumptuous library and lounge – ideal for companies to hire for their own sessions – and ably fulfils her role as Head of Creative by suggesting how her husband should pose and smile. “The whole idea of Banyan Workspace is to come to work with a smile,” he says with gusto. “It’s always a first-name basis here with an enthusiastic good morning and/or hello. We strive to provide a comfortable working environment that feels like it’s a home.”

Apple and the tree

Rasheed Shroff’s family has long been recognised in the city. His grandfather fled from Shanghai with his family during the Second World War, beginning a profound bond with Hong Kong spanning four generations. His path of success left an indelible mark on the commercial landscape and ultimately shaped the destiny of the family. For Rasheed personally, this meant a law degree at the University of Sussex in the UK, two decades in the brand and marketing corporate world, then co-founding his own brand- distribution company, Dragonfly Asia-Pacific, the year before Banyan Workspace was born.

Knitwear top by ZEGNA and Alpha wool-twill suit jacket and trousers by SANDRO

“We call it Banyan Workspace for a couple of reasons,” he says. “Banyan trees were historical places where merchants traded goods while traversing the old Silk Road. Both my grandfather and father ran a trading company which started with sourcing silks in China and shipping them to India, so we thought that was very analogous to us.”

Sustainable force

As a true-blooded Hong Konger with deep roots in and love of his birthplace, Shroff not only showcases the city’s spirit through the design of the co-working space but also embraces a noble cause – giving back to the community. They have officially partnered with five local non-profit organisations to date.

Companies have been drawn to the allure of the space for their offsite meetings and events, captivated by a sustainable luxury office that seems to defy convention. This served as the catalyst for the Green Office Project in 2022, a Banyan Workspace undertaking that encourages companies to embrace sustainability.

“Its purpose evolved beyond a mere educational initiative,” he explains. “This project is for companies to understand the consequences of the decisions they make every day, and to show decision-makers that viewing each decision through a sustainability lens is good for their company, their customers, their business and our planet. We would love to take our impact beyond the four walls of our workspace and inspire and support the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

Words to work by

Shroff also possesses a rare sense of discipline and drive for perfection, qualities that were born perhaps of his awareness that he has a name to live up to. In the corner of the office pantry, three placards hang on a rattan board: ‘Inspire Impact, Engage Minds, Transform Action.’

He adds: “It’s absolutely critical to be in an environment that you are comfortable in and that is conducive to being as productive as you can be. This is not about the set-up, though obviously it’s important that the technology works, whether that be the wifi, the printer or the lights.”

50 and beyond

He is entering his sixth decade and a new phase of life, but behind a youthful visage that only shows wear when a smile draws minuscule wrinkles around his brow, his humility and his honesty are what shine the most.

“Almost every interaction is an opportunity to learn and develop. The key is staying humble, being open to learning, growing, developing and being self-aware,” he says. “Setting up two distinct businesses across three countries is probably my most significant achievement career-wise. But honestly, I don’t feel we have accomplished what we set out to do yet. I am cautiously optimistic about what 2024 will bring.”

Settled into an equilibrium, Shroff appears to have a genuine enjoyment of his place in the ecosystem. His most overwhelming and rewarding job seems to be as a family man – a husband and a father of two. “Parenthood is a gift, but it is also something that nothing can prepare you for,” he shares. “It makes you want to be better and show your kids the very best that you can be, while striving to give them every opportunity to become the best version of themselves.”

Valuable support

He adds with a knowing wink: “But the young need to make their own mistakes and learn from them – finding that balance is not always very easy. My parents always encouraged us to work hard and play hard. I worked hard yes, but I played harder! “My family as well as my team are an incredible support system and they allow me to do everything that I love to do. Nothing that I do today would be possible without them,” he confesses.

It was the desire to give every child the support system they deserve that saw Shroff accept an invitation to sit on the global board of OneSky, an NGO providing early childhood care and safety environments for vulnerable children.

Space, the future frontier

There is an earnest, sometimes quivering sense of excitement in his voice when he discusses what lies ahead. His mindset retains an ethos that anything is possible. Sustainability has been a core value of the co-working movement since its inception, and while this commitment is not always easy, it is a crucial step towards creating a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

“I firmly believe that resiliency is one of the most important qualities an entrepreneur needs to have,” he stresses. “The last few years have certainly taught me that being resilient, staying in the game and putting one foot in front of the other is the only way to progress.”

Ultimately, the right blend of autonomy, resources and community lies at the heart of an empowered and happy team — one that wants to come to work, wherever that happens to be.

Interview, Text & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: Banyan Workspace Brands: Emporio Armani, ZEGNA and SANDRO Cover: Chore jacket by ZEGNA, Neil cotton-twill suit pants by IRO and shoes by ZEGNA

Digital Daring: Financial maestro Sean Hung, CEO of Chiron Group, is steering a blockchain future

Sean Hung grew up in a family where finance was a natural subject of conversation around the dinner table. Both his parents were finance professionals, so dealing with numbers and financial information is embedded in his DNA, and from an early age this was his most likely future direction.

A career in finance subsequently blossomed, perhaps because he always seeks the next challenge, the next opportunity. Still young and fresh-faced, and never happy to rest on his laurels, he is now a big player in the digital assets industry as co-founder and CEO of Chiron Group.

Hung attended St Joseph’s College, a prestigious all-boys Catholic school in Hong Kong, before heading to the US to study for a double major in finance and marketing at Bryant University in Rhode Island, then an MBA at Boston’s Northeastern University. These enjoyable years on the East Coast led him to believe the US education system provides more opportunities to “think outside the box”.

More specifically, his degree helped him understand how businesses work. “You can’t do business without knowing the numbers, but just knowing the numbers without knowing how to push a product to market is also meaningless,” he observes.

Challenge-driven

Having completed his education, he stayed in Boston and joined Wellington Management, one of the world’s largest privately held asset managers, as an analyst in 2013. Though the experience was useful, he found his role in asset management – the traditional buy-side – a bit too slow-paced for his liking.

Spurred by a courageous character trait of continuously breaking out of his comfort zone, Hung switched continents in 2015 and flipped to the other side of the financial coin – the sell-side – in the guise of Cantor Fitzgerald in Hong Kong. Here, in high-pressure investment banking, results were everything and he thrived on the challenge.

