30 May, 2012

That Girl: Jamie Wenker of Polkadot Boutique

30 May, 2012

This week’s That Girl is Southern gal Jamie Wenker of long-time Sassy fave Polkadot Boutique! We’ve been supporters of this cute fashion boutique since the very beginning and love their range of stylish independent but affordable labels – plus their super-fun Sip n Shop evenings every month!

We chat to co-founder and jewellery designer Jamie about her top fashion finds in Tsim Sha Tsui, her favourite hiking trails in HK, what inspired Polkadot and snag a few DIY jewellery tips too!

Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I’ve basically lived in the Southern part of the US my entire life and the culture, mannerism, and (most definitely!) accent are very much a part of who I am today. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina with my parents, twin brother and multiple family pets to then move to Atlanta, Georgia after university. My brother and I are quite the opposite, he being more academic and me being more artistic, and always in competition with each other. However, we both have a common passion for travel and adventure.

We were extremely fortunate to have parents that loved to travel and who weren’t afraid to send us off on our own escapades camping across the United States and studying abroad in Europe. My family actually had a running competition to see who would be the first to travel to all 50 US states (sadly my mom beat me a few years ago on a cruise to Alaska but hey, I’m still ahead of my brother!!). I definitely have a profound appreciation for other countries and cultures, and thank my parents for planting the travel bug inside of me many years ago. So when the opportunity arose in 2009 to follow my heart (which he still has!) and move to Hong Kong I jumped at the chance.

Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I’ve been living in Tsim Sha Tsui for the last 2.5 years and love it! Everyone always asks why we made the move to Kowloon side from the Mid-Levels as if it was a crazy choice but it was an easy decision. I wanted to move outside of my “Central” circle and into more local surroundings. It’s just incredible how I can walk out of my flat and immediately be around so many different ethnicities. Plus, our flat has giant windows on all sides affording us amazing view of the harbour and HK Island, and tons of light. In addition, we were allowed to paint our walls with bright colours so it completely feels like home!

How would you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
My personal style is much like my hair and taste in music; it never stays the same for long and changes as I evolve as a person! In high school, I was the prepster cheerleader who rocked out to boy-band pop and couldn’t have enough Keds or Gap clothing in her closet. In university, I went completely grunge and did everything in my power to look like Gwen Stefani in my loose fitting Levi’s, plaid tops and bleached blond hair. All the way through my 20s I was still getting to know myself and was definitely into experimenting with many different looks and hairstyles (I was grey before Kelly Osbourne made it cool… ok, ok it was a mistake!!). Now in my late 30s, I’m much more relaxed and comfortable with myself and that shows in how I dress. I like simple, casual clothes that are beautifully made and can be dress up or down depending on my mood (and hair style) and chunky, statement-making jewels. At the moment, I’m completely into stacking bangles and cuffs of different textures and colors with an oversized watch.

Where do you shop in Hong Kong (other than Polkadot)? Any secret finds you can let us in on? Any up and coming designers we should be looking out for?
I love exploring different areas of HK and am always on the hunt for interesting shops and undiscovered artists. I recently spent a day off from Polkadot wandering through the streets of Sheung Wan and Kennedy Town. In TST, I can spend countless hours in Lost & Found and the Beauty Bazaar, both located in The One mall, as well as DNA Galleria on Cameron Road, which houses millions of small Asian brands and designers. Two new HK designers to look out for are Tangram and FiFi. Both labels were recently featured at Polkadot during our monthly Sip n Shops and we are definitely fans!

What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
Between the heat, air pollution and everyday stress, you need to take good care of your skin and body. I have six absolute must-have beauty products and 99% of the time you will not find me leaving home without them: Nivea Q-10 face cream with SPF, Burts Bee’s Beeswax Lip Balm, Lancôme Hypnose Doll Eyes Mascara, L’Oreal Elseve Anti-Frizz Hair Serum, Goody’s Ouchless Hair Elastics and last but not least a bottle of distilled water.

When I have the time I love trying out DIY face scrubs. I recently tried a honey and brown sugar scrub that is great for dry skin. When I’m not doing my own facial or manicures, I love being pampered at The Mira Spa in TST.

What is your favourite thing to do at the weekend?
When I get a weekend away from the store, I am normally doing something outside; when I first moved to HK, I was so excited to be in a city that had both water and mountains! During the summers, I love going to the various beaches on the southern side of the Island and when the weather cools down, I can be found on one of the many trails out in the New Territories. During rainy days, I can be found catching up on all my fashion magazines and pinning away on Pinterest (yes, I’m addicted!).

Where are your favourite places to hike in HK?
I was never a big hiker until I moved to HK. What started out as a great way to meet new people (yes, that’s how I met my current business partner and best friend Karen!) became a complete passion of mine and a way to escape the hustle and bustle of Central. I’ve even made it my mission to finish all sections of the big four trails before year end and have already completed the Hong Kong and MacLehose trails with only one section of the Wilson and two of Lantau to go. Lantau Island definitely has the best views and if you’re up for a challenge definitely take on Sunset and Lantau Peak!

