Start-ups, mentors and women empowerment
This month we’re featuring the talented co-founder of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide, Ines Gafsi, as our That Girl. Ines, along with her business partner Anna Wong, have set up a platform that aims to empower and support entrepreneurial women in Hong Kong and around the world. The regular meetings and events they hold are not only inspiring, but offer a sense of community and the opportunity for like-minded individuals to form strong professional networks. It’s all about connecting wonderful women, which we love!
Not only do we admire Ines for her work with FEW, but we also seriously respect how she manages to balance this with her PR and marketing for French Creations, the restaurant group behind some of our fave French haunts (we’re talking Saint-Germain, Le Boudoir and Alchemy to name a few). On top of her career success, Ines is one of the most genuine, kind and down-to-earth women we’ve met in HK. We chat to her about start-ups in Hong Kong, managing workload and the future of FEW…
Tell us about your background and where you’re from.
I was born in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, in France. It’s a beautiful medieval town known mostly as the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and as the home of the Gothic cathedral made famous by Monet’s series of paintings. I studied in France, did a six-month internship in Delhi to complete business school, before moving to London and finally landing in Hong Kong about four years ago.
I love travelling and my plan was to live in a different country at least every 3 years – Hong Kong and the millions of exciting opportunities is seriously challenging this! My background is digital marketing and public relations; I worked with multinational corporations and startups in the Fashion and F&B industries. The experiences I’ve had in different countries has made me more tolerant, adaptable and eager to learn.
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live in Shek O, Hong Kong’s most colourful beachside village. I fell in love with its beautiful beach, charming coloured houses, its labyrinth of little streets, its dogs-cats-parrots-friendly areas, its skyscraper-free sky, but most importantly the unique village lifestyle.
Here, it’s not just your neighbours that say ‘hello’, but the entire village! Everyone mingles and enjoys summer barbecues together.… there’s even a group email that you can use to ask for advice, share information and connect with the whole community!
I live in an orange house, have an adopted kitten, collect postcards from all around the world, Polaroid photographs of friends and of the moments we share, and I sometimes walk barefoot in the village… that’s how I make it my own.
How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
On weekdays my style is usually classic, I wear black or grey dresses or jumpsuits and a black blazer. I keep accessories minimal. I always try to keep it simple and elegant. I prefer black leather pumps and avoid high heels, I think it’s important to always feel comfortable. On weekends, I wear more brightly coloured accessories and patterns – some French Nautical stripes – or a printed dresses. My style gets a bit more playful and relaxed.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I love CHICAMEO’s playful dresses with mixed prints, bold popping colours and with a clear focus on eye-catching embellishments. Callixto’s jewellery is absolutely stunning and KOTUR does really creative bags. I usually get all my tips from my stylist friend Elle Noble – she’s always in the know!
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
My hair is naturally curly and it is not easy to maintain in Hong Kong weather! Love Hair, Toni’s salon, is the only place in Hong Kong that sells Original Mineral products, made from organic Argan Oil and Macadamia oil that protects hair from humidity. I usually buy natural coconut oils and organic beauty products and wear chemical free sunscreen everyday! Little Things In Life has a great range of organic skincare for sensitive skins.
Describe your perfect weekend in Hong Kong.
I’d wake up and go for a swim in the sea, enjoy a coffee in the village with my friends, then hike or explore areas of the city where I’ve never been. I love to go for brunches in Kennedy Town, but find also myself often doing a completely new activity with my friends, like playing room escape games, bubble football, Bollywood dancing, trying Kung Fu, painting or doing something creative. My weekends never look the same, but I always need the right combination of good food, friends, nature and quirk.
What’s your favourite place in Hong Kong?
I am a nature lover and spend as much time as I can on the beach in Shek O. However, I love exploring Lantau, which is my favourite island for hiking – I love hiking the sunset trail. The infinity pool there is the best summer spot to chill with friends.
What are you favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
We are so spoiled in Hong Kong with fantastic food it is hard to tell. Recently I’ve enjoyed lunching at Don Buri Kings in Sheung Wan, their sake don is the perfect healthy lunch fix. I’m often in Kennedy Town for brunch at Comptoir – they serve the best deal in town, delicious and consistent Mediterranean flavours and my favourite prosecco ‘Belstar’. I love sipping old-fashion cocktails at Stockton but I enjoy the ‘tucked-away’ vibe of Medusa, a tiny hidden bar in Soho. I spend most of Wednesday evenings at Le Boudoir soaking up its live acoustic music – I’m addicted to the Boudoir Collins.
Tell us about your career and why you decided to start Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide.
As a digital marketing specialist, I worked with multinational corporations and startups in various industries, especially luxury goods and F&B. My career has been in digital marketing, eCommerce and social media roles. I also coordinate, curate and organise events and conferences; I’ve been active in organisations such as TEDx. Combining my love of technology, my interest in business, and my passion for women empowerment, I co-founded FEW to unleash startups full potential with meaningful connections. We are dedicated to bringing real value to our female entrepreneurs, so we have created online channels and offline activities that can help women to grow their business and enhance their personal development.
What makes you passionate about encouraging female entrepreneurs in particular?
