The Loop HK has been a champion of creative minds in Hong Kong since our inception in 2015. Meet the city’s top trendsetters and changemakers this year, who – through their work – advocate for diversity and inclusion, sexual wellness and pleasure, bridging the gap between cultures, normalization of discussions surrounding menstruation, healthy eating without sacrificing hearty flavors, sustainability done the simple way, bettering the lives of the partially paralyzed, and much more.
Film director and creative director Vikash Autar arrived in Hong Kong four years ago after spending a decade in Sydney working in film and advertising. In 2016, he founded travel video channel Anydoko, and this year established production company Culture Kid Films.
The 33-year-old was born in the Netherlands to parents of Indian heritage, who are from the former Dutch colony of Suriname. “I think I’m quite lucky — I already knew from my early teens what I wanted to do,” says Autar. “I was super interested in the behind the scenes documentaries of major films, which is what inspired me to become a filmmaker.”
Anydoko is inspired by the Japanese word doko, meaning “where,” and features a variety of original series Autar directed on location in destinations across the globe. “Since I was doing so many travel commercials and content for brands, I had a lot of ideas for original content,” explains Autar, who’s worked with the likes of Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Fiji Airways and Qantas. “This inspired me to create Anydoko as an outlet to offer the travel pieces I wanted to create and see.”
Autar’s show on Anydoko, featuring content creator J Lou (see profile below)
What started as a fun passion project soon brought in opportunities: clients noticed the work the director was doing and flocked to him. “It proved to me that if you make great content, the people will come.”
As for his latest venture, its name is inspired by the “third culture kid” moniker — something Autar says he himself, as well as many in Hong Kong, can resonate with.
“As third culture kids, we have a uniquely global perspective on the world, and I want to bring that to the content I create,” explains Autar. The films and content will be “globally aware” and speak to a diverse group of people.
Diversity and inclusion are a major focus in Autar’s work — especially after he’s experienced racial discrimination in his professional life.
“I want this new company to be a strong ambassador, and of inclusion, in our industry,” Autar says. Besides ensuring diversity in the talent on screen, this will also include “expanding our film director and crew roster with people from diverse backgrounds.” Autar also feels strongly about changing the male-oriented, white-dominated status quo in filmmaking.
“I’m pushing back on sexist and racist requests from clients and in post-production,” he says. “I feel now that I have established myself I finally have a chance to start making these changes.”
“I want to stop hearing from people how they don’t want to see color, how everyone is the same,” adds Autar. “We are all different. I want you to see someone is black or brown or white, but celebrate the differences between us all, instead of using it as a negative.”
On what he hopes to bring to Hong Kong with his work: [In Hong Kong] there is great opportunity to nurture our creative talent. There is a lot of talent that isn’t given the opportunity to grow, especially from a diversity point of view. It’s not great anywhere around the world, but Hong Kong has work to do. I hardly see women in more technical film roles, nor minorities on set, and I’ve worked with too many clients who refuse to put people with darker skin tones in their commercials. We need to change all of this. Hong Kong used to be famous for film production — it’s time to bring back this glory.
Inspirations: Passion from other people can be inspiring and it seems to flow organically in Hong Kong. I am also always looking to grow creatively.
Motivations: My motivation comes from wanting to explore and create great work that people want to watch. It just feels great to be able to create something that people enjoy and value.
Serial entrepreneur and former actuary Edwin Chan, 32, (profiled in our 30 Under 30 feature in 2019) is one of the people behind Keto-friendly Hong Kong sauce brand Keto Mine and sexual wellness platform and marketplace We Are Fk (see profile on co-founder Petra Greening below).
Chan was on a ketogenic diet — also popularly known as keto and advocates for low-carb, high-fat intake in food — “on and off” for some time, when he realized there was a gap in the market for sauces that catered to the needs of those on the diet.
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“You end up doing a lot of cooking at home [while on keto] and there was just nothing out there that would give you those flavors,” explains Chan, who is studying for a nutrition certification from the British Nutrition Foundation.
The UK-born entrepreneur grew up between Britain and Hong Kong and moved back to the SAR permanently in 2017. Together with co-founders Ivor Ngo and Ryan Kwok, Chan began working on creating “high-fat, yet low-carb sauces that retain all the flavors we’re familiar with,” yet satisfies the needs of those on a diet. Just two and a half months later, in early 2021, Keto Mine was born.
The company initially offered two sauces: Hong Kong favorite XO sauce, and mala oil: both handmade with avocado oil, and with less than 3 percent net carbs. It has since added to its lineup a new flavor: salted egg yolk XO Sauce with lard croutons.
Fans can look forward to new flavors in the works, Chan reveals. The ultimate goal? For Keto Mine to transform into Asia’s biggest online keto supermarket.