As a director on the debt capital markets and special situations team, he relished the chance to meet so many interesting people and the faster pace of Hong Kong life, commenting: “It really rewards hard work and people who are trying to build a business for themselves.”

People-oriented

Connecting the dots between buyers and sellers, structuring unique deals, having to perform under pressure – all of this brought out the best in him. “It’s very difficult to convince people that you’re building a business without results,” he says. “It really drives you to do more than what you would normally comfortably do.”

A talkative and convivial young man, Hung became mindful of not just being results-driven in banking; he wanted to nurture long-lasting relationships forged through being genuine, irrespective of whether someone became a client or not. “Most business does not happen if it is purely transactional,” he shares. “By building these long-lasting relationships, even if business comes later, it comes naturally.”

Crypto calling

Hung could have stayed on in banking, but again some internal alarm bell told him to branch out into a brave new world. He saw “higher growth opportunities” elsewhere, especially in the crypto market – a digital innovation he had observed from an outside perspective for several years, but became determined to master by working on the inside.

Leaving Cantor Fitzgerald at the end of 2018, he was invited to join a team of 10 and build a startup called Diginex, whose aim was to create one of the first institutional crypto exchanges. He also served as director of a sister company, Diginex Solutions, which focused on blockchain ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) solutions to the problem of investors finding it difficult to verify the ESG metrics reported by companies.

“Blockchain, due to its immutable and transparent nature, adds credibility to the data being consumed by investors,” says Hung, who believes ESG-related investing is a global trend that will sustain through the foreseeable future.

New asset class

Once their digital assets exchange was listed on Nasdaq in 2020, Hung decided to exit and seek pastures new yet again. With a few partners, he set up Chiron Group to focus on investing and growing businesses in the burgeoning digital assets field. Aside from investing in high-growth, early-stage projects, Chiron also eyes more stable, later-stage digital-asset infrastructure companies such as those in the trading, media and software sectors.

“As an investor, we like to take an active role in the company, taking on board seats or advisory roles, to make sure we are able to help drive certain business decisions for our portfolio,” says Hung.

He believes investing in a comprehensive range of players in the crypto field means companies can tap into a broad skill set and would be more amenable to receiving investment. “We can provide you support from the media arm; we can provide you support from liquidity perspective and so on,” he adds.

Bad actors

Of course, cryptocurrencies and the digital assets industry itself have gone through a torrid time recently, but Hung is undeterred. He comments: “It is undeniable that during the early stages of the digital assets, there were a lot of bad players as it was an unregulated field. That’s why it’s especially important for us as investors to be diligent and identify who are the real players.”

One bright spot of scandals like the bankruptcy of FTX and Three Arrows Capital crash is, he says, an acceleration in the onset of regulation around the world. This can only benefit the digital assets industry, especially given that many investors are scared of its opaqueness.

“Without regulation, digital assets will always exist in the dark and traditional investors will remain sceptical about the asset class. It also bars all the major traditional finance institutions from investing in it due to compliance concerns,” he notes.

Gaming insights

Undoubtedly a driven person, Hung is also a family man who cherishes his weekend downtime. Gaming has always been a big part of his life, and these days his two children sit with him as he follows his favourite esports teams. “Esports will be such a natural form of entertainment for my kids growing up so they won’t have second thoughts about them,” he opines.

Such is his love for video games that he has started to invest in promising and growing gaming companies and actively seeks to serve on their advisory boards. Hung intends to bring more value to these companies through his expertise in capital markets.

One such venture – Insights.gg – is a software company that serves the esports community by recording and analysing gameplay through computer vision and AI. “Imagine an automated analyst that allows individual players and coaches to make better decisions on how to better their game strategy and gameplay mechanics,” he says excitedly of a future digital world he is helping to shape.

Fashion Conscience: Vipop founder Lenia Pérez radiates sustainability vibes while joyfully revealing her second pregnancy

Lenia Pérez is one of the best-dressed women in the city, in part because she’s so willing to try everything. “I’ve prepared a total of 19 outfits for us to play around with, but I’m not sure if some of them still fit me,” laughs the Latin American fashion entrepreneur, rubbing her four-month baby bump with just a slight touch of embarrassment.

It’s an unconventional pregnancy announcement – and a surprising moment of awkwardness for someone who photographs so well and telegraphs such confidence. Whether she’s going to the gym or the hottest parties, her style is obsessively chronicled.

Embarrassment, though, is different from regret. “I’m never afraid to try anything,” affirms Pérez, who is thrilled to be expecting her second child with husband Ziad Korban. “I think that just goes to show that there’s a moving evolution in my style. It just keeps growing” – like her baby bump – “which is kind of how I want to be in all areas of life.”

Black Flora Deep V Maxi Dress by Daniella Batlle Earrings by Vipop

It takes a certain sort of boldness and a certain level of shimmering magnitude to establish your own time zone, especially while being pregnant. Yet the co-founder and CEO of Vipop, a Hong Kong-based sustainable fashion brand, has done just that. It’s exactly 8:45 am on a typical Hong Kong gloomy Monday, yet Pérez is all set for a day of photoshoot and interview. Her ease and her vibrant full smile suggest this is all very normal and time really is just a construct.

From the get-go, she also expresses her opinion on maternity wear: “I’m hoping that we are able to redefine what’s considered ‘decent’ for pregnant women. I am proud of my body for the amazing things it’s doing right now. Minus the morning sickness, I think I am at my happiest. Heels during pregnancy? Go for it. Who made such rules anyways?”

Sustainable values

As a self-confessed collector, Pérez travels to fashion shows across South and Central America in search of resort-wear designers to represent, pinpointing those whom she believes will appeal to Asian customers. What started as an internet business with co-founder and fellow Venezuelan Fabiana González, now occupies a cosy white shop called Artezano by Vipop and is reaching customers in the US and Europe.

Her parents are artisans, so she has always liked fashion and handicrafts. Additionally, clothing created by Latin American designers, who historically use sustainable weaving and dyeing methods, felt appropriate for a market where ethical consciousness is growing in importance.

Red Percy Dress by Palma Canaria

“Vipop brings together a community of international designers making bags, jewellery and clothing in unique designs like the ones I’m wearing,” she says. “Our designers take care of the ethical or eco-friendly values behind the pieces and we also take care of the value of each piece. So it’s this community we’re building in the new fashion industry. We’re offering new ways to be sustainable. It’s not just ‘sustainable’; it can be very fun too.”

