“To be beautiful, means to be yourself”
This month’s That Girl is the gorgeous, Diane Younes – beautiful inside and out, Diane is the founder of Hong Kong’s most coveted mobile beauty services, Sponge. With two impressive law degrees behind her, Diane has followed her entrepreneurial dreams, closing a much-desired gap in the Hong Kong beauty scene, and offering on-demand services for women all over the city.
We chat with Diane about the challenges she’s faced in setting up her own business, what beauty means to her, as well as the scoop on this season’s trends and her favourite spots to relax and unwind between appointments…
Tell us about your background and where you’re from.
I was born in Paris, and grew up in London. My father is Lebanese and my mother is German, so we were always surrounded by different cultures. I studied in French my whole life until I went to Law school in New York. I received my first Law degree in Canada before moving to New York to get a second Law degree. Then I worked in Investment Banking for five years before I moved to Hong Kong and started Sponge!
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live on a quiet street in Mid-Levels with my husband. I like to come home to a place that has a quiet-neighbourhood feel to it…without it being too quiet! We live close enough to the action that we’re right where we need to be to discover the hustle-and-bustle of Hong Kong.
We chose an apartment that resembles the one we loved so much back in New York: it has a view of the city and the water, modern and minimalist decorations, and an open plan. It gets a lot of light during the day, so it’s a beautiful space to work in and live in.
Get the look: The Weekender hair x The Inspiration makeup x The Believer eyelash extensions
How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
New York with a splash of Paris. I’m all about structured lines and monochrome outfits with a small touch of colour or accessories. And I have one rule: never wear something that’s uncomfortable – pants, shoes, whatever! A lack of confidence can ruin any outfit, and being confident can make any outfit.
My style keeps evolving based on where I live. I like practicality. I can’t wear leather pants in Hong Kong like I used to in New York… unfortunately the humidity makes that impossible! So I adapt while trying to stay true to my personal style.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I find Hong Kong to be quite limiting in terms of styles and sizes. I am tall and I have curves, and what seems to be widely available in Hong Kong are clothes and styles that fit one body type. Finding jeans that are long enough is close to impossible!
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
I use Sponge for everything. I am obsessed. We offer professional and affordable beauty services – which is so hard to find in Hong Kong! I can book online at the last minute and I can get pampered at home while I catch up on my favourite TV shows after work. What’s not to love?
I am a huge fan of Amika’s Undone Texture Spray (perfect for The Weekender hair look!) and Dry Shampoo. Their dry shampoo will make a Sponge blowout last for days. For makeup, I use Wet n Wild MegaGlo Highlighting Powder every day for a healthy glow. The Sponge makeup artists know that I love highlighter, so they always put extra on my cheekbones. And for general maintenance, I find that Coconut Oil can solve any problem. Hong Kong has made my skin rather dry, so I use coconut oil every morning.
Where are your favourite places to eat and drink in Hong Kong – bars and restaurants.
I love to have breakfast at Café Gray at The Upper House. The view is incredible. I like to have lunch at Grassroots Pantry – their beetroot gnocchi is a must-try! And of course Amber is a special treat. The coconut smoothies at Ming’s Café in Shek O are so good I sometimes go to the south side of the island just to have them. And drinks at Quinary or Sevva never disappoint.
Describe your perfect weekend in Hong Kong.
I wake up with the sun shining on my face, I go to an early-morning Hot Yoga class, then spend the whole weekend at the beach with my husband and my friends, eating, laughing and catching up. No phones allowed. One of my favourite beaches in Hong Kong is South Bay, since it’s a little more secluded and it’s easy to get to.
Get the look: The Jet-Setter hair x The Achiever makeup x The Believer eyelash extensions
What’s your favourite place in Hong Kong and why?
My home. It’s my safe haven and it’s where I laugh the most.
What do you do and where do you go to relax and unwind?
The more I challenge myself mentally, the more I want to challenge myself physically. There’s nothing better than a hard workout to loud music to forget everything and unwind. It also makes you realise just how strong you really are; it’s a confidence booster! I’m a big fan of Studio Fitness and their group classes. And picking up a basketball and shooting hoops is one of my favourite things to do – I grew up playing basketball all the way up to college. Playing basketball at Southorn Playground on weekends gets me mentally ready for the week ahead.
And Morocco is my happy place. I go back to the riad where I got married at least twice a year to press the reset button.
Get the look: The Jet-Setter hair x The Achiever makeup x The Believer eyelash extensions
On the flipside, Where do you go when you want to let your hair down and party?!
Wherever there is good company and good music. It can be in my living room, a bar, the beach – wherever! Brickhouse is always fun. It’s tucked away in an alley, so it feels like a secret place.
Get the look: The Weekender Hair x The Go-Getter makeup x The Believer eyelash extensions
Tell us about your career and how/why you started Sponge
I’m a New York lawyer and I always knew that I wanted to start my own business. It was just a matter of time. So I took our move to Hong Kong as the perfect opportunity to do it.