The market is wider than just those on the keto diet, he adds.
“We don’t want to necessarily encourage more people to go keto,” he explains. “It works for me, and is a personal decision. Convenience is what we offer — we’re making it easier for people to enjoy what they’re eating.”
On what he wants to bring to Hong Kong with his work: I would like to add value — “how can I make things better?” And my businesses are just one way of me trying to bring to life more value.
Inspirations: I am most inspired by people that have come out to do their own thing, and make it work.
Motivations: The desire to have my own life, control of my timetable, and financial capability to look after myself and the people I want to.
“Sustainability does not need to be complicated,” says Bailey Cherry, who founded the student-led nonprofit reBooked in 2019.
The enterprise takes in second-hand children’s books, and in turn donates, recycles or sells them, preventing them from going straight to Hong Kong’s landfills.
The 16-year-old, who was born in Singapore to an American father and Filipino mother and grew up in Hong Kong, established reBooked with a desire to create a simple way for people to donate used children’s titles year-round, while also promoting sustainability in literacy by encouraging reuse of pre-loved books.
The idea first came to her in Spring 2019, says Cherry, and she began working on the website prototype shortly after. “Since reBooked’s launch, we have been so fortunate to have received tremendous support from the local community,” she adds. reBooked has collected over 50,000 children’s books to date, and runs an online shop as well as a brick-and-mortar retail store on Mee Lun Street in Central.
While our city isn’t known for its environmentally friendly credentials, Cherry says she’s seeing greater awareness of the cause. “I’m so encouraged to see so many more people in Hong Kong being more conscious about living a more eco-friendly lifestyle,” she says. “There are more recycling centers around town, for example … and it seems that more customers are interested in supporting businesses that truly care about the environment.”
With school work and extracurricular activities on her plate, the entrepreneur admits time management is tricky — but sticking to a “strict schedule” is key.
“My studies and reBooked, my passion project, are both very important to me,” she explains. “With 24 hours in a day, I’ve learned in the past two years that I need to be clear about my priorities.” Devoting a maximum of three hours on school days on reBooked, she also works weekends and enjoys spending time at the bookshop: “Being there gives me an opportunity to engage with our customers.”
The advice Cherry has for aspiring young entrepreneurs? “Go for it,” she says. “Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, the perfect time, or for the perfect team member.”
On what she hopes to bring to Hong Kong with her work: My personal goal is to serve Hong Kong — my home — by providing services that will enable the community to reuse, access, and enjoy affordable children’s books.
Inspirations: Kindness and purpose.
Motivations: Every single time I receive an email from someone who wants to donate books, a thank you message from a customer, or a picture of a child reading a book purchased from reBooked, I feel affirmed about reBooked’s mission and I become even more motivated.
Role models: Michele Lai, founder of Kids4Kids, an NGO that empowers youth in Hong Kong. Sonalie Figueras, eco activist and founder of Green Queen.
Donate and shop online on reBooked. Visit the shop at 1/F, 9-11 Mee Lun Street, Central
Alvin Cheung co-founded Handy Rehab, a robotics firm that produces affordable gloves to aid those who are partially paralyzed in the rehabilitation process.
The 28-year-old Hongkonger, who studied in the UK and interned for major corporate companies in Hong Kong including Swire and NBA Asia, was inspired to launch his venture after his uncle suffered from a stroke.
The idea, from concept to launch, took around 18 months and Handy Rehab was established in 2015. During this time, he met Newman Ho, who comes from a tech background and would eventually become Cheung’s co-founder.
The patented wireless robotic glove assists patients with their motor control in simple actions, such as grabbing an object. “They may be able to move a little, but not completely. The sensor picks up these ‘moving intentions’, and then the glove emphasizes that move.” For example, for a stroke patient who may only be able to move one finger and wants to turn a doorknob, the robotic glove will move further and complete the action.
Today, the company offers half a dozen different robotics gloves. At the end of 2018, a medical version was launched. It is supplied directly to clinics and medical NGOs, for patients’ use with assistance of a medical professional. This year, a home version that costs around $15,000 will be released on to the market: it has a simpler design, offering target customers the opportunity to use the product on their own, or with the help of family members.
Cheung, who says he’s wanted to run his business “from a young age,” says every day brings different challenges — but the most difficult part is “building the trust” with his clientele. “Customers have been very supportive, but getting them to open their wallet takes a lot of time.”
Encouragingly, he says, there has been positive feedback from patients who’ve experienced HandyRehab’s products. Cheung cites a patient who was able to pick up a phone using the glove — something that they’d struggled to do for over a year.
Coming up, HandyRehab will continue to release products that benefit elderly patients.
