peggy chan

Building a Vegan Movement in Hong Kong | Peggy Chan, Grassroots Pantry

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I interview Peggy Chan, the founder Managing Director and Executive Chef of Grassroots Pantry, about her mission to bringing the vegan movement to Hong Kong through a strong ethos, her passion for food, and delivering an amazing menu that reminds her customers of their favorite food memories.

As always, I hope you are inspired and engaged by the conversation!


Peggy's story is one of a passion for food, and the commitment to delivering on that passion every day


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Peggy Chan

Peggy Chan is the founder, Managing Director and Executive Chef of Grassroots Pantry, a homespun restaurant in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong serving innovative plant-based cuisine with the highest standards of hospitality. Through Grassroots Pantry, Peggy shares her passion for organic produce and supporting local sustainable agriculture by educating the public about the issues that face our food systems today. Grassroots Pantry, as a result, has grown to be more than just a restaurant: it is a highly regarded platform that highlights pressing issues and encourages all to make a difference through action and collaboration, while providing a world-class dining experience.

Since opening in 2012, Grassroots Pantry has enjoyed great success, community support and media coverage in publications such as CNN Travel, Cathay Pacific Discovery Magazine, Travel & Leisure SE Asia and National Geographic India, and Peggy remains determined to create an independent business that will continually challenge the way diners view food production and consumption.

Follow Peggy and Grassroots Pantry:
Website: http://grassrootspantry.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peggygp55
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/peggy-chan-a15a1649/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chefpeggychan
Twitter: https://twitter.com/peggychan55


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

RICH: Welcome back everybody. Rich Brubaker here with my friend Peggy from Grassroots. An amazing story about a young executive chef who has opened up a very unique place here in Hong Kong that serves only plant based foods. We speak about her journey, what drives her, how she stays humble and...thank you very much. The food is amazing.

Peggy thanks for meeting with us. Tell me a little about yourself as a individual and also Grassroots,which we are sitting in here.

PEGGY: Sure, thank you for having me. My name is Peggy. I am the executive Chef and founder of Grassroots Pantry, also managing director. We are a five year old vegan vegetarian organic restaurant. We source as much as possible locally and over 90% of our ingredients are certified organic. I've been an avid sustainable consumer or conscious consumer for the past 17 years, so that my lifestyle. So for me it's about how do I balance my food intake and nutritionally but also create food that is fun, interesting, and innovative.

RICH: How does that work in a city like Hong Kong where consumption is at a whole another level. Why did you choose this city to get started?

PEGGY: The challenge was really to take on what the city needed. The city that I grew up in, the city that I know and that I've worked in for many years. Take that challenge on and really to offer, offer our city and community something that is different.

RICH: How did you come into this?

PEGGY: Well, along with what I was doing in hotels in corporate, I was always on the back of my mind really wanting so badly to do something about the food industry and what was or raise awareness about what was going on thin the food industry. So back then, 12 years ago, was when I first read an article on Gourmet Magazine. That was in 2005 and that was the first article that had actually showed me what food was and where food came from. That was the first time I'd heard about Monsanto and genetically modified organisms. That really led me to do my research.

Throughout University in Switzerland I was continuously doing my research and figuring out what was going on with the meat industry, watching gorilla films. It was always in the back of my head even though I was working in corporate, I would be talking to my colleagues. They would ask me why I was vegetarian and I would tell them, do you know that? How cows are actually raised these days? No, well they're being pumped with RB/GH growth hormones. Do you know any of this? No. It's scary.

RICH: Why didn't you just become an activist for ya know for the human society, an existing NGO? Why didn't' you go that route? Why go into a restaurant business?

PEGGY: I really thought that I was going to leave the industry for good and go into academics and go into social work. Which is very normal for a lot of people, but I knew that I had my passion was really and my career ya know. Everything that I've honed for 12 years was in food and beverage and my craft is culinary. It's hard to leave all of that when, you know, it's kind of like a part of you.