Vipop builds partnerships based on sustainability practice. Designers and collaborators are chosen by the effort they put into one or more of the following clean fashion criteria: handmade, locally produced, carbon neutral, use of vegan or organic materials, low waste, longevity, recycled materials and fair wage.

Damage limitation

“It’s very important to put attention to how the pieces we buy are actually made, who is making them and how it affects our environment, the community around us and the planet, because we can see so much damage in the world from the fashion industry. This is something very special for me and all the team, and this is why we selected this subject to build a fashion brand and e-commerce platform.”

Black Cher dress cut pleated skirt with top by Nabel Martins

This combination of focused strategy with faith in humanity and the occasional flight of fancy seems a winning formula, especially when matched by an unstinting gusto for whatever challenges her fashion career or an impending new addition to the family will throw at her.

Calming vibes

Despite her hypermodern appearance, not to mention the permanent arts on her skin, her style is very traditional. As seen on her Instagram, whether it’s a friend’s wedding or a trip abroad, she creates distinct ‘vibes’ (to use her favourite phrase) for each occasion. Indeed, her process is true fashion-icon behaviour.

“We’re still right on time. I cannot emphasise more the importance of working with the right people. It will really get the job done and produce output that you want to have,” she reflects as she changes for look no.9.

Pérez seems unfazed by the fame in the fashion world she is currently experiencing. She is seemingly without ego: calm and reflective with a slightly starry professional glow that makes her the ability to inhabit someone else’s mind look easy. During and in between takes, she is compellingly unselfconscious.

“But that’s the work of it,” she shares. “In reality, you have to be aware of what you’re feeling, what the team in the room is feeling. Once the camera clicks, you have this third level of awareness – your mark, the light and which way you should be facing. And it’s like you are constantly having to juggle those three things the whole time. She pauses and adds knowingly: “Pretty much like pregnancy huh?”

Dressed to express

Fashion for her is about the moments of pure enjoyment, of just letting go to the point that she can be surprised. It represents the most acute version of fun. “Which is why I love it so much. It’s my playground. I love it,” she admits giddily.

Emiliana pants and bared back top in paillette by Nabel Martins

“Clothes allow us to show off our unique personalities. Many of us care about how we seem in public, which is cool and just right. But some of us experience pressure to follow the newest trends in fashion,” she reminds, throwing in a note of caution.

Mother load

One trend she is happy to embrace is her pregnancy. These days, the word ‘Mother’, without the preceding article, is present everywhere, as not just a regular word but a colloquial term and part of this generation’s slang; fans, brands and occasionally even mums themselves use it. It is also affectionately applied to prominent women who have a devoted following. And Pérez is surely mothering the fashion game.

Blue one sleeve cut out dress by Baobab Accessories by Vipop

“My body is going through so many changes again, but I ’ve grown to respect it so much that I look past the physical. I fully embrace it for serving a much deeper purpose, something far bigger than myself and anything I ever gave it credit for. I’m so grateful for, and amazed by, what my body is capable of,” she states, flashing a smile.

At the end of our shoot, she swaps her stilettos for platformed boots, saying with a wink: “It’s time to be more comfortable.” Whatever tomorrow brings, Lenia Pérez will have the right attitude – and look – to take it on.

Interview, Text & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: Qura Bar – Regent Hong Kong Brands: Daniella Batlle, Baobab, Nabel Martins and Vipop

Madam Butterflies: Novel Fineries’ founder June Lau frames fading art heritage into new glories

First, she won a scholarship to study product design engineering at Loughborough University in England, and it was there that she tasted early success – landing a James Dyson Foundation bursary to help get the medical device she conceived up and running. Having founded a product design consultancy, Above Blue Design, back in Hong Kong in 2015, her wearable art company, Novel Fineries, sprang into life the following year after she won a design competition held by luxury retailer Lane Crawford.

The Novel Fineries flagship store is now ensconced in a wing of the luxurious Peninsula Hotel, from where she talks animatedly about how her roots nurtured her love for the beauty and aesthetics of products and accessories.

Sleep saver

That Lau has achieved so much just a decade out of university is perhaps down to oodles of self- confidence, which she attributes to going off to boarding school aged just eight. She believes the experience toughened her up.

At Loughborough, she learnt how to design products as a whole, from coding the internal electronics, to building mould tools for mass production, to learning about aesthetics and the research process. Flashing one of her radiant smiles, she admits that possibly part of the attraction of this career was wanting to “save the world” with her designs. Her award-winning final- year design project was a product that positively conditions people with severe eczema not to scratch during sleep.

Design over fashion

Emanating verve and fresh elegance in a fetching green outfit, the youthful entrepreneur describes herself as a “go-getter” who loves to travel and absorb other cultures as she knows this is potentially a rich seam of artistic creativity.

Born in New York City and educated in the UK, Lau has done fashion-design jobs around the world, but found the fashion lifecycle too short and not sustainable; the lure of product design was more compelling.

After graduation, she returned to her family roots in Hong Kong. Within a couple of years, she was teaching CAD (computer-aided design) while working part-time with Above Blue, designing products for big brands as well as startups.

Art in the pocket

It was her independent-minded spirit and willingness to explore new artistic avenues ingrained since childhood that played a massive part in her big breakthrough – the creation of Novel Fineries.

At the time she was travelling to China a lot to visit factories. “One time in Suzhou, I saw a group of ladies on the side of the street doing double- sided embroidery and soon became friends with them,” she says, explaining that she was fascinated by the intricacy of their handiwork, a time-honoured technique that produces identical stitching strokes on both sides of the silk.

Thinking it would make an original gift for her then-boyfriend, she asked the women to make a piece in her own design. It featured butterflies in the form of pocket art.

Soon after, Lau sent these embroidered butterflies to the Lane Crawford Creative Call Out – a competition for young local designers. “We could go and pitch our product to the buyers and get a chance to be selected and sold in their stores,” she says. “I took along this pocket art and we won. And the next thing I know, they wanted to put our products in their stores and the Hong Kong government included us in design tradeshows abroad. So that was when Novel Fineries really started.”

