This week’s That Girl is Glamabox co-founder Jennifer Cheng – if you needed any proof that businesswomen didn’t have to be all boring suits and business babble, here’s your girl!
We chat to beauty junkie Jennifer about her must-have make-up products, whether she’s encountered any sexism at work and her top tips for succeeding in business 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 originally from Hong Kong, but I was born and raised in the US. I grew up on the East Coast and spent most of my childhood in Brookline, Massachusetts. I went to Brown University for my undergrad, spent some time in New York City, acting and modelling, then decided to come to Hong Kong to get my MBA and make my career in Asia. It was actually really scary, because I came here speaking next to no Cantonese, and now I’m able to conduct business in Cantonese. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but I’m slowly getting there.
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live in the Mid-Levels. I’ve made my home my own by surrounding myself with clothing and jewellery I’ve picked up from my travels and from different stages of my life – I find collecting beautiful, unique pieces serves me well, as styles come back into vogue every several years, not to mention when I wear something the memories of the occasions I’ve worn it previously will flood over me. Also, last year, I brought my cream teacup Pomeranian Parker Posey to Hong Kong with me. Parker is originally a New York dog, and she was living with my parents in California while I did my MBA here. Parker absolutely loves Hong Kong, and taking walks on The Peak.
How would you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
My personal style is a mix of casual glam, vampy business, and princess chic. It changes on any given day depending on the people I’m with and the occasion. On weekends, you can find me in a hoodie, in various shades of white, pink, or purple. I gravitate toward girly colours. When I go out, or have a special occasion with girl friends, I choose from my growing collection of cocktail dresses, which are of course in pink, silver, white, and black, my colour consortium for going-out. I like to accessorize, so I’ll wear sparkly jewellery, and once or twice, even a small tiara.
In the summers, I can’t stay away from short-shorts, boyfriend shorts, and slip dresses. In the office, you will find me wearing jeggings, dark jeans, paired with a tunic or a button down in pastel colours. The good thing about working in the Internet, online, new-media, and beauty worlds is that you get to dress more creatively than you would in other fields. If I were to wear a suit, people would look at me strangely. When I do need to go more formal, I just put on pumps and throw on a blazer. With the weather we’ve been having lately, I like to layer, which makes things more interesting. If you layer a tank top underneath a crop top for example, it has a lengthening and slimming effect on your silhouette.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
Online I shop at Net-a-Porter, Far Fetch, and mix it up with Victoria’s Secret, ASOS, and even Aeropostale for cheap basics. Offline, I frequent mainstays like Harvey Nichols, Lane Crawford, as well as drop into boutiques in the Soho and Causeway Bay area. Recently, I discovered a statement necklace shop called Dear Bell, on Wellington Street. I picked up 2 pieces there, including a Chanel perfume pendant necklace and a Thierry Mugler Angel necklace, and I couldn’t resist commissioning a third, which they custom designed just for me!
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
My must-have beauty products are La Mer moisturiser cream (I’ve been using it for over three years and am totally addicted), Institut Esthederm Sunblock (this does the trick for keeping freckles and sunspots at bay), generic lip stain (I prefer using lip stain to lip liner as it looks more natural), and Panda Eyes liquid eyeliner. For my hair, I go to i hair in iSquare, but for nails, I prefer to do them myself. I’m addicted to facials – it’s all about the aesthetician and their touch, as facial massage is an intrinsic part of any good facial.
What is your favourite thing to do at the weekend?
In the following order: sleep, eat, watch movies, catch up on reading and engage in retail therapy!
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
One of the things I like about Hong Kong is its rich history, and you can see that in some of the older establishments like Kee Club, Dynasty Club and the Jockey Club. I recently went to the Jockey Club for my mom’s birthday, and we ate in the Derby Restaurant that, for the record, has a lovely lobster thermidor. I love seafood and oysters. There’s an absolute gem in the Tin Hau area called Oyster C. They have fresh oysters, uni, you name it, it’s there.
I’m also a carb-aholic – I literally cannot live without my carbs! When the Italian or pasta craving hits me, Mostaccioli Brothers, Linguini Fini, Domani or Posto Pubblico do the trick!
Why did you decide to start Glamabox? How does it differ from all the other beauty boxes out there?
I decided to start Glamabox because firstly, I’m absolutely obsessed when it comes to beauty – I am a self-professed beauty junkie to the umpteenth degree! I love discovering and finding new products that work with me, and slowly de-cluttering my medicine cabinet while streamlining my beauty routine. Pairing up with Lisa S was a no-brainer; since she’s the epitome of the beauty industry, journalists and editors are constantly asking her opinion on what’s the latest and best in beauty.
