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

Don Appétit: Savouring the flavours of celebrated chef Donovan Cooke’s life’s work

In the realm of gastronomy, there are chefs, and then there are culinary storytellers – those who, through their craft, weave together the flavours of their past, their journeys and their passion. Veteran chef Donovan Cooke, the creative genius behind the culinary magic at his new venture, Causeway Bay-based Donovan, is undoubtedly one such storyteller. His modern European menu has quickly captured the attention of the city’s foodies, making it a must-go-to restaurant for anybody looking for great food in the bustling heart of Hong Kong.

“The inspiration for the restaurant is basically being here in Hong Kong. I’m in the middle of the world with some of the best ingredients from around the world, and I have an opportunity to use and showcase the best of the ingredients following the seasons – and not so much following the seasons,” the chef laughs as he explains his ethos. “However, we are trying to maintain sustainability, and at the same time evolve classical combinations – which I’ve been doing for 40 years – in a more modern way.”

The roving Briton has been an instrumental figurehead in the fine- dining scene of wherever he has landed. At a young age, he was seasoned and nurtured in traditional French cuisine by the legendary, then-two-Michelin-starred Marco Pierre White at Harveys in London.

Embarking on his curious global journey, he headed first to France and then Australia, where his footprint was recognised by multiple accolades. Melbourne newspaper The Age’s Good Food Guide named him Chef of the Year in 2003 and 2004. He also made appearances on the reality TV show MasterChef Australia and co-authored the award-winning cookbook, Marriages. His dedication to innovation and new culinary excellence then won the hearts of local socialites and celebrities during a six-year stint at the helm of Derby Restaurant and Bar at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

With each step, he absorbed new techniques, flavours and inspirations, enriching his culinary palate and ultimately bringing him to a Hong Kong homecoming late last year. His self-titled restaurant artfully combines his own heritage with a global perspective – a testament to his eclectic journey, offering diners an experience that transcends borders.

“I want to showcase a vast array of dishes here in my new restaurant, and the best way to do that is to do a Japanese-style tasting menu,” he says. “It’s a journey of eight to 10-12 courses, starting with refreshing light and then moving on to a richer main course. In the past, when I did à la carte, people just go for the things that they’re safe or that they know, so I decided to do it omakase-style because I want people to taste lots of different things that they normally wouldn’t order.”

The dinner-tasting menu at the time of our review kicks off with an artistic ensemble of appetisers such as truffle macaron; parmesan tart with onions and flowers; chicken liver parfait, apple and prune; and the house signature soy-sauce brioche. These are followed by seared tuna belly decorated with spiced tartare, celeriac, truffle dashi and shiso; and the heady combination of the spiced roasted blue lobster with foie gras, fig, port wine, chocolate and coffee.

One of his standout dishes is smoked olive oil confit salmon, seasoned with leek, razor clam, bone broth, salmon roe and chive oil. It’s a culinary masterpiece that captures the essence of Chef Donovan on a plate.

A meat lover’s dream comes in the form of Pyrenees milk-fed baby lamb with girolles, gnocchi and thyme jus, and the cooked to a mouth-watering medium-rare, pepper-crusted wagyu 9+ sirloin atop onions, bone marrow and Bordelaise sauce.

Desserts of spiced roasted pineapple with pain d’épices ice cream and tonka bean panna cotta with rhubarb, honeycomb and Stone’s ginger wine jelly form a perfect palate cleanser to this savoury culinary adventure.

Amid the elegant ambience and the warm embrace of European hospitality, Donovan is a testament to the power of roots, the influence of loved ones and the fusion of global experiences into tantalising dishes that have earned the well-travelled chef countless plaudits for his unparalleled contributions to gastronomy.

Donovan, 16/F, Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

Photos: DONOVAN Video: Jack Fontanilla

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.


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.”


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.


