7 August, 2013

That Girl: Tricia Yap, co-owner and trainer at Bikini Fit & founder of Bejewelled Bespoke

7 August, 2013
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This week’s That Girl is the incredibly multi-talented Tricia Yap – not only does she design and make her own gorgeous jewellery with her business Bejewelled Bespoke, but she’s now a co-owner of and trainer at Bikini Fit, the girls-only training programme that’s taken Hong Kong by storm! 

We chat to Trish about why she gave up corporate life for doing push-ups at 6am, get her top five fitness tips, find out what inspires her jewellery designs and discover what her husband thinks about her grappling with sweaty men in the name of sport!

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Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I am Malaysian by origin but grew up between Kuala Lumpur and Sydney as my family moved around a lot. After graduating from a double degree in Finance, Accounting and IT from the University of Sydney, I took up a consulting role at one of the big four accounting firms. My dream was to move to NYC and it almost came true when I was offered a position there… but as life would have it and as cliché as it sounds, I fell in love with a guy who I (literally) bumped into in Sydney! Against all advice, I took a leap of faith and gave up what could have been the opportunity of a lifetime to follow my heart. It must have been fated because we are now very happily married!

I was really nervous about not having a job in a city I had never even visited prior to moving and where I didn’t have a single contact. It was pure luck that a position opened up in the same field in the same company in HK and I ended up here as their first team member.

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Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live on Macdonnell Road in the Mid-Levels with my husband and two cats in an unusual little duplex that has a rooftop within a low-rise colonial building. We fell in love with the open kitchen, large blank space, and the natural light that streamed in through windows on three sides of the apartment. The deal was sealed when I also discovered the walk-in closet upstairs!

Our bottom floor isn’t just our living and dining space, but also my showroom for Bejewelled Bespoke so there is jewellery everywhere! HK spaces are small, so I try to furnish with storage in mind. Our furniture and décor is a mix of old and new, cheap and expensive – commissioned custom pieces, thrifted flea market goodies, AsiaXpat finds, stuff bought from our favourite shops like Tree, Shambala or good old Ikea… and we’ve even been known to rescue furniture from the side of the road in the middle of the night! I also collect vintage jewellery and accessories – and my favourites are framed and displayed around our home.

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How would you describe your personal style?
Since I left my corporate job to become a partner in and trainer at Bikini Fit, I live in my workout gear! However, I’m a Sydney beach girl at heart – which means skinny jeans and distressed denim, lots of dresses, floaty silks, statement accessories, bright colours and lots of vintage. I’m obsessed with jewellery and a sucker for anything gold, unusual, bold or vintage (and if it were all the above, I have to have it!). I collect a lot of vintage dresses, furs, jewellery, and accessories from the 1950s and 70s and shamelessly raid my mother’s wardrobe for designer vintage from the 1980s and 90s.

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Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
To be honest, I hardly shop in HK (I’m a HUGE online shopper) but when I do, I get my floaty silk fix from fellow Australian designer Zero Noir stocked at Polkadot Boutique, vintage-inspired fashion from Aalis and trend pieces from high street labels like H&M and Zara. My favourite secret places are the thrift stores on Lok Ku Road in Sheung Wan for home décor and vintage accessories, and Me & Gee for vintage/second-hand clothing in Wan Chai. I head to Shenzhen to get some of my clothes made and have a go-to tailor who I trust to turn my sketches and fabric market buys into reality.

Where are good places to get nice (but not crazy expensive) workout gear in Hong Kong?
I swear by Lululemon and 2XU for quality and comfort. However, I’m also really impressed by Cotton On Body’s range of very affordable active wear – I am loving their brightly-coloured running shorts and super cute tanks with slogans like “Got Kicked Out of Yoga” and “Treadmills Get You Nowhere”.

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What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
Because my priority is healthy eating, my favourite restaurants are those with healthy options. You’ll find me grabbing breakfast or dinner most of the time at Wagyu Lounge, where we have a special Bikini Fit menu. I love MANA! salads and as a treat, their gluten-free wraps and dessert. Charlie’s Place (tucked away in Admiralty) does healthy Cantonese cooking with little oil and no MSG and they’re very accommodating to the health-conscious customer – their steamed fish is one of my favourite dishes. On Lot 10 on Gough Street is a recent discovery – they have relatively healthy options such as the salt baked fish and roasted chicken for dinner out with friends. When we have friends in town, I’m forced to declare a cheat meal and take them to sample crispy suckling pig at Sun Dou Ke in Jordan, HK-style Peking duck at Spring Deer in TST or steaks at Bistecca.

I don’t drink alcohol but I love taking visitors to experience the glamorous décor at Salon No 10 and Wooloomoloo Wan Chai’s quiet rooftop bar with stunning views of HK.