On what he hopes to bring to Hong Kong with his work: We hope to see technology having a positive impact on customers’ lives.
Inspirations and motivations: How tech can improve lives, from the experience of using it and the convenience in everyday living. When we see people giving it a try and realizing how it can benefit their lives.
Olivia Cotes-James was traveling back to Hong Kong from London Heathrow Airport in 2015 when she found herself with an overweight suitcase at check-in.
“I was bringing tampons back to Hong Kong every time I left the city,” explains the 30-year-old. It’s an issue faced by many in Hong Kong, with a lack of choice for tampon brands in mainstream retail stores. “I had to unpack my suitcase — and was very shocked at how embarrassed I was that this queue of people behind me saw that I used tampons.”
The New Zealand-born, UK-raised entrepreneur (previously profiled under our Hot Seat series in 2019), whose mother is from Hong Kong, moved to the city in 2013 after graduating from university and worked in branding and marketing. The episode at Heathrow inspired Cotes-James to begin speaking with women about their experiences with menstruation.
Around the same time, she received a job offer in Shanghai. After the move, her research evolved more rapidly. “I started holding workshops around periods for women. Eighty-one percent of women I spoke to have negative relationships with their natural monthly experience,” she says.
Finding that many of the women she communicated with were unhappy about period product choices, Cotes-James dove deeper and found that mass market brands were offering tampons made with synthetics.
“I learned that my negative physical symptoms — like reoccurring yeast infections, discomfort — were actually linked to these materials.” Cotes-James also spoke to healthcare professionals, who say these materials are often to blame for the uncomfortable experiences many women face every month — cramps, bad odors.
In 2019, Cotes-James founded Luuna Naturals in Hong Kong. Priding itself as a “purpose-driven period care company,” it offers menstruation products using organic, toxic-free materials. It has offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, with an all-female staff.
Luuna Naturals’ products stand out not only thanks to its “skin-loving” materials. “When you’re bleeding on to a plastic or synthetic layer, that sometimes is the reason why odors can occur,” says Cotes-James. “These are tangible negative symptoms, which critically women like myself dismiss and blame on our bodies rather than the products.”
“So actually, these products [made of synthetic or plastic] really contribute quite deeply to this negative stigma around periods.”
“Everyone thinks Luuna is doing something amazing and groundbreaking, and I think we are,” reflects Cotes-James. “But I also want to point out that the bar is set very, very low in the [feminine products] industry.”
The firm is also an advocate for shifting policy around menstrual health, and promoting positive social and environment impact. It holds workshops with schools and corporate firms, with the goal of educating the masses on menstrual health.
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On what she hopes to bring to Hong Kong with her work: To forever redefine the experience of menstruation for individuals in Hong Kong, leading to widespread impact in regards to gender impact, health and wellbeing, and tackling plastic waste.
Inspirations: My team, the women I work alongside every day.
Motivations: When we see the impact we’re having when we speak to a girl from a low-income community who we donated a menstrual cup to, and were able to equip her for period care for eight years through that product. … The community feedback is one of the most motivating things about what we do.
Graphic designer and resort wear designer Petra Greening, 30, founded swimwear label Hollow in 2017, and last year launched sexual wellness company We Are Fk with friends Edwin Chan (see profile above) and Adam Chan.
Hollow was born after Greening, who lives by the beach, found herself often spotting swimsuits that were “loud, distracting or ill-fitting. Inspired to offer classic swimwear that “focus on the woman,” her resort wear brand is all about minimalist, sleek designs. “I wanted to create staple pieces that were timeless, delicate, graceful and was sustainable,” she explains.
As for her latest venture: We Are Fk is a celebration of all things that support the notion of sexual health, offering sex toys and vintage erotica that showcases the history of sexuality, and art work that explores the artist’s take on sexuality.
It also hosts events — art exhibits, sex quizzes, showcases — that aim to educate, “but there’s always an element of fun and exploration involved.”
Greening, who is half-British, half-Chinese and born and raised in Hong Kong, was inspired to establish the brand after conversations with her co-founders about the lack of sex education they received in the city while growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.
“We could not recall having a talk or lesson about sex and all that comes with it: sexuality, contraception, masturbation, gender, and so on,” she says. “Together with being brought up in an Asian culture, where sex is even more taboo than in the west — it’s harmful to not talk about it.” This creates a “domino effect,” where misunderstanding of sexual health can lead to negative experiences in mental health and interactions with people, she adds.
Initially, We Are Fk offered a large variety of adult toys. “I have to admit we were like a supermarket of sex toys and accessories, and it felt messy,” she says. So the team began “weeding out products that we didn’t feel fit into our new concept of having the best products by reviews, quality and legacy.”
