For Hans Lo, CL Yachts’ Deputy Director, innovation makes sailing through life worthwhile

The Lai Chi Kok docks in West Kowloon, sheltered by the protrusion of land that is Stonecutters Island, is not a popular destination for most locals. At the very end of a three-minute walk through a labyrinth of rebars, tower cranes, a manually built wooden bridge and all things industrial, sits a luxury yacht, visible enough through the help of orange and white flags. This is where Hans Lo has chosen to meet.

“Yachting is a luxury business, but behind its glamour lies a lot of hard and physical work. Come right in,” says the yacht builder as he welcomes our team aboard.

As a fifth-generation member of the Lo family, who began their craft in Shanghai in the late 19th century, then moved Cheoy Lee Shipyards to Hong Kong in 1936, Hans shares in the legacy of helming the oldest shipbuilders in Hong Kong. The Los were also among the forerunners of fibreglass yacht construction, collaborating with Lloyd’s Register to create regulations for GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) boat construction back in the 1960s, and building the then-largest fibreglass yacht, the 130-foot Shango II, in 1975.

Cheoy Lee relocated its shipbuilding facility from Penny’s Bay to Zhuhai, China in 1996, and today is one of the producers of commercial vessels, considered the best in the world.

Sweater, shirt, trousers and shoes by Ralph Lauren

A Queen’s University Civil Engineering alumnus, Hong Kong-born, Canadian-educated Lo confesses to starting at the bottom in the family shipyard – laying up fibreglass and helping with vacuum infusion on a few projects before moving on to other aspects of yacht building. He quickly grasped the process of a build, and over time took on a broader role; he became Deputy Director of CL Yachts – the pleasure-craft arm of the parent company – in 2019.

Lo spent a large portion of his youth at the Cheoy Lee facility, returning during summer vacations after his family settled in Vancouver when he was seven years old. “Growing up, my family and I would go to bai san by boat, and as a kid, I thought that was just normal for everybody,” he says. “It was only later on that I realised the reason we were doing this is because our family builds ships. It’s very much a part of our life.”

True to his great-great-grandfather’s visionary roots, Lo is not standing still; he is thinking grand-scale for CL Yachts. “In 10 years, I hope we’ve established ourselves in Hong Kong and Australia – our biggest targets right now in terms of yacht sales,” he says.

His 10-year plan has already commenced. At their production facility, they are currently developing an innovative commercial project involving carbon fibre and hybrid technology for a more sustainable approach to the yacht industry – a move towards a greener carbon footprint.

Stance and Ballast

Now 40, the millennial engineer has grey hairs perfectly sprinkled through both sides of his crew cut; and he embraces them, saying: “Age is just a number and we should be proud of it. As we age, we collect learnings and these make us a better version of ourselves. I’d like to believe that I am in my prime working potential.”

As we head out to sea for the photo shoot, he proudly shows us around their flagship yacht CLB65, hailing its development as CL Yachts’ most significant career accomplishment to date. A striking departure from traditional motor yachts, the 19.7-metre craft has received prizes internationally for its creativity, adaptability and versatility. “What makes this project more special is that the interior design was conceptualised by my wife,” he notes.

Jakcet by Zegna Trousers by Nanushka, courtesy of The Outnet Shoes by Ralph Lauren

The balancing of work and family time has always been smooth sailing for Lo, who uses the fact that he is part of a family business to his advantage. For him, family and work can be the same thing. However, he is changing things up a little to be a better dad and husband than the generation before him. Showing us a recent photo of himself, his wife and their two-year-old, he shares that his father was like an astronaut during his formative years.

“Being a father was tough in my dad’s generation. He needed to travel back and forth to Canada, and it made seeing us difficult. I want to be around for my son as much as I can. Being present is important in a young’s child life,” he reiterates.

Wave Encounters

Just as we are talking about alternative plans in life, Lo interrupts himself mid-sentence to rush to his yacht engineer, who has accidentally slipped down the stairs. As we make haste back to land, he says that every member of his team plays a crucial role in making the yacht-building business work. And so, to plan B we go – a two-hour photoshoot at the headquarters of CL Yachts where he discusses the nature of pleasure-boating in between outfit changes; with a laugh, he describes one ensemble as a boyband look.