Boyfriend butterflies

Each piece of her pocket art represents a butterfly species through the use of exquisite embroidery and the exact colour of paint, with every detail of the insect painstakingly replicated including the pattern of the veins and the velvety-fur textures on its wings. “Each species can only be produced once because the double-sided embroidery can only be done by one person, and I do the silk hand- painting myself,” she notes.

“To mimic the veins and transparency of the butterfly wings to the best of my ability, I studied to become a lepidopterist, learning where they feed and how they migrate. Each butterfly has its own origin story to share and its unique traits in nature.”

Novel Fineries’ first collection of Pocket Art spans 50 species of Amazonian butterflies. “I used to love the saying ‘You give me butterflies’ [when thinking of a loved one],” says Lau of their inspiration. “This is the whole concept of the pocket art. It is worn on the left-hand side of the suit over the heart. And so, as a gift, it’s a little resemblance of my love in a suit jacket.”

She regards Pocket Art as one of her best creations to date. “It is a piece that has no lifecycle, it follows no trend; it is a symbol of how Novel Fineries blossomed in colour and the finest materials,” she says.

It serves as a contemporary showcase for Su embroidery, a 2,000-year-old heritage art form originating from Suzhou, China, renowned for the elegance, rich colour and variety of its silk-thread stitching. This double-sided stitching process is also used for the Pin Art collection of handmade butterflies astride a gold pin that fastens behind the lapel.

Heritage mission

“China possesses so much knowledge and hidden artisans in heritage art forms and I became obsessed with searching for lost art and these people who mastered the craft,” says Lau, who reveals that 30 percent of the company’s profits is given to training the next generation of artisans.

In some ways, it has become her mission to preserve fading art forms around the world. “Each piece at Novel Fineries is a union of lost heritage craft integrated with my design ideas. Much of the craft we use is diminishing, lost even through time.”

Art and nature

All of Novel’s designs are handmade, handcrafted and unique. They are influenced by nature and integrate heritage art forms. “The Obi Knot uses untouched silks from 200-300 years ago, the threads were hand-loomed and tied by Obi masters in Kyoto. The Serpentine Knot uses Italian leather-braiding techniques, and the fine jewellery is hand-carved from wax,” she says of her collections of bow ties and snake-head-tipped braids that can adorn the neck or waist.

Lau creates a world of beauty and magic that comes to life. She is particularly inspired by butterflies and snakes because they have the ability to morph and transform into a stronger self.

No doubt there are many more chapters of inspired creations to come from Novel Fineries. “Novel means a book, right? So, a book of many chapters, and in each chapter, we talk about a different heritage art form,” she states proudly. “I hope Novel Fineries is a storybook that brings joy to the people who read it and wear it.”

Interview and Text by: Neil Dolby Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: The Peninsula Boutique & Cafe Brands: Magda Butrym, Safiyaa, Chanel & Off-White

Peter Piper: PR visionary Peter Cheung is entrusted by the brands to lead them out of the box

It is nearing 1 pm at the Mandarin Oriental Tamar Suite. Peter Cheung has long since arisen and absorbed himself in the morning rituals of the modern CEO: email, energised with his go-to coffee, and in this instance, employing a full glam team to ready him for our cover shoot. He is a person who uses your first name in conversation. When he walks into a public space and sits down, no one scatters. He is very approachable, and one can easily sense the warmth and vibrancy of his personality, and his fondness for all things luxurious and glamorous.

“Hi! Nice to meet you all!” he cries, without glancing up, as he greets us midway through typing an email on his phone. Once done, he looks at us immediately, winning us over with a sincere smile of apology, and continues his breezy welcome: “Nice to meet you all. Do you like what I’m wearing? I’ve purposely chosen these looks for you guys. Where do we start?”

The man who is Peter Cheung Asia, the strategic marketing and communications consultancy, had a very colourful childhood, as he would describe it. The youngest of six children and the only boy in the Cheung legacy – he was born and raised in Hong Kong until his mother relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, where he became a competitive junior tennis player; at 16 he was ranked in the top 10 of under 18-year-olds in the province.

Gold tuxedo by Dries Van Noten

“It was my childhood dream to be a professional tennis player,” says Cheung. “Whenever we were back in Hong Kong, our parents would send us to the Hong Kong Country Club daily from 9 am to 9 pm. I fantasised I was an international tennis player, training at the Club by day and back to a five- star hotel at night. I really enjoyed my suite life.”

Safe to say, Peter is literally in the wealth of biographies and hagiography.

Cheer Leaders

His early teenage years, including being picked up nightly by his posse in a motorcade of chauffeur-driven cars to visit multiple hotspots, afforded him a glimpse of the luxury lifestyle. “Being here every summer in the most decadent times of the late ’80s and early ’90s, it became my mission to return permanently to the only place that I could only live that dream life – Hong Kong,” he says.

Once back, early stints in fashion merchandising and media led to senior PR roles at Sotheby’s, Dior, Versace and Van Cleef & Arpels. His father, a successful entrepreneur in the insurance field, was his most trusted adviser, even though the paths they trod in life couldn’t have been more different.

Shiny black jacquard funnel neck cape coat with padded hem and cuffs by Barney Cheng Couture

“I sought his advice always and I never made a professional move without discussing it with him,” says Cheung. “And he always said to me, you know what? You help the brands, you help your bosses, why don’t you help yourself and be your own boss? He was definitely my biggest inspiration to start my own business.”

On the other hand, his mother was his inspiration for fashion and style. His appreciation of clothes, jewellery and aesthetics from a very young age stemmed from her. “She had this amazing personality, character, beauty and style in that Shanghainese chic of a bygone era,” he shares.

“My parents, together with my five sisters and my friends have shaped me into what I am today. Shoutout to you all!” he cheers from the suite’s velvet couch.

Outside the Box

Peter still sometimes channels the kid from Canada that he once was: slightly wide-eyed and a little surprised to find himself as a marketing trailblazer in the region, more influential than most nine-to-five bankers. He defends his record as a creative leader in his own right and he elaborates on how he deals with his rivals and competitors.

“If my father did not put it on the table, I don’t know what I would be doing today. He made me realise I was in a unique position with my background, experience and expertise in that I worked in multiple product segments,” he explains. “This position is what I think sets Peter Cheung Asia apart from traditional agencies.