With a background in graphic design, public relations and marketing, Greening is also responsible for the minimalist yet vibrant feel of the We Are Fk site. “Children learn with bright bold primary colours,” she explains. “I wanted to play with a more mature version of this, so while our design is somewhat minimal, we also use bold and commanding colours in our branding.”
“We still want to be playful and cheeky, because we believe that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously,” she adds.
Today, We Are Fk continues to offer a curated selection of products and art pieces, working with brands and people who “genuinely care about sexual health” align with the We Are Fk message: “living happier, healthier, wealthier and sexier.”
Keep an eye out for experiential events, with the goal of “connecting people and helping them learn about themselves and others.”
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On what she hopes to bring to Hong Kong with her work: I want people to feel confident, and unapologetically themselves. In both businesses I deal with body image in some form — I’d love for people to feel free and beautiful in their own skin.
Inspirations: I’m heavily inspired by the people around me: so many creative people from photographers to graphic designers, writers, wood workers, models and music producers. There’s nothing more inspirational than someone with passion. Nature is a close second. The sights, sounds and colours usually inspire a lot of the work I create.
Motivations: I’ve felt like I’ve wasted a lot of time being anxious, so time is a huge motivator, or lack of. My husband is also a huge motivator — he’s my biggest supporter and always in my corner.
Former magazine editor Riva Hiranand, 29, co-founded Mood Matters Asia last year with friend Karina Curlewis (profiled in our 30 Under 30 feature in 2017) after bonding over similar experiences in finding a lack of information about women’s health in the city.
A platform that aims to raise awareness and normalize discussion on female reproductive health, Mood Matters Asia advocates for women’s rights in learning about and understanding their bodies.
“We both found it was very difficult to facilitate conversations about women’s wellness in Hong Kong,” says Hiranand, who was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2010. “The amount of times I’ve been shut down for ‘sharing too much information’ or ‘exposing’ my private life when talking about my period and my struggle with endometriosis was just baffling to me.” Meanwhile, her “excruciating pain” was dismissed by several doctors as pains normally associated with menstruation. “It infuriates me that so many women often don’t know what these conditions are until they are diagnosed or until there is an incident.”
While Hiranand says she has seen an uptick in the conversation about sexual and reproductive health in Hong Kong in the past year, particularly with the presence of companies like Luuna Naturals (see profile of founder Olivia Cotes-James above), she believes the conversation still needs to widen. “I cannot highlight the importance of continuing the discussion in our daily lives,” she explains. “Men and women are often separated from sexual health education, but the conversation cannot widen if it is only happening amongst women.”
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The Hongkonger, born in the US to a family of Indian descent with longstanding roots in Hong Kong, grew up in the city. She left journalism in 2016, and went on to become part of the Hong Kong launch team at real estate firm WeWork. Departing the company in 2020, she now works as a freelance writer and brand consultant alongside her work on Mood Matters Asia.
In the future, the co-founders plan on detailing their personal experiences in writing on the platform. There will also be educational campaigns, interviews and various other formats of storytelling, plus shared resources and information. With Curlewis being a certified yoga instructor, Hiranand says they also hope to put on in-person workshops. Some will have specific movements that speak to their platform’s ethos — “yoga poses that soothe period pains.”
And aside from conversations surrounding female reproductive health, they also hope to include “experiences and perspectives about mental health, intergenerational trauma, substance abuse and holistic healing resources.”
“We want to create a platform where we, and other women, can speak openly and honestly about our mental, sexual, and menstrual health.”
On what she wants to bring to Hong Kong with her work: We’d like to raise awareness and normalize discussion on mental, sexual, menstrual, and reproductive health.
Inspirations: I am inspired by the strength and power that has a ripple effect on others when you speak up. It can feel awkward, shameful, even egotistical to share your experience — I’ve definitely felt this way. But seeing other women speak up encouraged me to do so, and I hope by speaking up I can encourage other women to do the same.
Motivations: I want more women to feel empowered by understanding their bodies. I don’t want anyone to go through what I, and so many other women, have had to experience — being ignored by doctors, having their symptoms downplayed or dismissed by family and friends, being put on medication without knowing of the side effects, and not having a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education.
Role models: My mom, my sisters, the women who raised me and my incredible friends are a constant source of strength and support and the people who I look up to.
Hongkonger Aggie Lam and Spanish native Oskar Valles are the brains behind Dear Hong Kong, a bilingual photography book published in 2020.
With the goal of promoting multiculturalism and diversity in Hong Kong as well as breaking down stereotypes, the book features the “untold stories” of some 100 personalities in Hong Kong. It was created over a two-year period, with 50 volunteers on board.