I realised Hong Kong needed a service like Sponge immediately upon moving here. Women in New York have a set weekly beauty routine – hair, makeup, nails, eyelash extensions, etc. – because they can. Prices for these services are reasonable. When I moved to Hong Kong and wanted to continue my beauty routine, I realised that I couldn’t because prices were incredibly high. I was looking for an apartment at the time, so I realised that prices for beauty services at salons and spas were high due to how expensive rent in Hong Kong is. So if you take away the need to pay rent, you can drive prices down. And if you don’t have a physical location, that means professionals can go to people’s homes, which is more convenient. Sponge was born.
I created Sponge out of a personal need and soon realised this is what other women wanted too. We wanted to pay less for a professional and convenient service that involved amazing customer service. Because it’s not just about the execution of the service, it’s also about the experience. There’s nothing quite like having a friendly professional come to your home to get you ready for the day ahead, or to pamper you after work as you get to sip on your favourite wine or spend time with your kids.
What has been your biggest challenge starting your own beauty services and why?
Since Sponge is an on-demand beauty service that you can book online, the business is tech-heavy. So finding the right web developer in Hong Kong was key. You need to find developers who bring good ideas to the table, such as using already-developed software that you can embed into your website, instead of spending extra time and money building a complex website from scratch, which hasn’t been tested long enough to ensure that there are no bugs. Thankfully we use a great team.
Where do you take your inspiration from to come up with the different hair and makeup looks at Sponge?
Our Menu is a great starting point for customers and saves them precious time in their busy schedules (it takes just 10 seconds to book a Sponge appointment!). The Menu breaks down the basics of a hairstyle (straight, wavy, curly, updo, braid), of a makeup look (a natural look, a cat eye look, a bronzed look, a red lip, a strobing look and a contouring look) and of eyelash extensions (more natural to more glamorous). The Menu reflects classic and current trends, so there’s something in there for everyone! I mean, who doesn’t love the messy waves look – which is our The Weekender hair look – that’s all over Instagram?
Customers choose a look in the Menu, and build on it and customise it at their Sponge appointment. They can even let our Sponge experts know their preferences and comments in advance in the Comments Box when booking the appointment online. So what the customer gets is a look that is completely their own. And of course they can always check the Sponge Instagram for inspiration!
Do you have a morning routine?
I always check my phone the minute I wake up, since we have early-morning appointments with customers who get ready for work with Sponge. Once I get out of bed, I make myself two cups of green tea to last me long enough to check all my emails. Then the Sponge experts come to my home to do my hair and makeup in under 45 minutes – to great music, of course! And after that, it’s the unknown. Each day is so different, which is the best thing and the hardest thing about having your own business.
Any beauty trends for Spring/Summer 2017 that Sassy Girls should try?
Ombré lips! They’re easy to do and totally wearable. Start with a bold red lipstick shade along the perimeter of your lips, and fill in the centre of your lips with a lighter, more fiery tone (I love NARS Semi Matte Lipstick in ‘Heat Wave’). If you don’t like to line your lips, try using a concealer to lock in the lipstick. I use the YSL Touche Éclat Radiant Touch Luminizing Pen. And voilà!
What does ‘beauty’ mean to you?
It means being yourself. Beauty services are meant to help you be the best version of yourself; not make you think that you need them in order to be beautiful. Because you already are beautiful.
Which is also why I chose everyday women to model in our Menu. And the names of each look in our menu come from the fact that I am inspired by women of today. We juggle society’s expectations, our own expectations, our career, motherhood, dreams, friendships – everything. Women should be admired.
The looks include ‘The Go-Getter’ (a classic and glam red lip paired with subtly enhanced eyes), ‘The Boss’ (a straight blowout with a smooth and silky finish), ‘The Athlete’ (a customised braid for a buildable hairstyle) and ‘The Believer’ (a natural eyelash extensions look).
Get the look: The Athlete hair x The Achiever makeup x The Believer eyelash extensions
What advice would you give for girls who want to get into the same industry?
It’s like being in a boxing ring: sometimes you’re the one throwing the punches. And sometimes you’re the one taking the punches. The key is to know how to do both and still come out on top.
So be authentic. When you fall, get back up. When you need help, ask for it. When you succeed, celebrate it. Then get back to work.
And be prepared to be the happiest and the most tired you’ve ever been. This goes for starting your own company in any industry that you love!
What are you plans for Sponge? Where do you see yourselves in 5 years time?
I have big plans for Sponge. The idea is to keep growing while listening to what our customers are telling us. We’ve got a lot of fun things in the pipeline – more services, geographic expansions – so stay tuned!
I see myself doing exactly what I am doing now in five years time. I am lucky enough to be doing something that I love, and I plan to continue to do so as long as I can.
Thanks to the talented Michelle Proctor of Michelle Proctor Photography for all of the beautiful images above! Follow her on Instagram @michellejproctor and Facebook at www.facebook.com/MichelleProctorPhotography.
A special thanks to stylist, Kamilla Hemati and REISS for sponsoring all clothing and jewellery as well as Studio Fitness for allowing us to shoot on-location. All makeup and looks by Sponge using Amika tools and hair care products.