Black sequined jacket by Barney Cheng Couture

“We are a strategic consultancy offering unparalleled experience and strategies in marketing and communications services on a variety of luxury levels for developing strategies that are unique, creative, out of the box, surprising, in an ever-changing and competitive industry, but stemming from the unique and invaluable experiences through my now nearly 30 years of expertise, network and know-how.”

A natural affinity for beautiful things and love of the natural world makes him a credible messenger for a values-led company. Even as Cheung has reshaped the marketing business, he is reluctant to supply a list of his own creative achievements with the company he launched in 2015. These include steering clients in the fields of fashion, jewellery and watches, expanding into the hospitality industry (maybe inspired by the prodigal son of hotels), media, art and culture and education, and offering skills and time to several nonprofit organisations and charities.

Power Forward

His wavy silver hair is neatly maintained – oftentimes blown by the wind as he poses for the camera. He is wearing an all-black ensemble, with glittering studs and sequins from top to toe. His perception of himself, with the position he has achieved in life, remains anything but simple.

“I’ve been described as a lot of things, but probably normal is not among those. I love having ‘crazy’ ideas. What is most exciting is having an original idea, something very abstract in the beginning, and to be able to hone it, work with it, shape it, edit, add or subtract elements, evolve it, looking at it comprehensively from every angle, and then to be able to launch this idea, by now a solid strategic plan, put it in motion with maximum impact and energy, with hopefully successful results and impeccable timing, and to see something concrete come into fruition,” he says, all in one breath with a deep sigh at the end.

Jacquard and embroidered gold coat by Dries Van Noten

“Was that too much? In life, there’s nothing too much. As they say, there’s always more to life.”

And the future is complicated. Today, Peter Cheung Asia is a dominant marketing company in Hong Kong, having emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed and prosperous, and also at a crossroads: perpetually on the brink of the discovery that will change the PR dynamic again, while at the same time fending off constant challenges to its existing business.

“We don’t really look back very much at all in history,” he says. “We’re always focused on the future and trying to feel like that, we’re very much at that starting line where you can really dream and have big ideas that are not constrained by the past.”

Clearly, as the visionary that he is, Cheung has the knack of turning doubters into followers and further emboldening his daring creativity through an innate curiosity about, and connection with, people and society. As we near the conclusion of our time together, an oscillating net of polite communications folks leading the way, he exchanges hellos, sorrys and thank yous with whomever we pass and are temporarily blocked because of our photoshoot. He makes this a habit, always acknowledging the goodness in people.

We pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne and raise a glass to a smooth afternoon’s work. His next move? Anywhere the wind blows.

Interview, Text & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong Brands: Barney Cheng Couture and Dries Van Noten Cover: Black silk organza multilayer cheongsam with gold thread Chinese pine tree motif hand embroidered embellishment by Barney Cheng Couture

Coaching Class: Mentoring maestro David Yeh Jr sets the businesses of other prominent families to rights

David Yeh Jr is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his executive coaching business that is undoubtedly a labour of love. He thrives on helping others and gains immense pleasure from what he does. “I hope I can continue what I do until the very last day of my life,” says the CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) of Destiny Research Institute (DRI). “It will be meaningful if I can continue to serve mankind and help more people to achieve what they want in life.”

Yeh leads a dedicated team of corporate and wellness coaches. Speaking from the DRI office in Central, he clearly exudes a sense of pride in helping family firms and other businesses overcome a range of difficulties so they can confidently look to the future. Over the years, he has mentored and coached numerous – and sometimes long-time – clients who value the services he provides; much of his business is based on referrals.

Prior to founding DRI, Yeh had a diverse business background, mainly working in finance, investment and wealth management. Initially, after gaining a business administration degree from the University of Southern California, he worked for his father’s toy manufacturing company in a marketing capacity and the tough love from his father and general life experiences have helped mould his character and define who he is.

Junior role

Yeh Jr’s relationship with his father was difficult at times, and he freely admits he went through a “rebellious” phase, but he is obviously exceedingly proud of his father’s business achievements. He talks animatedly of how, in the 1980s, David Yeh Sr rescued beloved UK toy-car brand Matchbox from bankruptcy in a leveraged buyout and then masterminded an amazing turnaround in its fortunes and a landmark listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

It was this business acumen that the son sought to emulate, and he was eager to soak up knowledge and experience by working alongside his father at Universal Toys. As the eldest of four siblings, he had thought in the Chinese family business tradition that he would one day take over the reins himself. But Yeh Sr was a tough taskmaster and never allowed family loyalties to get in the way of sound business judgment.

Father knows best

Yeh recounts a fascinating anecdote – one he often tells at business functions – how early one Saturday morning, his father awoke him in his room in New York and took him to a huge skyscraper on Fifth Avenue. As they ascended in the lift, the son remained completely in the dark as to what was going on. The lift opened and there stood about 20 professionals in suits.

“I assumed they were lawyers and accountants, so I asked ‘what’s going on?’ My Dad – calling me Junior as he normally did – said, ‘Junior, I want to merge my company with another listed company.’ To which I replied, ‘Why on earth do you want to do that?’”

The youngster was then shocked by his father’s response: “In front of everybody, he said, ‘Junior, if I allow you to run this business, in six to nine months’ time it will be going under!’

“So imagine you are a 20-year-old and hear something like that from your own father whom you admire so much,” says Yeh. “This is pretty hurtful and it’s very hard.”

Personal growth

The humiliating experience remains seared into Yeh’s consciousness, but he did glean some long-term benefits from it. “That’s where I learned so much about family conflict and how to find a suitable and viable exit strategy for any kind of business,” he says. “That set the foundation to do what I do today.”

Although his relationship with his father, who passed away two years ago at the age of 93, was a ittle strained for a while afterwards, Yeh regards him as his hero. He still treasures his father’s wise counsel and many letters over the years offering words of wisdom.

Another defining moment for Yeh was a time of great personal loss and sadness that made him reflect on the truly important things in life. It was then that he decided to set up his coaching enterprise.

“I wanted to leverage my knowledge and skills to help business owners, in particular family-business owners, to navigate complex business environments and unlock their leadership potential,” he explains.

Having attended a host of business courses over the years, he cites Tony Robbins’ Date with Destiny as perhaps the most impactful. “It helped us to dig deep into understanding ourselves so we can understand more about what is really happening in the external world,” he says.