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How did you first get started making jewellery and how did Bejewelled Bespoke begin?
I am a hands-on person that has always loved to create things. Art and design were my favourite subjects at school, and during university, despite the demands of a double degree, I enrolled in short courses at the College of Fine Arts to satisfy my need to be creative. As such, I went from braiding friendship bracelets in primary school, to stringing beaded necklaces in high school, to learning about lost-wax casting and soldering at university, but I never once intended or dreamt that I would eventually end up selling my designs!

Bejewelled Bespoke was born quite accidentally. Similar to every expat that moves to Hong Kong, we went down the well-trodden path of exploring the city via its vibrant social scene. Between cocktails, dinners and brunches, my handmade jewellery always garnered positive comments and eventually I decided that I would launch a small debut collection – which almost sold out! I recall having to stay up all night making pieces for the second day of the Soho Handmade HK fair because I had virtually sold out of everything on the first day and was afraid of having a bare table!

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Where do you get ideas for your designs? Is there anywhere you go to seek inspiration?
My collections all take inspiration from vintage, especially Art Nouveau, Art Deco and the 1950s. As a hoarder, my materials collection is also a source of inspiration – some things I know immediately what to do with, but other times I’ll hang on to certain beads or components for years… until I think of the perfect design it would go with! I source items from around the globe and always seek out unusual materials – I once purchased an entire collection of 1960s and 1970s Haskell components from a retired costume jeweller!

Travelling and exploring new cultures always triggers a desire to create. I purchased these huge Paua shell necklaces as home décor from Bali in 2012 and was also reading up on tribal jewellery for wedding rituals in Africa at the time – so this inspired my Neon Tribe collection of brightly coloured statement necklaces made from coconut shells and natural stones.

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What made you decide to take the plunge and leave the corporate life behind?
My life changed dramatically in 2011 when Rachel Jacqueline of the fitness blog, HK Adventure Baby, convinced me to sign up for Hedge Fund Fight Night. At the time, we were both were working corporate jobs and neither of us were particularly happy (or as fit as we thought either – as we soon found out when we started training!). As someone who has always battled with self-confidence, weight and constant feelings of doubt, jumping into a boxing ring was not an easy task. I was forced to confront my fears (and there were many!) and to eventually have the confidence to believe that I had it in myself to train hard, make weight and ultimately, win. I did win – and then I set out to apply the same principles to my life.

I had always talked about quitting my corporate job but kept finding reasons to stay, whether it was a promotion or challenging project. However, I realised that not only was I unhappy with my career, I had come to a point where I felt no passion for it. I would not have gained the confidence in myself if it weren’t for the support of my coaches and my second family at JAB Mixed Martial Arts, who are a source of everyday inspiration to me. With that, I took my NASM personal trainer certification and handed in my resignation! It was not an easy decision to make, as it meant starting over in a completely different career, but honestly my only one regret is that I did not follow my dreams earlier.

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How did you get into mixed martial arts?
After Hedge Fund Fight Night, I was hooked. I continued with my boxing and kickboxing, and have had the opportunity to even travel to Singapore and Dubai for boxing. Throughout it all, I became more curious about the sport of Brazilian jujitsu – which initially just looked like a bunch of sweaty guys rolling around together! A good friend of mine who is a purple belt in BJJ started teaching a fundamentals class and asked if I wanted to come. Not one to say no anymore, I did and I was hooked! It’s a sport that requires so much technique, strength, mobility and the ability to think quickly on your feet.

One day, someone joked that since I’d taken on jujitsu on top of boxing and kickboxing, I should give MMA a go – and that’s when I found myself rolling about with the guys on a Saturday morning learning about takedowns and ground and pound (it is so much harder than it looks on TV!). I am loving every opportunity I get to train – whether it’s strength and conditioning, powerlifting, boxing, kickboxing, BJJ or MMA. There always seems to be so much more that I have to do to close gaps in my technique, knowledge, and fitness! I always feel like I’m not doing enough. That said, I’m looking forward to one day doing my first white-collar MMA fight!

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Have you ever received any criticism from those who think MMA not a woman’s sport?
I have definitely received a lot of criticism for my chosen passion. My parents are constantly worried about serious injuries (I fractured my ankle two months ago, have sprained my neck and busted a knuckle so far…). My husband is similarly worried and also didn’t like the thought of me grappling sweaty guys – but he’s come around since! People I meet are generally surprised at first, and then usually curious; anyone thinks martial arts are not for girls should take a look at women like Lauryn Eagle (an Australian female boxer) or Ronda Rousey (a top UFC female mixed martial artist) – they’re absolutely stunning, ridiculously fit and extremely dangerous!

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What five easy tips would you give to girls who want to stay fit?
1. Never fall into the trap of counting calories or going hungry. Not all calories were created equal! Your body deals with protein, fats and carbohydrates differently.