Advising and “coaching” my friends is a strong trait of my personality. I’m a good listener and always try my best to help others. When I met Anna, FEW co-founder, I realised the importance of meeting like-minded women and how it’s essential to grow and extend your potential. It naturally makes sense for me to meet female entrepreneurs every day to try to understand the challenges they face and how I can help them, sometimes to give them exposure via our platform and recommend experts. It’s also simply a good way for me to know who else in the network they could help by sharing their experience at one of our panel events. FEW is all about gathering a community of women willing to share and help one another. It feels right to me, and that is why I am dedicated to this community.
What has been your biggest challenge working for a start-up, and what do you think are some of the struggles that many start-ups in Hong Kong face?
Working for a startup often means being adaptable and being able to wear several hats. It usually means working with a small team, long hours, having to make critical decisions fast and juggling different aspects of the business…
The Hong Kong startup scene struggles to raise funds; even through it’s a well-established financial hub, investors tend to invest in more mature companies. Attracting talent is another major challenge, finding the right people who will stay loyal is not an easy task. Many female entrepreneurs ask for PR and marketing advice, how to make noise in a very crowded city.
Why do you think it is important for women to have a support network when starting a new business?
I’ve been very lucky to meet Anna, but the majority of entrepreneurs do not have a business partner or a good one, which means starting your own business can be a lonely journey. Women especially tend to lack confidence and most of the time do not take the leap into entrepreneurship because they do not believe strongly enough in the project, fear for their financial security and doubt their own capabilities. Being surrounded by the right people who understand these challenges is the best way to overcome these hurdles. There is a lot of solidarity within the network and many experienced businesswomen are keen to give back to the community and become mentors, sharing their tips and knowledge to younger female entrepreneurs. We believe that you can empower women with words. That’s why we invite successful female entrepreneurs to speak at our events.
You also do PR for the awesome restaurant group French Creations. How do you balance your work for them and for FEW?
We are very proud of our amazing FEW team, female entrepreneurs who are supporting our activities, willing to join the movement and contribute whenever they can.
The French Creations co-founders are the perfect example of successful entrepreneurs. They’ve built a team of leaders and fully support FEW, offering me the flexibility to work and balance my time as I need. My days are obviously very busy but as long as you are passionate and keep learning, it’s not a problem.
What are some of your most memorable moments in your career, and with FEW?
FEW is growing so fast. We recently launched in Shenzhen and have built connections with other global communities. Every event has been memorable, but receiving positive feedback, support and gratitude from women is what makes it unforgettable. Finally finding my passion is probably the most important step of my career, starting something from scratch and seeing it grow is so fulfilling.
Read more about Shenzhen in our Sassy Guide here.
Which 3 female-led start-ups do you admire most and why?
1. Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal and author of #girlboss is a great example of creativity and stubbornness. She does not take herself too seriously which is essential.
2. We had the pleasure of inviting Maxine Ryan, co-founder of Bitspark, to give a talk at one of our events and I was so impressed by her energy and how driven this young and successful woman is. She thrives in a male-dominated industry and is respected for her unique vision.
3. There are many examples of really hard-working female entrepreneurs in Hong Kong who’ve turned their life upside down to chase their dreams. I will take the example of Christelle Ho, a previous banker, who started the healthcare online platform, TopDoc. I admire all women who take risks and stand for what they believe in.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who will support your entrepreneurial dreams. Your peers have a powerful effect on who you are today and tomorrow. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail – the worse thing that can happen is you’ll learn from your failure. And don’t be afraid to unleash your passion and creativity – they’re what help to make successful entrepreneurs.
What are you plans for FEW and where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
We are very excited to announce the first edition of Female Entrepreneurs Day (FED) at Cyberport on 7 May 2016. This one-day event aims to promote female entrepreneurship and broaden women’s access to resources and support. FED will bring together 300+ new-generation entrepreneurs, business elite and corporate leaders from all over the globe to connect, inspire and empower the next generation of female entrepreneurs. We’re also planning a mobile app, we want to bring real values to the FEW community by connecting them with worldwide businesswomen and advisors.
In 5 years so much can happen, but my goal is to be a leader of a global network supporting the rise of female entrepreneurs. I want to contribute to society, to make a difference to the world.
Love Ines’ look? Check out the fab female entrepreneurs behind the clothes, jewellery and beauty for this That Girl shoot!
– Hair: Toni Marie Sutton-Marcus from Love Hair HK – www.lovehairhk.com
– Makeup: Gabbie Lee www.gabbiemakeup.com
– Styling: Elle Noble, www.ellenoble.com
– All jewellery: Callixto – callixto.com, Sasha Dennig
– The Clothes:
1) Black Alexandria Top & Sharon Skirt – SAU – www.sauclothing.com, Cheryl Leung
2) Knotted Jersey Blue Maxi Dress – what the frock?! – www.whatthefrock.net, Maria Estrada
3) Neon Sunset Top & Shorts & Aquamarine ruffle dress – Chicameo and www.chicameo.com, Pernille Holmboe and Tale Hagelsteen
And of course, all the beautiful images were taken by the extremely talented photographer, Michelle Proctor of Michelle ProctorPhotography! Follow her on Instagram @michellejproctor
All images by Michelle Proctor, www.michellejproctor.com