Lam, 26, recalls wanting to “do something with more social impact.” after leaving university. “I was a bit confused, and wasn’t sure what to do.” In 2017, she began working at Inter Cultural Education, a Hong Kong education firm. “We bring foreigners into schools, especially schools where students are not as privileged and would not have the chance to go overseas or meet any foreigners at all,” explains Lam, who is today operations manager at the firm. “It turned out, I really liked it.”
It was during one of these sessions a couple of years ago where Lam met Valles, who moved to Hong Kong while working under Inditex, the Spanish fashion giant behind high street brand Zara. Valles was volunteering to share his culture with local students.
It just so happened that Lam, who grew up in Hong Kong, felt that she too hadn’t had the opportunity to mix with different cultures. The two became friends, and began to think about ways to showcase diversity in the city.
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“I think there is magic when two people have a similar idea of the impact that they want to make,” says Valles of their collaboration.
The project is one on “shared identity,” with 200 pages of profiles featuring people from 80 countries across the world who’ve contributed to the development of Hong Kong. Think Australian master cinematographer Christopher Doyle; founder of Mother’s Choice, American Phyllis Marwah; and Pakistani-born professional jockey and member of the Hong Kong para-rowing team, Ajmal Samuel.
The pair hopes the book will spark conversation on identity, diversity and “connection between two parts of society,” says Valles — the local Chinese community, and the foreign community.
They’ve steered away from using the term “minority,” he says, opting for “the foreign community as a whole, without labelling.”
Since the book’s release, the pair have continued working on their mission behind Dear Hong Kong. To reach a bigger audience — specifically, Cantonese speakers who may not understand English or most likely wouldn’t buy the book — they also hold events and exhibitions in public spaces.
On what they hope to bring to Hong Kong with their work: Bring communities together, and to foster understanding.
Lam: Reading the stories [of the people we interviewed] inspired me to do something similar, to share it with my peers. The motivation and dedication of our volunteers, most of whom are local Hongkongers. They thanked us for giving them the chance to give back to their city.
Valles: Talking to every single person who we interviewed, about their work and their lives. Even though I’ve been living off my savings and haven’t had any monetary reward, the intangible reward has been much greater.
Lam: From seeing the impact from education. Some of our students were inspired to go overseas, or change their paths.
Valles: Curiosity, the drive to understand people and the way they see the world.
You’ve no doubt seen the work of Nicole Law around town.
The 26-year-old, who works as a regional creative and content team lead at Warner Music Group, is an illustrator and designer with footprints all over Hong Kong. From 2015 to 2020, she ran creative project Freaki, a collection of handcrafted earrings and accessories. These were sold at pop-ups like the West Kowloon Art Festival and the Sham Shui Po Tai Nan Street Market.
Last year, she established Dirty Curse, where her beautiful illustrations are turned into wearable goods — think T-shirts, sweaters and embroidered patches. “Each design is connected to a message — something that resonates to people or our culture — or a good cause that I give a damn about, like climate change,” says Law. For some of the designs, proceeds are donated to charity.
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Law also collaborates with brands in Hong Kong. After cutting meat out of her diet, she reached out to Treehouse (a winner of our 30 Best Eats in 2020), hoping they’d promote on their Instagram an illustration she created with the goal of inspiring people to go green in their diets. “The team loved it and connected me with Christian Mongendre, the founder of Treehouse,” remembers Law. Next, she created a plant-based bandana in collaboration with the restaurant — for every sale, two trees are planted in Madagascar in support of Eder Reforestation Projects.
That’s not all: last year, she created a two-meter-tall mural at Sham Shui Po retail space Womanboss. It was a collaboration born out of mutual appreciation: “I met the founder Bonnie Chan Woo, and I really appreciate her initiative and the whole idea behind Womanboss, which is ‘creating a good life.’” Another piece, “Life Force,” is currently exhibited at Eaton Hong Kong.
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With a love of drawing throughout her childhood in Hong Kong — “I’d draw clothes, and wanted to be a fashion designer” — Law began joining competitions and exploring the field after graduating from university, and began to be commissioned on freelance projects before starting her own ventures.
The artist describes her style of illustrations as “extremely colorful and vibrant.” “Maybe it’s because I’m self-taught — [my pieces] are natural and simple, which makes my work relatable to people.”
On what she hopes to bring to Hong Kong with her work: Bringing creativity and creating something that people feel good about. I see myself representing the local creative scene in Hong Kong, and I always think Hong Kong people are creative and we should never lose this quality, instead we should explore that, challenge that and share with the world what Hong Kong creativity is like.
Inspirations: Frida Kahlo, my favorite artist of all time.
Motivations: Seeing my work somewhere or on someone motivates me a lot. For me, the satisfaction of creating and seeing your creation is irreplaceable, both at my job and on my side hustle.