2. Train smart for your goals. Incorporating interval training and resistance training will have a bigger impact if your goal is to lose body fat than steady state training. Also, lifting weight won’t bulk you out; the right comprehensive training program will actually lead to a decrease in body fat! If you’re unsure of where to start, look at hiring a personal trainer or joining a structured group programme (like Bikini Fit!) where our mantra is “Service – Support – Education” – empowering you with the training and knowledge to be a healthier, fitter and happier you.

3. Finding it hard to make healthy choices when eating out? Become an expert at deconstructing menus and don’t be afraid to ask for something healthy. Most good restaurants can replace cream mash with salad, put sauce on the side or cook with less or no oil when asked.

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4. There is no “one size fits all” diet or training plan or quick fixes that will magically transform you. Instead, understand that it is a long process and any change you make needs to be sustainable or you won’t be able to stick to it in the long term. Everyone is different (your goals, lifestyle, budget etc), so what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you.

5. Don’t cheat yourself if you have fitness goals you want to achieve in a set timeframe. That sneaky chocolate bar or drink everyday will set your goal posts back – instead, designate a single meal as a cheat meal for the week. Having no access to gym facilities while travelling doesn’t mean you still can’t exercise – just workout in your hotel room! Moreover, putting on a pair of running shoes and grabbing a map is one of the best ways to explore a new city.

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You’re now a partner in Bikini Fit – and also one of their trainers! How did you get involved in that?
When I left my corporate job behind, I knew that I wanted to specialise in women’s health and fitness. By complete fate, I was introduced to Alex de Fina who had just founded Bikini Fit and we’re now business partners! We are both very driven individuals with high expectations of ourselves (admittedly, we are both workaholics!) and share the same passion not just for fitness, but also for helping others. We have different skillsets and personalities that we bring to the partnership and we’re constantly striving to make Bikini Fit better – I’d like to think that we make a great team. Becoming a fitness coach is my dream job, and owning (part of) my own business is an added bonus!

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Was it difficult to make the leap from student to teacher? What makes a good trainer?
I didn’t find it as difficult as I had imagined. I was nervous as hell when I first took the lead with a class… but that lasted all of 30 seconds and once I got over the initial panic attack, I absolutely LOVED it.  It is such an incredible feeling when you realise that you’re actually living your dream. I naturally love helping others and it was an aspect of my corporate role that I actually enjoyed so I find great fulfillment in helping Bikini Fit girls achieve their goals – whether it is to drop a dress size, make better decisions with their food or even be able to do 20 push-ups.

I’m always reading and learning so that I can either share that with the girls or apply it so that I can be a better coach, and I try to remember to break things down when explaining movements or concepts – I constantly remind myself that what may be natural or given knowledge to me may not be the same for someone else. And regardless of whatever might be bothering me that day, I always make sure I have a huge smile on my face and put my 110% into each Bikini Fit girl that turns up because I want their experience to be no less than fantastic. I believe it is these qualities that make a difference as a coach.

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You mentioned you always like doing other sports when travelling – what are some of your must-do sporty experiences in other countries?

•  Backcountry snowboarding in Niseko and Furano, Japan

•  Surfing in Bali at Canggu and Uluwatu

•  Running the Angkor Wat half marathon at Siem Reap, Cambodia

•  Martial arts bootcamp in Phuket at Tiger Muay Thai

•  Trail running followed by onsen in Hakone, Japan

•  …And hiking through Bhutan is next on our hit list!

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What are the greatest setbacks you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
The greatest setback is fear. If I were to reflect on everything I ended up regretting, it always comes down to my fears – the fear of losing a stable income, the fear of starting over, the fear of taking risks. The last two years of my life has taught me to see that I am my biggest obstacle but that I can overcome that by believing in myself.

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What advice would you give to girls wanting to start their own business?

•  Be honest with any evaluations of yourself and your business idea.

•  Ask yourself what makes your business idea different? Is there a market for it?

•  Always have a well thought out business plan.

•  Don’t be afraid to fail or to make mistakes. If you do, reflect on what you could have done better and do it.

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•  Strive to constantly learn and build on your knowledge, be humble to admit you don’t know everything and seek help if you need it.

•  Find a mentor – it could be someone in a completely different industry but who can be a sounding board and always challenges and questions you.

•  Surround yourself with like-minded individuals that you are inspired and motivated by and who encourage you to constantly strive to be better.

•  Take care of yourself. As a business owner, more often than not you may feel overwhelmed and stressed. Prioritise important tasks, outsource or delegate tasks that can be done by someone else and remember to take a break once in a while!

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What’s the key to being happy in HK?
You can be happy anywhere in the world if you are comfortable in your own skin, do what makes you happy and surround yourself with friendships and family that love and support you.

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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