Frock Star: Yen Kuok talks fashion, family and business

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.

Thank you

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.


Yen Kuok gets candid on fashion and identity (Part II)

In an online exclusive for Gafencu magazine, Robert Kuok’s youngest daughter talks about giving up her Malaysian passport and fashion inspirations. Gafencu sits down for an exclusive interview with the sprightly fashionpreneur.

Yen Kuok at the Gafencu photo shoot last December 2017 at her father’s Island Shangri-La

In part two of our exclusive digital-only edition Q&A with Yen Kuok, we get up close and personal with the founder of second-hand luxury business Guiltless, who considers herself full Hong Kongese. If you missed the first part, read all about it here.

Would you say that the tag of ‘Robert Kuok’s daughter’ has been a heavy presence following you around?

Growing up, it was definitely not something I was proud of. At school I was a good student, so I was picked to join interschool organisations. I remember we would go to meetings and afterwards my driver would come pick me up, but obviously it would be awkward if everyone’s taking the MTR. They’d be like, ‘How are you getting back?’ to which I would say, ‘Oh, I’m walking to the bus stop.’ ‘Which bus stop?’ ‘Oh I don’t remember the name, somewhere down that road’ – I would try to cover it up.

If I had been sent to an international school like my older siblings, I probably would have been very different, but my parents decided to send me to Diocesan Girls’ School – one of the most academically competitive local schools in town. The environment was cutthroat, pushing me to prioritise doing well in my studies. I was much more chilled and less driven before going to DGS as a kid!

Your dad being Malaysian Chinese, would you consider yourself Hong Kongese?

I consider myself one hundred percent Hong Kongese. I gave up my Malaysian passport – I don’t speak the language, don’t have any friends there, rarely go there. I might as well call myself Japanese ‘cause I go to Tokyo more often than KL!

You would never catch me dead in something like Céline or Haider Ackermann, I’m not going for that aesthetic. I have been in this maximalist phase for the past few years versus minimalism.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I had a really horrible break up a year and a half ago, and it wrecked my skin. I’ve gone through really tough periods before, but that was the only time my skin was affected so dramatically by emotional stress. I broke out had rashes everywhere – it was horrible. I didn’t leave the house, I was crying everyday… I finally said, ‘I need to fix my life. Let me start with my skin.’

I began looking into skincare, going deep from ingredients to ‘What is the best kind of exfoliator?’ or ‘What’s the difference between an apricot shell scrub and a walnut shell scrub??’ [Laughs]

When I set my heart on something I go all in, so ever since then I’ve become all my friends’ go-to person whenever they have skin problems or want recommendations. I’m always the first to know about beauty gadgets, home lasers, nano-current devices, LED facial machines… That’s what I do in my free time – I read beauty blogs to research on skincare!

Styling by San Wong; Photography by Neville Lee


Let’s talk about fashion, since you’ve taken the deep dive into doing business in the industry ever since. Who are your favourite icons and go-to designers?

You would never catch me dead in something like Céline or Haider Ackermann, I’m not going for that aesthetic. I’m all about Erdem, Nanette Lepore, and of course the Dolce & Gabbanas,  the Cavallis, the Versaces…I have been in this maximalist phase for the past few years versus minimalism.

There’s a fine line between what I mentioned and being overdone or tacky, sure, but I can’t help but be drawn to complexity and pattern. Etro is one example, for the diversity of textures, and then there’s Iris van Herpen who does 3D printing, which is all about the intricacy. Check out some of her runway pieces, they’re really beautiful. I remember she came out with this innovative skeleton dress which visualized the inside of the body outside [Editor’s Note: The piece was later acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art].

Iris van Herpen’s plastic skeleton dress represents her feeling of being reborn during a parachuting jump. (Cariole June 2011)

Today it’s women’s fashion, lifestyle goods and gadgets; tomorrow you mentioned wanting to expand into men’s and children’s wear. What’s next – with the recent success of your pop up, do you plan to open a physical shop eventually?

We had never entertained the idea of opening a permanent physical shop because looking at the likes of Net-a-Porter, staying online has been one of the reasons they’ve been able to maintain a successful international business model with an image extending to all corners of the world. Once you have a physical shop, you become localised to a certain place. But this pop-up has been a pleasant surprise, so I wouldn’t completely rule it out, but right now I’d rather focus on online.

Thank you.

Catch our main interview with Yen Kuok on Gafencu magazine’s March 2018 print issue coming out in newsstands on the 1st of March 2018!