Family misfortunes

He describes three typical situations a family business would seek the advice of his consultancy: when there are deep-rooted conflicts among family members they cannot resolve themselves; when a previously successful business model is no longer working or struggling to gel with the current generation; and when future generations don’t want to be involved with the business and Next Gen leaders from outside the family need grooming.

Within a family business environment there is sometimes an “unspoken” issue which family members are reluctant to talk about. “We call them ‘the elephant in the room’,” he says.

Yeh maintains it is essential a potential client has full cognition of the issues confronting the business if success is to be achieved. “The key driver is whether a client is aware of the prominence of the issue they are encountering before it gets out of hand and problems begin to erupt,” he explains.

Calls for help

Another important requirement is the need to develop mutual respect and trust. “Not everyone is suitable or ready for coaching. As the famous ‘Trillion-Dollar Coach’ Bill Campbell has mentioned – not everyone is coachable. When we approach somebody, we have to know whether that person is coachable or not.”

He describes a coachable person as someone who is open-minded and willing to express themselves and disclose their own difficulties. “If I think that person is coachable, we have a much better chance in attaining positive results and being able to help them reflect on what has to be done for their future and for us,” says Yeh.

Succession and success

Succession planning is a core strength of his consultancy. “Our coaching methodology has an all-rounded approach, and different elements of life would be touched upon. In essence, these should all be correlated with a person’s mind map. Our goal is help to connect all the factors and guide our clients into steering their business path to success with well-planned succession.”

He believes companies should always continue to develop their staff. “To make this work, our target audience needs to believe continuous growth and learning are essential for themselves and their business to emerge in this dynamic changing world.”

Photographer: Jack Law; Art Direction: Joseff Musa; Videographer: Jack Fontanilla

Harvest Queen: Every day is bountiful for tireless PR maven and sports mentor Esther Ma

Esther Ma makes her entrance at one of her favourite Chinese restaurants so quickly and quietly that few realise she has arrived until she is tucked away in our makeshift dressing room. Rocking black from head to toe, she appears almost to the minute of our agreed call time – a rare feat for personalities of her stature.

“I was just built like this; discipline has always been with me, especially with time,” she says. “I always make sure that every minute of the day is used to good purpose.” Flashing a brilliant smile as she hangs up her clothes and lays out her accessories and makeup, she adds: “I do my cardio religiously first thing in the morning – I guess this is what makes me feel young, energetic and alive.”

Esther Ma is best known as the PR genius behind Prestique, an agency she created almost 30 years ago that has represented, practically from A to Z, the world’s leading names. In fact, she wrote a book on the subject – one of five she has penned – called, simply, The A to Z of PR. She also co-founded Harvest Sky in 2016 with her husband, Harvey Lee and good friend Christina Gaw. The sports management company takes care of 30 of Hong Kong’s best athletes, including Olympians and Asian Games medallists, in a venture that leverages her long-held passion for branding and mentoring.

With all her strengths reflected in an impressive resume of professional projects that distinguishes her colourful career in PR and marketing, one can’t help but wonder what, if anything, is Ma’s weakness? “My daughters. I definitely give in to my daughters,” she answers sincerely. “On one hand I do things to inspire them; on the other hand I let them manipulate me.” She and Lee have two teenage daughters who are both attending boarding school in the U.S.

Then, switching almost instantly to laughter, she says: “I don’t know. Is it wishful thinking that I still hope they will take over my business by the time I retire? I really hope so. But see, as a parent, our job is to support them whatever their dreams may be. So I won’t pressure them to become my corporate successors. I want them to pursue their real passions.”

Middle Riddle

As the only girl and middle child in a traditional Chinese family, Esther had to be self-sufficient to become the woman she is today. Born in Hong Kong and raised in a Christian household by parents who were doctors, she quickly learned to negotiate a very rigid living environment.

“At home, it was all about having proper etiquette. After dinner, I would go straight to my room to do more studying. I know this is weird to hear now, but back in the day, only my two brothers had tutors. I didn’t. I excelled academically on my own,” she confesses.

“Whereas at school, it was a totally different story. I always found school to be an escapade, like the fun haven that I escaped to. Sometimes I can be very mischievous – it’s kind of like a therapeutic outlet for me.”

It is a Ma signature to deliver telling insights in a self-deprecating package. But press a little and she states plainly what her legacy will be. “Confidence and self-belief,” she says. “Even during my formative years, I made my own decisions without consulting my busy parents. Is it a middle-child thing? Maybe. But I guess it all worked out in the end for me.” She laughs: “Even when I applied to boarding schools and universities, I only told my parents that I got in because I needed their financial assistance. I never discussed my school list with them”.

Her Cup of Tea

Creativity is the very essence of her being and it extends to using a teacup to hold a mirror she needs while doing her own makeup. Multitasking as ever, she recounts her success story in the world of PR. Initially, she worked at an investment bank in New York after gaining an economics degree from the University of California, Berkeley. However, the long hours and number-crunching didn’t inspire her to continue along this path.

“I worked 16 hours every day. So one day I just said I had enough of this. I took the subway to Columbia Business School and talked to the admissions director. I told her I really wanted to switch careers and I didn’t think finance was my cup of tea. And given that I’m such a personable girl, I really wanted to get into something more related to human connections and interpersonal relations.”

She took an MBA in management and marketing at Columbia and then she got herself a summer internship with Procter & Gamble. Winning them over, she was offered a permanent position in Hong Kong and was assigned to lead a Japanese beauty brand called SK-II. That was when P&G bought over Max Factor and the brand was renamed SK-II.

“That job required a lot of PR skills,” she recalls. “I was so excited to write press releases and come up with gimmicky, creative ideas for the campaign. I had to train the team and I really loved it. I was very proud to be called ‘the woman behind SK-II’ and ended up receiving the Regional SK-II Brand-Building Award from Procter & Gamble.”

Additionally, she co-chaired the Women’s Committee at the Columbia Business School and built a fundraiser for the Pan-Asian confererence room at the new campus.

Spin to Win

As Ma’s career evolved, so did her interests. As she is a self-taught interior designer and cook, she designed her own ‘Harvest Menu’ – a play on the couple’s first names, Harvey and Esther – and is an avid golfer, a singer and an art lover among many other hobbies. She spins the lazy Susan on the table as a means to explain how she finds the time for the multiple accomplishments and diversions in life. Mimicking selecting dim-sum delicacies from the turntable, she elaborates on the rewards of doing so much.