What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
I’m a huge fan of restaurants that are interactive and/or engage their customers. One of my favourite restaurant/bars in Central is California Vintage. I love being able to pick from multiple wines and pour my own glass from the dispensers. Plus, the tapas are excellent. You simply can’t go wrong!

Nomads Mongolian BBQ, located on Kimberly Rd in TST, is another big favourite of mine. Essentially, you create your own dish choosing from a variety of raw veggies, meats and sauces before turning it over to the chef’s at hand to grill it to perfection. Its buffet style and I encourage you to start small so you can try out as many combinations as you like.

Next on my list of places to try is YunYan Sichuan in the Miramar Shopping Centre in TST and The Monogamous Chinese in Soho. I’ve heard wonderful reviews about the food but be warned the dishes are spicy!

What inspired you to start Polkadot Boutique? And what inspired your Sip n Shop events?
I started designing jewellery in 2004 and successfully sold my handcrafted pieces to boutiques across the US. When I moved to HK, there were very few boutiques that carried independent designers and I found it difficult to establish my label outside of the yearly shopping fairs. I meet so many amazing designers through the various shopping events that it made it an easy decision to open a boutique that could showcase the talents of all these rising stars.

I started doing Sip-n-Shops years ago in the US when I would launch a new jewellery collection. It was a great way for me as a designer to get exposure while making it fun and interactive for customers as they sipped wine, eat food, socialised with friends, and shopped my new collection. At Polkadot, we host two Sip-n-Shops a month and feature all local designers and/or businesses. It’s a great option for your next girl’s night out!

How do you select the brands you stock in Polkadot?
Karen and I wanted to offer local designers as well as international brands that we both loved from home. Like so many of our friends, we would go on shopping sprees while back home and it just made sense to bring those same labels to HK for everyone to enjoy. We are always on the lookout for new labels and designers to carry in the store and definitely agree that all of our merchandise has to be good quality, affordable and simply effortless.

How does yours and Karen’s style differ? Have you ever had any UK-US cultural misunderstandings?
Karen loves prints and a more fitted look while I prefer monochromatic colour schemes and loose fitting pieces. Even though I handle all the buying responsibilities, it’s great to have that second pair of eyes and opinion since she knows our customers and what they like as well as I do. We both work really well together, which isn’t always easy when you are business partners as well as best friends!

We still laugh about the fact that when we first met I couldn’t understand a word she said. I had never heard a northern England accent as thick as hers and I was too embarrassed to tell her so I literally shook my head and agreed with everything she said.

How does the fashion scene in the States compare to HK, both for businesses and shoppers?
Hong Kong is such a dynamic city and the fashion scene is no different. Unlike other cities like NYC, LA or London, the fashion industry is still relatively new and taking shape. There is such a demand for quality and affordable products that it’s exciting to see all the new labels, stores, and fashion businesses open and give the HK shopper more options. And at Polkadot we are constantly changing and revamping our ideas, in-store events and merchandise to meet our customer’s needs.

You also design jewellery; how did you go from taking something you love doing creatively as a hobby to selling it and turning it into a business?
The transition from designing jewellery as a hobby to a full-time business was rather organic. I didn’t force it to happen overnight and when the time presented itself, I was ready to take the leap. I worked long hours and wore many hats (designer, manufacturer, financier, accountant, PR and marketing rep, the list goes on) but it was all worthwhile when you see your pieces on women walking down the street or eating at the table beside you!

How did you get started designing jewellery? Any tips for wannabe DIYers out there?
Growing up I was always doing something creative whether sewing pillows and Barbie clothes to painting and creating mosaics for client’s homes. I finally found my true calling when a friend of mine introduced me to a small bead store in Atlanta. My first necklace was a complete disaster but I didn’t give up! I continued to make jewellery and teach myself different skills. My big break came when a boutique owner loved the earrings I was wearing and wanted to buy them off me right then and there. I explained to her that I had made them and more pieces at home if she was interested in seeing them. She immediately placed an order and over the next year opened four more locations all carrying my jewellery. It totally boasted my confidence and made it easy to leave my then-job at Macy’s to focus on jewellery full-time.

There are so many online guides and excellent blogs for DIYers. I wish there would have been more around years ago! I love looking at A Pair & A Spare; Geneva has so many great ideas that anyone can do. Also, the YWCA offers great classes if you want to get a feel for different crafts.

Any nuggets of advice for anyone who is thinking of starting their own business?
The best advice I can give is the Nike motto… just do it! If you’ve ever wanted to own your own business or start your own line DON’T be afraid. Hong Kong is a great place for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Definitely do your research and network, network, network! It’s amazing how a little self-promotion can go a long way! Heels & Deals and Women In Charge are great venues to network and meet like-minded businesswomen.

If you could offer everyone just one piece of fashion advice, what would it be?
No matter what your style, be yourself and be confident! Nothing is more appealing than a confident woman!

All photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely-talented Sabrina Sikora of Sabrina Sikora Photography – get in touch with her at [email protected].

Check out the rest of our That Girls here!

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