Yen Kuok, daughter of “The Sugar King” Robert Kuok, is the Founder and CEO of second-hand luxury e-commerce site Guiltless.
Kuok gives us the lowdown on her passion for fashion and the evolution of Guiltless in this exclusive online Q&A following our March 2018 print coverage.
Tell us about Guiltless. What inspired you to start it?
Guiltless, as its name implies, tries to help the modern woman sort through her guilt-filled closet. Thanks partly to the popularity of online shopping, a lot of people are accumulating excess clothing. This is creating a real problem given that most people have a limited amount of closet space.
Many Asians are also keen to be seen in the latest seasonal styles, but they don’t want to be wear the same outfit twice. In light of all of this, I thought there really should be an easy way for people to recycle – or upcycle – their clothing. In the States, buying and selling second-hand clothing is pretty much a way of life, but it’s never really caught on in Asia
What inspired you to name your venture Guiltless?
Well, my basic thought was that it was all about helping the ladies of Hong Kong deal with the guilt occasioned by their over-full closets. It’s also a way of allowing them to shop guiltlessly, as they know there is now a recycling channel in place.
You’ve followed quite a different route to the rest of your family….
I’ve always been the black sheep of the family. I’ve always been the one that went off and did their own thing. I was the only one to attend a local school all the way through and I was also the first to move out.
As the youngest of my father’s eight children, I knew that my older brothers and sisters had already stepped up and taken key roles in the family business. I then had the luxury of going my own way and trying something new.
Talking of something new, last year you trialled a Guiltless pop-up shop for two months. How was that received?
Very well. So, well, in fact, that we kept it open for two months rather than just for one month as we had originally planned. It was very encouraging to see that Hong Kong people have embraced the recycled clothing concept, buying into it for both environmental and financially prudent reasons.
Overall, has being the daughter of such a well-known businessman as Robert Kuok been a blessing or something of burden?
I’ve always see it as something of a negative. From being very young, my parents were very keen that none of us took their wealth for granted. My mum, in particular, was very strict with me while I was growing up, even to the extent of giving me the bare minimum of pocket money – literally just a few dollars. My friends always had more money than I did and I would be like ‘Can I borrow from you to buy hamster stickers?’
At school, it also counted against me. Whenever I achieved something, people would assume strings had been pulled or an expensive tutor had given me extra coaching.
As a champion of recycled clothing, are you still allowed to have a favourite designer?
I really like Anna Dello Russo. She has a lot of personality. She takes risks and goes out of her way to look good, which is very refreshing. I think, above all, you have to be honest with yourself and Anna Dello Russo certainly is. Her attitude is very much: ‘Yes I’m over the top, but everyone knows it and I love it.”
I also really like Iris van Herpen, a Dutch designer. She was one of the first commercial 3D-printed designers and her stuff is still relatively hard to find. Her outfits are very intricate, which fits in with my rejection of minimalism.
Overall, having done so many things and played so many different roles, how would you like to be remembered?
I really like the idea of being seen as a woman who was strong and self-sufficient, yet nurturing. Someone who took care of others and was, hopefully, wise beyond her years. I like to think that I long ago realised that the world was not all about me. While I’m still a long way off achieving all of those goals, they are still what I am aiming for and they’re still the way I’d like to be remembered.
The full version of this interview appears on Gafencu Magazine’s March 2018 print issue as “Frock Star” by Julienne C. Raboca . You can download the free app for digital editions of the magazine.