This week’s That Girl is Lisa Cheng, the founder of lovely luxury lingerie boutique and firm Sassy fave Sheer. If you are on the lookout for beautiful underwear that not only looks great but will have you feeling great too, Sheer is the place for you – and we are big fans of their fabulous Sheer Discovery personal shopping experience too!
We find out what inspired Lisa to start her own business, check out her personal style (both outside and under!) and discover the most commonly-committed underwear sins in Hong Kong!
Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. Are you and your family originally from Hong Kong?
My parents are from Hong Kong but I grew up in Bangkok and Vancouver. After high school in Bangkok I spent a year in Florence, Italy before moving to New York City. I’m a typical third culture kid!
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I just renovated my apartment on Seymour Road and designed the interior on my own so I had a lot of flexibility in making it “me”. I missed NY so much at the time that I created this faux brick wall to remind me of the beautiful brownstones. The rest of the design I kept simple but add a bit of quirkiness like the honeycomb tiles in my bathroom. I used to live in tiny shoebox apartments in NY so I also made sure I had ample closet space this time around!
How would you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
Well, it depends if you’re talking about my fashion or lingerie style! Every woman’s lingerie style is her own secret. My outer fashion style is feminine, modern and fuss-free. I like simple, clean silhouettes. A nice dress with heels and jewellery is my go-to outfit because it’s the quickest to put together and I feel instantly glam! As an entrepreneur, time is precious, so my fashion motto has evolved to high on impact and low on effort.
My lingerie style is much more open and adventurous. As a lingerie enthusiast, I wear it all: romantic to edgy, neutral to bright colours, lace, silk, satin… the list goes on! I don’t shy away from anything because I can experiment without anyone knowing. The lingerie I choose to wear every day depends on my “inner mood” as I like to call it, and it’s my favourite time of the morning. Although many times, it’s also a practical choice like pairing the right bra for the outfit since every bra gives you a different shape and look.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I recently discovered S.Nine, designed by the beautiful and talented Susanna Soo. Her pieces are feminine, modern and fit very well on the body. It’s very wearable but glammed up at the same time. I’m always on the hunt for nice accessories and I love going to The9thMuse to see what’s new in store!
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
Sunscreen! I cannot say that more enough. I used to develop beauty products in my previous life and sunscreen is the number one way to protect against skin aging. I wear it religiously. I also recently discovered the foundation by Lunasol, a Japanese brand. It’s very smooth, lightweight and gives a thin but buildable coverage that is great for humid Hong Kong summers.
My hair stylist, Jay, is from Hair Culture, and my manicurist Kumi works at Bonbonail on Wellington Street. Kumi can do a manicure in 30 minutes, which is great for my busy schedule. My guilty indulgences are massages and I try to get them as often as I can.
What is your favourite thing to do at the weekend?
Sheer opens on the weekends so I’m usually working at the boutique with my staff. I like to stay connected to my customers and get to know them personally. Seeing them walk out of Sheer with a smile on their face makes my day. After that, I love sitting down for a nice meal with a good bottle of wine and hopefully catch up on sleep!
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
I like 208 for the good food and relaxed vibe and Lily is my home away from home. My favourite bartender, Suva, makes this amazing drink called Pepper Delicious that’s not on the menu. I highly recommend it!
What inspired you to start Sheer?
It was really out of pure frustration! I had just moved from New York and was tasked with finding an amazing strapless bra (which every girl needs) for a dress. The lingerie shopping experience in Hong Kong was horrible – lack of brands and styles, poorly lit fitting rooms and pushy sales staff who had no clue about bra fitting. Having lived in New York, I was spoiled with the wide variety of designer lingerie brands available to modern, sophisticated women that are a mix of both fashion and function. I quickly realised the huge gap in the market for a one-stop lingerie boutique that had everything you needed and at prices that wouldn’t break the bank. Lingerie should be a luxury that’s celebrated everyday. I created Sheer in the image of my dream lingerie boutique – because women in Hong Kong deserve so much more… and also so I could finally get the lingerie that I love!
How do you pick which lingerie brands you want to stock at Sheer? Do you try them all personally?! Which are your favourites?
I spent one year researching and developing the idea of Sheer, and went to trade shows in New York and Paris to get to know all the brands in the industry. I personally picked each and every one stocked at Sheer and I try pieces on at the shows as much as I can. When the collections arrive at the shop, my team and I try on each piece together to compare and discuss. It’s what makes us understand the lingerie that we’re selling so we can best help our customers find what they want. I still go Paris and New York each buying season to make sure everything is up to my quality standards.
My favourite brands are Fleur of England for their romantic designs and luxurious use of lace and silk, The Little Bra Company for some extra oomph, and when I’m in the mood for that French “je ne sais quoi”, Simone Perele delivers each and every time.
What have you found are the most common ‘underwear sins’ from doing your Sheer Discovery personal shopping experiences?
A lot of my customers are wearing the wrong size or style and just don’t know it, or even worse, know it but couldn’t find proper lingerie in Hong Kong before Sheer. Wearing the right bra can make or break an outfit, and even helps you look thinner! It’s also important to know how to properly wash lingerie with The Laundress Delicate Wash, and to hang the bra to dry from the centre and not from the straps. Lingerie just needs a little bit of TLC and they’ll take care of you in return.
When I tell men that I own a lingerie boutique, many of them take the opportunity to instantly complain about the VPL (Visible Panty Line) that they see all the time. Through our services at Sheer, we’re able to educate women on the beauties of lingerie for both themselves and for the other half.
Prior to returning to HK, you spent a decade in NY – how do the two cities compare? Is there anything you miss particularly about NY and vice versa, about HK when you lived there? What made you come back?
HK is really a smaller NY, give or take! I do miss NY’s vibe, variety and all the good food. My perfect day in NY would be a three hour brunch with my friends, taking a stroll in Central Park or along the west side and then a nice dinner at Tia Pol where they have amazing Spanish tapas. When I lived in NY, I missed my family and that’s why I moved back. There are also a lot more opportunities for budding entrepreneurs in Asia and I knew that’s where I wanted to take my career.
You’re a graduate of NYU Business School. What aspects of business do you think can be taught and what do you think you just have to learn intuitively and on the job?
Business school gave me the foundation and was great for networking but I would say 90% of what I have learned has been on the job. I was lucky to have had a great career in the beauty industry, working for giants like Shiseido and L’Oreal with amazingly talented and creative people. My most treasured lesson is remembering that there’s always a solution to a problem and that I can handle any obstacles that come my way… sometimes it takes a deep breath and a cup of green tea to get me there though!
How does owning your own business compare to working for others?
I love owning my own business but I could never have done this without working for others first. You learn how to be a good manager and how to motivate your staff. I love knowing that I’m working hard for something I truly believe in. Then it doesn’t become like work.
Do you have any advice for other budding entrepreneurs out there?
Keep widening your network and always bounce ideas off others for feedback. It never hurts and helps you get many different perspectives that you would never have thought of before. It’s also important to have a strong support system of people who love you and believe in you. When you’re down, these are the people who pick you back up.
And last but not least, passion! If you have the passion, everything else will fall into place. Starting a business can sometimes be a stressful and emotional roller coaster ride, but loving what you do and believing in your dream is the most motivating factor – you have to push forward when it’s hard.
Check out the rest of our That Girls here!