Interview by: Julienne C. Raboca

Yen Kuok on the shocking burglary of Guiltless’ pop-up store (Part I)

Yen Kuok has been typecast all her life. Whether it‘s ‘family black sheep’ for leaving father Robert Kuok’s Kerry Properties, or ‘spoiled rich heiress’ during her school days, she has lived in the shadow of her family name since birth. Over the past few years, however, Yen has taken great strides to break free of the stereotypes that have been attached to her by carving out a name for herself in an industry she is passionate about: second-hand luxury.

In 2015, Yen founded Guiltless, an e-commerce site targeted towards the Asian high-end market allowing people to buy and consign pre-loved designer items. Last November, the brand launched a pop-up on Queen’s Road Central that was so successful they ran for two months instead of the normal two-week duration for standard pop-ups.

In a disconcerting spin on events, last December the shop was broken into by unidentified burglars who escaped in a white seven-seater. The three felons ran away with fifteen Hermes and YSL handbags worth a jaw-dropping HK$1.44 million (US$184,000).

We were able to catch up with a less than chirpy Yen just three days after the robbery. Although gutted by the blow to her business, she showed up for the photo shoot and kept her composure throughout the interview, sending rapid-fire messages to her team handling the crisis every time she had a few seconds’ break.

Scroll down for the first part of the exclusive online Q&A precluding our March 2018 print coverage of the interview and photo shoot with Yen Kuok.

Last December the Guiltless pop-up shop was broken into. That must have been a huge blow to you – can you tell us about that? What happened?

In the early morning a few minutes past 6 o’clock on December 5, the CCTV showed three robbers breaking in via the mall’s interior entrance to the store. They used a giant hammer and literally smashed through the glass. They knew exactly what they were looking for, going straight for the bag cabinet where we kept all our Birkins. They picked out fifteen bags and made a swift exit.

It was quite scary because they clearly knew what they were doing; the robbers didn’t go for the exotic bags because they knew it would arouse more suspicion if they tried re-selling it in the second-hand market as they’re more easily identified. It’s also more difficult to bring those exotic Birkins overseas because all these skins are being restricted just like furs… the thieves made sure not to stir up any suspicion on the Queen’s Road Central main entrance side. They did everything inside the mall. It was a shocking experience.

Sorry to hear that. What’s the equivalent value of what they got?

The estimate is up to HK1.5 million. It’s difficult to put a price on the Birkin bags, it’s like trying to put a tag on a limited edition stamp.

I stopped by the pop-up just last Sunday, actually, and thought the branding was really well done.

We had only wanted to do two weeks in the beginning, actually. We didn’t want to compromise on a prime location as it was our first pop-up; we had to do it in a place that sets the standard. It had to be on the ground floor – none of those walk-up-the-stairs gallery space kind of nonsense – it had to be a main street location in Central. We had dabbled with the idea of doing it in Causeway Bay, but decided that for the first one we definitely had to do it in Central; we treated it like a flagship.

And did it work?

The results were really good, so we extended it for another month. The landlord was happy about that because it was driving a lot of traffic to the mall itself, us being right at the entrance. The window displays were interesting and fun – we had games inside the store. The management approached us to extend, and we said ‘Yes, looking at the financials it makes sense to do it.’ But in the end I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse since we got robbed!

What were your demographics like? Who were your biggest fans?

A lot of the people who went to our pop-up have actually been the slightly older customers and tai tais who come in and buy like ten items at a time. They would say things like ‘Honestly I don’t really buy anything second-hand, but everything here looks so new, it’s wonderful.’

That’s the feedback that we get all the time, so much so that when we just opened the pop-up store, people didn’t realise it was second-hand and couldn’t figure out why we were so cheap. In the first week we had to print emergency store stickers saying ‘second-hand’ because unless you say it, people think it’s first-hand!

Stay tuned for the second part of this article, up next Sunday. Yen divulges tidbits from her personal life along with her fashion inspirations.

Interview by: Julienne C. Raboca

New Guiltless pop-up turns your guilt to gold for a good cause

The premium luxury consignment e-shop has popped up in real life for one month only. Guiltless’ first pop-up store is giving Hong Kong shoppers a chance to purchase luxury pre-owned items donated by local and international celebrities.

Over 50 celebrity-owned items will be up for grabs including a Valentino dress from actress Shu Qi, Michelle Yeoh’s signature trainers and a Gucci Dionysus from Michele Reis.  

Building on Founder and CEO Yen Kuok’s philosophy of promoting eco-friendliness in the wasteful fashion world, 70% of all celebrity sale profits will be donated to Crossroads International, a Hong Kong-based non-profit organisation dedicated to recycling.

So do your bit for sustainable fashion while beating ridiculous waitlists for limited-edition fashion items. Pop by the Guiltless pop-up store at Man Yee Building from now until 20 November 2017.