Role model: My mother. She is a very dedicated, hardworking and humble person. She loves to DIY, from cross-stitching to making clothes. Nothing is impossible with her hands, and she cooks so well.
YouTube sensation J Lou, affectionately known by her fans as the “rice queen,” has built an impressive following on social media over the past few years and become one of the best-known content creators in the region.
Garnering 388,000 followers on Instagram and 376,000 subscribers on YouTube, the 25-year-old Hongkonger creates videos with topics like her mixed heritage, growing up in a Chinese household, and language and culture taking center stage, always with a heavy dose of humor.
Born to a French father and Hongkonger mother, who both make frequent appearances in her videos, J Lou began creating videos while at university in Hong Kong. One video in 2017 featuring her teaching her boyfriend Cantonese phrases unexpectedly went viral — and soon she was working on content creation full-time.
“I didn’t know it could be a job — I didn’t know the potential or anything,” she remembers. Prior to the video that went viral, J Lou was posting a variety of content: “Sometimes it’d be a travel blog, sometimes I’d dress up as my Chinese mom, my French dad, very over-the-top style,” she says.
While her upbringing as a third culture kid is a central theme in the content she shares, J Lou — who has lived in Hong Kong her whole life and speaks five languages — says she encountered numerous instances of people labeling her as a gwei mui.
“I always say that I’m not half of anything. I am fully what I am, which is fully French, fully Hong Kong Chinese,” she says. “I’m a person — I can’t be split in half. So I feel like I don’t want to be put into any sort of identity box.”
The content creator has used her platform to advocate for the power of positivity — the theme of one of the two Ted Talks she has given. And one of the topics she has spoken out about is the fact that women should feel empowered to be what they want to be. “I think society pinpoints women: if you’re sexy you can’t be smart. And there are so many labels that are put on women,” she says.
“We all are multi-faceted, beautiful and smart in our own ways. Even though sometimes it feels like there’s pressure … you have to be more controlled and quiet. But I am just loud, and a bit ridiculous — I have always been like that and I haven’t thought much about how I look.”
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And her philosophies shine through in her content, too. “[My most popular videos] are basically whatever I’m most comfortable with,” she explains. “Because authenticity always shines through.”
On what she hopes to bring to Hong Kong with her work: I hope to keep bringing laughter, and inspiration for learning or relearning languages that you may have given up on.
Inspirations: I’m most inspired by my audience. Whenever they share a comment or share me on their stories, or write me a paragraph encouraging me to keep going. Also, contents of other great creators.
Motivations: To always keep working towards and manifesting my goals, believing that I can achieve what I want to.
Founder of Hong Kong bespoke yoga and wellness studio Ikigai, Gianni Melwani is no stranger to the wellness sphere — he’s also one of the forces behind the establishment of Iris, the biggest yoga and wellness festival in Hong Kong.
The 30-year-old, who is of Indian and Persian heritage and grew up in Hong Kong, established Hybrid Group with friend Charlz Ng (profiled in our 30 Under 30 feature in 2015) after graduating from university in the US.
The group initially put together nightlife and music events. “I really enjoyed music and bringing people together, but I never really enjoyed the nightlife scene,” says Melwani. Bringing in artists from overseas to perform in Hong Kong was an expensive affair. At the same time, an injury he suffered through playing soccer proved to be a gamechanger — it inspired him to attend his first yoga class.
“I bought a pass on Groupon, went to one class and just felt amazing,” remembers Melwani.
He then brainstormed ideas with his co-founders on events in the health and wellness space. The first edition of Iris was hosted in 2015 and continues to be a resounding success over the years.
“While I was getting more into health and wellness, that industry was starting to pick up in Hong Kong, so we got quite lucky — we coincided with that timing,” reflects Melwani.
Melwani continued his wellness journey with a yoga retreat in Rishikesh, India in 2018 — “I was really getting into my own self practice like spiritual practice yoga and meditation” — and stayed there for several months. He left Hybrid the following year and launched Ikigai that year with co-founder Aymeric Vollant, who was creative director at Hybrid.
The name Ikigai comes from a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being,” something that resonated with the co-founders.
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Centered on “creating impactful experiences that foster personal transformation,” Ikigai offers a variety of classes in yoga, meditation, and movement-based practices. Classes have a maximum size of 14 (currently smaller, in adherence to Covid-19 restrictions). “We really like the boutique experience with small class sizes, where everybody knows each other on a personal basis. There’s a great community there,” says Melwani, who teaches classes at the studio.
Attendees will find that there are no mirrors at the studio: a “conscious decision.” “We wanted people to feel more and have their attention diverted inwards, as opposed to externally while looking at themselves in the mirror, or comparing themselves to someone else,” says Melwani. The studio is decked out in a vibrant orange color, a nod to the shade of the robes worn by Buddhist monks.