Luxury yachting is, by definition, extreme and extravagant; some would say over the top. However, as he points out, there is a whole industry that supports the yachting sector and employs hundreds of thousands of hardworking people worldwide. “For us, there’s luxury in practicality. When you’re aboard our boats, you’ll find easy access to everything you want to do. Our boats are true sea-going vessels,” he explains.

Knitwear, trousers and shoes by Zegna

Surprisingly perhaps, and ironically, the peak of Covid brought a surge in sales. With people unable to travel and go places, many chose to invest in a yacht instead and discovered the joys of boating.

“[The pandemic] was a huge obstacle that we all had to overcome. But that’s just life. There are always going to be hurdles in our way, and we are always going have to pick ourselves up, go with the flow and with the waves,” he says, with a gleeful wink as he utters the last word.

After the indoor shoot, Lo and the entire crew jump back onto the yacht to continue with the original plan. After a few shots on deck, he entertains a phone call – a glance at what his everyday life looks like, call after call, meeting after meeting. But he emphasises the importance of taking a break, once in a while.

“We picked a good day to do the shoot and interview, didn’t we?” he proclaims, as the light of the 5 pm sun glints off his sunglasses. “We’re always due to pause and take a step back so that we can gain a new perspective on things going on in our lives. Working hard, earning money and investing in your future – these are for survival. Enjoying the finer things in life is for living.”

While Lo has work-family balance down pat, he is still juggling the pleasure of living in the moment and the necessity of planning for the future. Yet, deep in his soul, he believes life should be enjoyed as much as humanly possible. Armed with the knowledge that comes with experience, a strong family support group and another magazine cover for his beloved flagship, he is content to ride the tide to see which way the waves take him.

Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Fashion Stylist: Jhoshwa Ledesma Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Hair & Makeup: Cyrus Tang Venue: Cheoy Lee Shipyards Boat: CLB65 Cover: Jacket and Pasnts by IRO, courtesy of The Outnet and shoes by Zegna Brands: Ralph Lauren, IRO, courtesy of The Outnet and Nanushka, courtesy of The Outnet

A Fine Romance: Candles and wine come hand in hand for Ian Carroll through his two successful shops in Central

Ian Carroll laughs when asked about the similarities between his two seemingly unrelated but highly successful enterprises – Carroll&Chan, a purveyor of candles, and Soho Wines & Spirits. After some reflection, he says: “Candles and wine – romance, what else?”

In reality, there were different reasons for the inception of these companies. Having arrived in Hong Kong in 1999 with his wife, Liana, who was posted to the territory with the European Union diplomatic mission, Carroll needed a visa to extend his stay and so decided to set up a business. His wife had noticed there were few places to buy candles and suggested opening a candle shop. The Candle Company was launched in Central in 2002.

Carroll had already succeeded in various entrepreneurial ventures. Born in Dublin, the amiable Irishman’s early business activities involved buying and selling various goods. During a buying trip to Hong Kong in the mid-’80s, he was blown away by the dizzying spectacle of traders and hawkers in Nathan Road selling watches and myriad electronic products and knew one day he would return.

Booking ahead

His first major business success came during his time in Brussels, where Liana worked at the European Commission. Establishing one of the first online hotel reservation websites, he benefitted immensely from first-mover advantage and an element of good fortune.

Speaking from the Carroll&Chan candle store in Lyndhurst Terrace, he says, “I was lucky because I got an agreement with a couple of people in big hotel groups, and one of them had a hotel in Havana. Americans could not book Cuban hotels in America at the time, and because my website was European, I used to get Americans booking trips to Havana regularly.”

He also struck gold with a hotel on the top of Machu Picchu.

Perseverance pays

He sold this business after moving to Hong Kong. The candle shop also proved a huge success almost from the outset, though it was not without its early teething problem. Initially, it was challenging to get anyone to supply to his embryonic enterprise.