“Balance and time management! You have to find your balance and prioritise. This is explained in my book Harvest of the 7 Human Vines,” she says. “Similar to having different dishes, you just have to keep on spinning it all the time to make room (and time) for each one. Family, career, hobbies, spiritual, personal – all of it. Have a little bit of everything. With this kind of purposeful mentality, none of my dishes will ever be empty.”

Although she constantly replenishes the bowl of life, she is still hungry for more. “For me, it’s that inner drive to live a fulfilling and purpose-driven life,” she adds.

Asked which rule she would secretly love to break, she draws a final metaphor of life and sports. “I think every golfer should be given two free mulligans on every hole. You can play another tee shot, because sometimes, you know, people should be given a second chance, so they don’t repeat the same mistake,” she explains.

It would be easy to assume a confidence like Ma’s is innate, but that would be a disservice to the maternal side of her character that has matured over the years. It enters the scene as soon as the interview ends: “Should I get some food for all of us? The dim sum here is fantastic. Let’s eat together; I’m starving!”

Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa; Photographer: Jack Law; Videographer: Jack Fontanilla; Venue: The Summit; Brands: Shiatzy Chen, Versace & Chloe; Cover: Black shirt and black skirt by Versace, Purple fur edge coat by Shiatzy Chen

Financial Fair Play: Whether metals, forex or other financial products, investment guru Sam Kima values integrity above all

Sam Kima is proud to have developed a rewarding career in the finance industry, a field he was encouraged to enter following advice from his father in the early 1990s. He comes across as modest and sincere, though delight in his achievements is evident on a wall of his office filled with certificates spotlighting his proficiency to trade in the markets.

“I’m still thriving in this career after more than three decades, winning accolades, awards, spanning Asia to Europe,” he says, indicating a further shelf packed full of trophies highlighting his business success.

Kima established Sam’s Investment Office in London in 2015, and also plays a huge role in sales and marketing as senior vice-president of First Gold. Jakarta-based PT Cyber Futures Indonesia, which specialises in forex, gold and derivative instruments, is another company that banks upon his expertise. He is also a professional senior analyst working under TraderHub Jakarta.

His formative years undoubtedly gave him an international outlook highly suited to the world of finance. Born in Hong Kong and further raised in California, he went on to study at the London School of Economics. He now spends his time shuttling between Hong Kong and Indonesia as well as Europe and Los Angeles, which he describes as his second home. He converses with a slight American twang, and with his strong physical presence, he easily commands attention when he articulates sentences in a deep, booming voice.

Carnegie confidence

Perhaps this innate ability to fill a room with his presence stems from the Dale Carnegie training he undertook at the outset of his burgeoning career. It was a decision that helped him achieve a better life. “Dale Carnegie is super amazing,” he says. “It has considerably influenced me on how to deal with people, colleagues, friends and clients. It guides you to be a smarter person with integrity and morality.”

He believes such training is all-important when developing a career in a people-centred occupation like finance, and credits the course with nurturing a whole raft of skills. “It develops communication, confidence, problem-solving, emotional intelligence and self-awareness,” he says.

Caring spirit

A sense of integrity is also fundamental to Kima’s attitude to work and his desire to partake in community service. For instance, every Tuesday he volunteers together with a group of influential community leaders to help serve food to more than 500 impoverished elderly people in Hong Kong. He believes these kinds of activities make someone a more positive person with other knock-on effects: “The better your character traits mesh with your career, the more productive and positive your job performance will be.”

He also reveals that he is a passionate believer in self-care and investing in activities that nurture body and mind. “This is not in a selfish way,” he adds.

Hungry for more

Kima likes to set and achieve goals, and his early banking career was spent mastering economic fundamentals like how technical charts play a big role in clients’ decision-making, and how various financial products, forex, gold and silver fluctuate according to data and news. He thrived on the adrenaline rush, constantly learning about the markets, and this made him hungry. “It is an amazing field and I loved what I experienced and was doing,” he recalls of the time.

This hunger has stayed with him. One can sense he is constantly checking the newswires to sense the market direction. The day of our meeting was soon after the terrible events in Israel and he noted a flight to the dollar as investors sought security in an uncertain world.

The fear factor

Shifting assets to the security of gold is another phenomenon in turbulent times, especially when the fear of inflation is pervasive. “As inflation occurs, investors increasingly turn to gold as a hedge, driving demand and price upwards,” he explains.

His team is part of a tightly interconnected network spanning Australia, Indonesia, the UK and Hong Kong in the rapidly developing investment brokerage field. Live analysis reports by their expert advisors on their state-of-the-art 24-hour trading platform can be the difference between clients making a profit or loss in the most lucrative forex and precious metals markets, according to Kima. He also states they can offer the most competitive spreads and that industry leaders from the Asia-Pacific region turn to his team for their wealth management and analysis reports.

Internet immediacy

He believes one of the main reasons why gold and forex investing is so easy – and attractive – is its accessibility. “Anyone with an internet connection and a computer or mobile device can access the market. Forex and gold brokers provide traders with trading platforms that allow them to buy and sell currencies, view charts and access real-time analysis and news,” he says.

His services aim to reduce the time it takes for an order to be routed to the servers for execution, something known as latency. “The high liquidity of forex and gold means that transactions can be completed quickly and easily, and that spreads are often very tight – meaning the underlying market price won’t have to make a significant positive move in order for your trade to be profitable,” he says.

Get-rich-quick worry

As he sits in his office in front of a shelf crammed with a bust of Mao Zedong, beautiful Chinese figurines and a lovely model of a traditional sailing boat, he talks earnestly about the dangers of naive and small investors who do not do their homework before putting their savings into investment vehicles. He is acutely aware that the reputation of the financial sector has taken a battering over recent years, and passionately believes that credibility is all-important when dealing in finance. Indeed, he reveals that he did an interview warning of the dangers of cryptocurrency just prior to the great unravelling.

He fears inexperienced investors post- Covid are exhibiting a dangerous get-rich-quick mentality, and perhaps with this concern in mind, he makes sure his investor clients first go through demo accounts to trade without using real money. “We must make sure that prospective clients are well educated about our markets and understand the fundamentals prior to putting funds in the real market,” he says.