We’re different from your typical beauty box in that we try to engage all our Glamagirls in a journey of experience, from discovering products together and giving feedback, to holding beauty panels, how-to’s and more. We recently launched our Glamashop to complete the Glama-journey with our subscribers, so that now they can immediately buy what they try in their Glamabox. We also have unique events where we invite the people from the beauty industry, our subscribers and more, so I guess you could say we are always trying to bring the best experiences to our members.
You have also worked extensively in the business field in Hong Kong (as vice-president of group-buying website BeeCrazy amongst other things!). Do you have any advice about doing business in HK specifically, in comparison to when you worked in the US?
One of the things I’ve learned from all my jobs is that relationships matter! This is especially true in Asia, and in particular Hong Kong. Hong Kong is very small and very connected, and as such, the business and the personal world often collide. This is good, because you can leverage relationships more easily, but this is also something to be careful about, as in building any career, you need to keep certain boundaries between your professional and your private life.
Have you ever encountered any sexism in the workplace?
You know, it’s funny that you should ask that question! I came to Hong Kong to get my MBA precisely because I felt like I was hitting a glass ceiling in the US, what with my experience in the media and entertainment industry, finance, and internet industry. In the entertainment industry, I was judged solely on my looks, and in the finance field, it seemed like it was a “boys club” where my opinion was more of an after-thought for consideration and not valued on its own. When doing internet advertising sales, I’d had enough of people telling me that I must have a “big book of business” because of my looks, and decided I’d get my MBA and try my luck in Asia as the next step.
Coming to Hong Kong was the best decision I’ve made; I’ve been able to rise through the ranks, start companies, and excel in top management. But from time to time, I still get comments from people to the tune of “Why don’t you just stay home and have babies?” It is a patriarchal society after all.
You were at the forefront of the group-buying trend; now you’ve tapped into the beauty box trend. What other big trends do you predict for start-up businesses in HK?
I think a lot of these so-called “trends” (group-buying and beauty boxes among them) are actually developments that have long-term ramifications for the rise of e-commerce in Hong Kong, Asia and the rest of the world. These are all rapidly evolving – for example, group-buying is becoming ever-ubiquitous as publishers, merchants, and SMEs [small and medium businesses] learn to do deals themselves on their own terms on different platforms, whereas the beauty box development is only the tip of the iceberg for the rise of subscription commerce.
Another trend you will be seeing more of is mobile payments, checkouts, gift, and loyalty programs. All these factors are coming together to forever change the way we shop, and the way brands engage with their consumers.
What have been the biggest changes to business you’ve noticed since your early days working on start-ups in the US? In what other ways do you think the online world will change how business is done?
One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is that not only is the pace of start-ups rapid, but this increase in speed is influencing how we all do business. For example, with the rise of new media, communications compounded by the development of the Internet and the smart-phone gave rise to a faster-pace of work. Now, responses are expected more quickly, and business as a whole in most industries is conducted at a faster pace.
The other thing that we are seeing, aside from the need for speed, is convergence. I’m referring to a convergence of roles of both people and platforms, from a marketing platform doubling as a sales channel and forum (Group Buying and Subscription Commerce), and a person performing sales, marketing, PR, and consulting functions. Brands are expecting more out of their marketing campaigns beyond online and social, while consumers are expecting more out of their services and products.
You’re a former actress, model and musician. How do you reconcile the creative side of your life with the business side? Is there room for both in the workplace?
I’ve had a lot of roles in my life and have been lucky to pick up valuable skills from the industries I’ve been involved in – entertainment, media, finance, internet, business. So I don’t think the creative side and the business side need to be mutually exclusive and in fact complement each other well!
As a former actress and model, I learned to be fearless in the audition room and in front of the camera. As a pianist, I learned from an early age to calm my nerves before I walked out onstage at a concert or a competition. All these skills have served me well and helped me become better at sales, business development, presenting, and speaking in my business roles.
The other thing about having an artistic side and developing this is that it does wonders for problem-solving, thinking outside of the box, and just being generally more creative when it comes to the workplace. I’m lucky to be involved in businesses that have been less traditional than your run-of-the-mill workplace. To this day, outside of the workplace, I take a delight in fashion and beauty, and I still write and blog frequently including using video blogging and photo entries to express myself.
Do you have any advice for other budding entrepreneurs out there?
I’ve learned now that you need to pick your teams, mentors and business partners very wisely. They’re the make or break factor for success and for being happy doing what you do. It’s best to find people who are motivated and passionate, as you all work together toward a common goal and grow the company.
Finally, entrepreneurism is all about taking risks, believing in yourself, finding a great idea, and executing it. If you find something or are doing something you absolutely love, there is no reason you won’t succeed at it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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