Using a phone book, he literally turned up at companies in Kowloon and the New Territories that claimed to be candle manufacturers. No one wanted to know when they discovered he was selling the candles for the Hong Kong market. Then, finally, one supplier asked him if he was selling to the US market. “I said yes. They said – come in!” he recounts.

Carroll later owned up to the lie, but the supplier still agreed to honour the deal and a 20-foot container lorry soon arrived outside the store’s original Lyndhurst Terrace address. Having no staff at the time, he started unloading the 100 boxes from the container himself whereupon the police showed up and told him to remove the vehicle as it was obstructing the street. The lorry driver drove off and they ended up unloading the candles at a factory in the New Territories – not exactly the most convenient location for his fledgling shop.

Hive of activity

Business boomed during the store’s first Christmas and as the years passed, he noticed customers were increasingly asking about the adverse effects of burning paraffin. In 2017, he decided to create his own candle brand, Carroll&Chan, with a focus on natural and environmentally friendly products.

Now all his candles are made from beeswax. “Beeswax is the only wax that is not actually made in a factory,” he says. “It is not processed; it is made by bees in the beehive. The beeswax is melted and made into a candle.

“It is a natural product; it does not create soot when it burns. It burns brighter because it has a higher melting point, and because of the structure of the wax it burns longer, too.”

Carroll enjoys educating people about environmental matters and highlights the fact that his fragrances are approved by the International Fragrance Association.

He stresses how harmful other candles made in factories are to the environment: “The forests of Malaysia or the jungles of South America are burned down to grow oil palm trees or grow soy beans. For soy wax candles, the beans are taken to factories and mixed with chemicals and made into wax.”

Asia affinity

All of Carroll’s candles and most of his other products are made in a small workshop in Kwai Fong, though some are produced in the Netherlands for the European market.

Carroll&Chan has a shop in Amsterdam and there are plans to expand to the China and US markets. Carroll&Chan fragrances and reed diffusers are inspired by the scents of Asia. The reeds are made from rattan, a natural product, and the oil flows up via the reeds and diffuses into the air. “They offer a flame-free experience of lemon grass or lavender or whatever scent you want,” he says.

“Another important thing about the brand is that it is an Asian brand and inspired by Asia. Asia is home to so many beautifully fragrant flowers and spices.”

The ‘Chan’ part of the brand name comes from the birth surnames of the Carrolls’ two children, who were adopted in Hong Kong.

He is particularly fond of the scent of sampaguita, the national flower of the Philippines. “It is a form of jasmine and produces an amazing smell,” he notes.

Another favourite flower is white michelia, a type of magnolia cultivated in Southeast Asia. “I thought that would be a fantastic scent and we should start it, so I got a French perfume company to take that flower and develop a fragrance. It is very popular.”

Wine growth

Carroll’s wine business, which also dates back to 2002, grew out of a grocery store that had formed part of a deal to buy out a candle company in Staunton Street. Initially, he wanted to dispense with the grocery store but saw the opportunity to develop a wine business when he noticed customers were coming in for the wine.

At the time there were few wine merchants in Hong Kong and it was not considered an attractive business. “It wasn’t difficult, but there was licensing and all sorts of paperwork required,” he says.

In 2008, the government abolished the duty on imported liquor with an alcohol content under 30%. “So suddenly you could import wine, Martini [Bianco and Rosso], Baileys [Irish Cream]and beer without any paperwork. All you needed was an invoice. Everybody, I think, in Hong Kong who went to Spain, Italy or Portugal became a wine importer,” he recalls.

Running two successful enterprises is time-consuming, so Carroll recently brought in a local business partner, who mostly handles the wine store. Soho Wines & Spirits is handily located near the Central-Mid-levels escalator and stocks a carefully curated selection of wine. He does not claim to be a wine expert – at first he imported wines that were inappropriate for the Hong Kong market. Now he has the good judgment to let others make the decisions.

Photographer: Jack Law Art Direction: Joseff Musa Fashion Stylist: Jhoshwa Ledesma Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Hair & Make Up: Heti Tsang Venue: Carroll&Chan