Top track record

For our photo shoot, he dons an assortment of strikingly coloured suits, and there is certainly the showman side to his persona. In a wistful moment, he yearns for the return of the big pre-Covid society bashes. But he knows what traits are most important: “You will not find one bad review on a search engine about the companies I am involved with,” he reveals with immense pride.

“Integrity, loyalty, reviews, honesty and track records are the main ingredients and reasons for investing with us,” he adds.

Interview by: Neil Dolby Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla

Dream Reality: The TV show may have ended, but Deborah Valdez-Hung’s glitzy world is only getting bigger

Standing in the airy foyer of her Residence Bel-Air home, Deborah Valdez-Hung looks exactly like she does in the Netflix reality show Bling Empire: New York – better, actually. With her signature configuration of bronzer, highlighter, contouring, full red lips and skin-tight designer garb, the media star is a natural standout from the handful of staff in the room, or in any room, in fact. Surprisingly, she is softer and daintier in three dimensions than she is in two. If anything is true of Valdez-Hung, it is her endless talent for optical illusions and posing for the camera.

“Let’s get straight right into it?” she asks jokingly. “Welcome. Come right in. Feel free to roam around the house and see which location we should work on for the photos. Everything here is inspired by surrealism and avant-garde.”

She leads the way to a living room containing all things maximalist, from the blue dangling light fixtures to the red velvet walls and unconventionally heart-shaped couches. All these reflect the passionate nature the jetsetter has carried from her humble beginnings in the Mexican desert to the international cities and countries she now calls home from time to time.

Model mission

A former model herself, Valdez-Hung is the owner and chairperson of Dreamodels, one of the city’s and Asia’s premium full-service modelling agencies. She is also somewhat of an influencer, given her high position and glamorous, fast-paced lifestyle that whisks her to fashion shows and other events across the globe. It appears from her Instagram, which has 772,000 followers to date, that she is still modelling and rarely short of a prominent party or exotic location to pose at.

“I have been interested in fashion since I was young,” she shares while adding another row of bling around her neck. “I did not go to a fashion or design school, but my friends have a fondness for fashion, and from there, I learned about the construction of clothing. However, my interests were beyond that, to be completely honest. That’s why I decided to become a model. It is a very competitive industry and everything changes very fast. You have to be creative and daring.”

Food for thought

An employee offers a bottle of Coca-Cola in addition to the already massive spread of branded cookies and fresh fruits prepared for the day. One cannot help but wonder, is this a way to counter the famous scene in the pilot episode of Bling Empire: New York where she was accused of not serving any food? Maybe. Or maybe not. She confesses that she just enjoys food and snacking in general, contrary to what the majority of people might think of models’ dietary habits.

Laughing while munching on lychees, she says, nonchalance personified: “I knew this would be brought up. But yes, oh my gosh! I love snacking, especially at midnight.”

She’s svelte and looks fresher and more vulnerable than she does. From the word go, Deborah is unflinchingly honest and not afraid to tackle the heavy stuff. On the other hand, her beauty is both striking and earthy.

“Modelling was also an opportunity for me to travel the world. As a kid, and up to now, I am always amazed on how rich culture can be of a certain country. The modeling stint was offered to me, and looking back, I think it would be silly of me to pass on such great opportunity.”

Denting momentarily her ultra-glam image, she admits to preferring flats and sneakers to high heels especially since she is always on the go. Despite this assertion, her landscape is one populated by diamonds, private jets and rose bouquets larger than many studio apartments here. It’s a cross-platform, finely tuned optics juggernaut that requires constant maintenance and, she insists justifiably, a lot of work.

Legal aim

Before the Hong Kong socialite lifestyle and the reality TV fame, Valdez was a practising civil lawyer in Mexico and Europe.

“I decided to be a lawyer as I wanted to help people and to have a bigger purpose in life,” she shares. “But I was also heavily influenced by my father who also has a background in law. Growing up, I was always fascinated listening to his stories and work experiences.”

And in all business situations, her legal training and background is helpful. She launched Dreamodels in 2012, the same year of her marriage to wealthy and flamboyant Hong Kong businessman Stephen Hung, whom she also teasingly dubs as her number-one fan and social media manager.

“Is this pose okay? Try taking it from a top view,” she instructs of her husband who is snapping behind-the-scenes photos of our shoot to post on her Instagram account. “Humour and laughter are parts of our culture in Mexico. I think that’s what makes us unique.”

Animal magnetism

Other cherished members of the household are not to be left out.

“Chiquita! Tan Hermosa!” she coos in her most loving Mexican-Spanish lilt as her dogs scamper over to join her for a photo.

There’s no question that her grueling upkeep routine is working. On the topic of animals, whose rights she strongly advocates, she becomes emphatic. She is a fur mum to two Chihuahuas who own a bedroom and a closet of their own, and she enjoys playing dress up and matching Chanel outfits with them.

“If I have all the means and energy, something I would be ecstatic about doing every day for the rest of my life is to free animals from cages, zoos and labs. I would like to volunteer and dedicate my time in helping a few animal protection associations. Or maybe I’m being too ambitious? I don’t know. But I think as humans, we should value and respect animals’ lives. At the end of the day, we are all God’s creations cohabitating on this planet,” she says fervently.

Back in her early days in Mexico, the millennial reality TV star was raised in a Christian family’s household.

Passion project

As to the legacy she wants to leave, she is starting a company specialising in accessories and faux-fur coats. “I am giving all my love to my family, friends and pets with this project. They are more than my inspirations in doing all of these things. They are my motivators too,” she says. “Passion and fashion will always be part of my DNA.”

In addition to being a person of influence, Valdez-Hung is without a doubt an “it”: a vector of debate, a media property, a mover of markets, an engine of consumer behaviour, a symbol, a brand, a cipher. As she sits at her home office table discussing work, food, dogs and life, she embodies the glamorous woman her fans aspire to.

Her husband suggests she does one more pose with her dazzling pink Rolls-Royce and is denied: “Pass. That’s been done to death.” Job done, she gets up without a murmur and, like the 6 pm sun slipping below the horizon, quietly exits the frame.

Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Fashion Stylist: Jhoshwa Ledesma