Ikigai currently has a studio space in Central and will soon be opening a new branch in Causeway Bay. “We believe health and wellness can be a tool to help people figure out what they enjoy,” says Melwani, “and tap into their potential.”
On what he hopes to bring to Hong Kong with his work: Health and wellness practices that will make people’s lives a little better.
Inspirations: Lots of people and things, all the time. My business partner Aymeric. He is phenomenally intellectual. It pushes me and inspires me to become better as an entrepreneur.
Motivations: I think you have to have a certain love and passion for what you’re doing. For me, it’s the practice and teachings of yoga. I don’t mean stretching — I mean yoga as a lifestyle, the ethics and morals that you have, the exercises, breathing and meditation you do, how you serve others.
Role models: There are many. I learn from Aymeric; my wife, Leah [Melwani, also a teacher at Ikigai]; my parents; from successful mentors from the business world.
Kimberly Peta Dewhirst is an authority in the world of astrology. The astrologer and horoscopes writer is also the founder of Star Sign Style, a platform devoted to exploring the astrology of fashion, beauty and celebrities. A frequent commentator for international media outlets, she is the brains behind the predictions on Spotify’s podcast Horoscope Today, and also consults for a global clientele.
The 37-year-old Brit moved to Hong Kong seven years ago after meeting her now husband, who was already based in the SAR.
“When I was younger, I was always so inspired by reading my own horoscope,” remembers Dewhirst. I was always fascinated by divination and predictions, and how people knew what was going to happen.”
After working at a publishing house and a digital marketing firm in London, Dewhirst — who studied at the London School of Astrology and the Faculty of Astrological Studies — launched Star Sign Style in 2012.
The site publishes Dewhirst’s daily horoscopes, a blog on fashion, beauty, celebrities and lifestyle, and also offers cool features like a free birth chart calculator.
Dewhirst’s speciality in astrology related to the fashion and beauty sphere has led to collaborations with global brands like Net-a-Porter and Monica Vinader to create horoscope-inspired products. Moreover, she’d also been commissioned to create personalized horoscopes for celebrities like singers Grimes and Meghan Trainor.
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Given that the astrologer works in a field that has a touch of mystery to it, there can sometimes be misconceptions about what she does. “It’s a creative industry but it’s also very rule-based,” she explains. “There are rights and wrongs within the job, so it’s kind of easy to spot.” She cites fake horoscope columns as an example: “I think anyone who’s actually trained in astrology would be able to see that either the writer is poor, or the astrology is poor.”
That’s why, says Dewhirst, the key for an astrologer in her position is to strive to be both “an accurate astrologer and a good writer.”
Her passion for astrology has also helped her in her personal journey. “I love astrology because it is the most significant modality that brought me confirmation of my nature and my character,” she says — with it bringing “greater purpose and greater meaning.”
On what she hopes to bring to Hong Kong with her work: A touch of the esoteric. Being someone in the wellness scene — I think wellness can also encompass alternative modalities — there is space for people who are alternative practitioners to bring something a little kooky and different to Hong Kong. I think people are often curious — I encourage them to experiment with things like astrology and their own practice of tarot.
Inspirations: Being around the different cultures and the very cool nature of the people in Hong Kong. I’ve been based in different places in the world, but I think Hong Kong is very cutting edge. It’s very easy to be exposed to designer clothes and then go and create some cool looks, or tap into what’s fashionable and trendy.
Motivations: Self-development. It isn’t so much of a drive to be successful in the typical way, but things that really touch me is when I speak to someone and they’ve had a good experience through talking to somebody who can give another perspective on what they’ve gone through, or are going through. It’s always greatly rewarding doing personal readings or just knowing that people like what you do or are touched by what you do, and it helps them understand themselves better.
Role models: So many astrologers who are incredible, many of which are unknown.
Maximal Concepts alums Shizuka Scott, 37, and Amy Walsh, 34, met back in 2012, when the restaurant group was first established in Hong Kong. Last year, they launched AmukaStudio, a creative studio working with clients to “create original DNA for their upcoming new concepts,” named after an amalgamation of their first names.
Scott, who is half-Japanese, half-Kiwi, was born in Japan and spent time in New Zealand in her childhood before moving to Hong Kong in the 1990s, and has been in the city on and off for 15 years. Irish native Walsh grew up in Australia, and relocated to Hong Kong seven years ago.
Both are seasoned creatives: Scott opened a cafe and wine bar in New Zealand at the age of 21, a venture that ran for five years; and in 2016, she co-founded Hong Kong craft beer company Seven Brews, while working at Maximal Concepts. Walsh, who grew up touring and attending large music events with her chef father and his catering crew, trained in graphic design and worked as a designer variously at an Australian weekly, a gym, and a boutique design agency before moving to the SAR.