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Asian Persuasion: Topped only by the harbour view, Cruise steers diners through a modern melting pot of cuisines

Those who have found themselves caught between two or more worlds know that matters of identity are never easy to explain. However, at Cruise Restaurant & Bar perched on the North Point waterfront it is all pretty straightforward. For both local foodies and astute tourists, this gorgeous location with a large outdoor terrace and panoramic views of Victoria Harbour puts a novel twist on rooftop dining. Chef de Cuisine Adisak Choksamritphon envisions the restaurant as a workshop or “studio” where various Asian cuisines can be explored and enjoyed in an upscale, modern setting.

Fun, unique and never one to take itself too seriously, Cruise has an independent attitude and upbeat music after dark. During the day, it is relaxed and informal. Delicious modern Asian food, inventive cocktails and breathtaking views provide the ideal environment for mingling.

“The idea of Cruise came about because of our location overlooking the city’s iconic harbour, which has historically been a key ‘lifeline’ in connecting local cultures and global communities,” explains Chef Choksamritphon. “In this regard, our food offers a modern and flavourful take on Asian cuisine to celebrate the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of Hong Kong’s foodie scene.”

Asian cuisine has far deeper roots than one may think, with influences from cultures all around the world. As presented here, it is consistently flavourful, sophisticated and tells the tale of at least a thousand distinct towns as well as a thousand more forgotten traditions. A native of Thailand but calling Hong Kong his second home for more than two decades, Chef Choksamritphon is best known for his contemporary takes on classics. In developing the Cruise menu, he made some adjustments to favourite recipes in order to suit local tastes. He achieves this by playing with sourness and saltiness, and fully honing in on his Thai roots.

He assures: “We are guided by Hyatt’s ‘Food; Thoughtfully-sourced. Carefully served’ philosophy, and do our best to practice ethical sourcing, using organic and sustainable ingredients wherever possible. I also like to think of our approach as being similar to home cooking – I aim to use items that are of the best quality, and use only natural ingredients, like spices, to enhance the flavours of my dishes.”

Creating dishes packed with flavour, executed with flair and served with a generous dose of spice, he offers carb-loaded comfort food – a pick-me-up to enjoy when having a bad day, or to fill you up while and after drinking. Enter the ‘Sharing is Caring’ section of the à la carte menu. On a huge hot plate, Westholme M4/M5 Australian wagyu Tomahawk steak rests on a bed of sizzling gochujang butter with dipping sauces and okra tempura on the side.

In a similar vein, grilled M6 Striploin comes with shishito peppers, green chilli salsa and yakiniku dipping sauce. Another crowd favourite for sharing is chilli lobster Singapore-style, incorporating tomato, chilli, ginger and egg. The homemade roti makes a good sauce scraper, ensuring each smattering of spice is appreciated and devoured.

For those favouring milder spice infusions, wok- fried sea bass makes a perfect choice. Green mango, Thai basil and tamarind help to elevate and balance the crispness of the fleshy fried fish.

“We always have special menus and events at Cruise, so guests can come any day of the week and have a great time,” enthuses the chef. “We have promotions like Lobster Night on Wednesdays and Tomahawk Night on Thursdays, and have just launched a new Hot Pot Night on Tuesdays. We also regularly bring in special guest chefs and mixologists for pop-ups.”

As a city built by immigrants, Hong Kong is ultimately a major hub for cultural diversity, and its cuisine followed suit. In that way, it shares a similar profile to the divine melting pot that is Cruise – sailing grandly through the multicultural hustle and bustle that marks the city’s eclectic dining scene.

Cruise, 23/F, Hyatt Centric Victoria Harbour Hong Kong, North Point bit.ly/cruiserestaurantandbar

Photos: Cruise Restaurant & Bar Video: Jack Fontanilla

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

Fort and Manlé Parfum: Creating Unique and Beatiful Perfumes

Rasei Fort reveals what drives his passion for creating delightful fragrances and how he became inspired to set up Manle Parfum and bring his unique perfumes to a wider public.

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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