The pair says their inspiration to start AmukaStudio stems from working together at Maximal Concepts, which runs four restaurants in Hong Kong today.
“We do what we love, and we have an attraction for creativity in the hospitality and lifestyle industry,” they explain.
“More importantly, our long term service-oriented experience helps us connect with our clients and we can understand their needs better.”
Scott and Walsh believe that, along with their creative minds and unique branding skills, put them “one step ahead of our competitors.”
AmukaStudio’s projects are under wraps for now, but stay tuned — the entrepreneurs have done small projects in Australia and Japan, and hope to extend their services overseas eventually.
On what they hope to bring to Hong Kong with their work: Authenticity and creativity.
Inspirations: History, art and culture. Food and beverage — but mainly the people involved in these scenes.
Motivations: New discoveries and opportunities.
Role models: Wes Anderson.
Anisha Thai is a quadruple threat: A civil engineer by day, she is also a dancer, choreographer and model.
First arriving in Hong Kong in 2016, Thai — who is half-Comoran, half-Vietnamese and born and raised in Paris — is also an advocate for diversity and spreading Afro culture in Hong Kong.
“Since I have a diverse background, I thought … let me explore the world,” remembers Thai. In 2016 she moved to London and worked in a civil engineering internship. The company then offered her a chance to work in an internship in Hong Kong that same year. “It was one of the biggest opportunities I’ve ever had, so I thought, let’s go.”
Thai loved Hong Kong’s “dynamic” and “vibrant” energy — and thought to herself that she “had to find a way to stay here.”
But first, she had to complete her studies. After half a year in Hong Kong, she went back to Paris to finish her bachelor’s degree, and then set her sights on studying for her master’s degree at the University of Pretoria in South Africa — a move partly born of a desire to connect with her African heritage. It was here when Thai first picked up Afrodance. “I fell in love with it,” she says.
In 2018, Thai found an internship back in Hong Kong, and eventually a full-time job, in civil engineering.
But Thai also says she had always seen herself on stage and in the spotlight as a dancer — she started dancing at just five years old.
“I’ve always been attracted to that life somehow, because I feel like people on stage are so confident,” she says. “They’re shining that powerful energy and light — they have such a strong impact on people, through dance and music.”
Today, Thai continues to work as a civil engineer full-time alongside dancing, choreographing and modeling. With a mix of influence in her choreography — hip hop, street jazz and Afrobeats — Thai has worked on a diverse range of projects internationally, and also offers dance workshops.
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Thai also models under Harmony HK, a social enterprise that promotes inclusion and diversity with art and fashion as a medium, founded by Harmony Ilunga (profiled in our 30 Under 30 feature in 2019).
Having spoken out about racism she’d experienced in the past in her time in Hong Kong, Thai hopes her work in the arts — plus open discussions — can help to bridge the gap between cultures. “I think it’s very important to at least have a conversation and, and simply call people out whenever it’s necessary, whenever they cross the line.”
And with the numerous professional hats she wears, Thai wants to shatter stereotypes. “Every time I tell people I’m an engineer, people give me that look and they’re like, ‘Are you sure? Really? You don’t look like one,’” she shares. “That’s exactly what I want to create — the emotion of that surprise — because we need to stop this cliche, and saying that engineering is not for women.”
“Anybody can become whatever they want,” she adds. “it is just a matter of believing in yourself, and finding the opportunity.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, given that there are not many people like Thai: “I hadn’t heard of a woman civil engineer who’s mixed race like me before,” she says.
So she thought: “Let me be one.”
On what she hopes to bring to Hong Kong with her work: A lot of people say to me, “You’re so brave and confident to go on the streets and dance, you don’t care what people think.” And I think that’s a message I want to give to people. I went through that — I listened to society and thought I needed to become an engineer and follow a path. But your life is your life, and you’re the only one who’s in control. We shouldn’t waste time listening to others and living a life that isn’t ours. Embrace that confidence, identity and background that makes you who you are.
Inspirations: My mom is an inspiring figure for me. She left her country, arrived in France as an immigrant, and worked so hard to have a life. She is independent and a strong woman. She faced racism, with people asking her if she was babysitting me. She heard a lot of [negative] things, being a black woman in France, and married to an Asian man. She changed the game, and I have a lot of respect for her. Of course, there are also people like Beyonce, Michael Jackson and Rihanna.
Motivations: I want to elevate people and uplift them.
Role models: We have role models who are far away from us, like celebrities. But it’s important to remember those around us. You are inspired and influenced by them, and admire them. I have friends who can be role models for me — like Harmony Ilunga and J Lou (see profile above) — they shaped me and made me the person I am.