I decided that after my Eat, Pray Love moment of traveling to Bali and India and everything, I really just felt that there is a way for me to do this. I can combine my love for culinary and running restaurants with my passion and activism for sustainable agriculture and combine that together and make Grass Roots Pantry my first pantry business and something that is more of social entrepreneurship base.

RICH: When you set this up, I mean the entire menu is completely Vegan, what were some of the core principals when you said you were going to build this restaurant that you had to adhere to and how challenging...what was the opportunity with all the challenges of sticking to those principals?

PEGGY: When we opened Grass Roots 5 years ago, we weren't opening it to become a vegan restaurant. It was only over the years and last year was when I decided after watching cowspiracy was when I,not realized that I really decided that.

RICH: Because you knew, but you like that was it.

PEGGY: Exactly. It was getting that push in. These food documentaries are so crucial to getting people to just, ya know do something. Plastic Oceans as well. So I really, with that we I decided to get rid of all the dairy. Not that we used a lot anyway, I just said we'll get rid of it overnight. I think many times when you're an restaurant operator and a chef with a big ego, you do what you want to do, but you fail to see what the market wants. If I made those decisions overnight and I made all these like funky stuff all wrong, all ya know cold foods and you know cold press all very like too hippy and stuff. I think It would deter people from trying.

RICH: Because whether they think... I mean to me it's like tofu. There's a preconceived notions that you can break through. How did you...like what was your process for once you knew that it was a problem, how did you then create a menu or how did you look at that part of the business.

PEGGY: In order for us to get our consumers to...our customers to really feel like they are a part of that experience, I wanted to create a menu that was something they could recognize. So let's say if I were to make a Thai dish, I would make it as authentic as possible but give it those Grassroots tweaks. Which is to make it plant based, super food laced, all wholesome foods, 100% organic, all of that. So when they eat it, they're like oh, I remember this flavor, oh I remember that. But actually it's actually something so much more healthier than you would normally get. So like one of the examples that we do is popcorn chicken that we do which is super popular here. It is my memory from middle school after school we would go to KFC and buy these buckets of popcorn chicken and pop them in our mouths.

So the taste and the memory and the flavor and fragrance, all of that, just made me realize that I can recreate that with an ingredient called hedgehog mushroom. Just batter it, toss it in galangal powder and there you go. So everyone who comes here they eat it are like this is just like chicken.

RICH: So are you trying to fool them? Like the beyond burger it's actively trying to fool you so that you'll just make the switch more readily. But how much for you is just looking at the food and going this just makes amazing food, but the flavor speaking for themslevs and hopefully....the tica I just had, **** amazing, how much is just you looking through food and this is what I can do and I know that this will be amazing. How much is people is people like pop corn chicken and I'm going to created it and fool everybody and they're going to keep coming back?

PEGGY: I wouldn't use the word fool though. I'm proposing an alternative. So actually we have a catering arm called The Alternative Caterer. What I'm doing is really proposing you a different option as what you would normally have and still have it taste just as good. You're experience won't change whatsoever. You can still bring your friends who are meat here and everyone can have their own meals, different style of food. We can have India, Thai, Italian, Chinese, all on the same table at the same time. But you'll will experience something that is memorably.

RICH: What are the best ways for you to break through the noise of what's happening here in Hong Kong food and dining. How do you get your message out and how do you attract new consumers that are outside your friend's circle, the people you are actively going after? You need the masses to come here to make sure you have a stable business? Is it Facebook, is it events, is it speaking, is it everything? What's worked well for you as a story teller?

PEGGY: When we were smaller, social media definitely worked, but now that we are at the stage of business, our public relationships team really does help us give us a push. But most importantly, I think it's the messaging, it needs to be consistent. So no matter what channel you use, the message needs to be consistent. So we do this thing called the Collectives Table. It's an initiative we started a year ago and the whole idea is to get, ya know the restaurant is great as a platform to touch to the community, our guests. Change the ways that they think.

So most of our guests who come here, they are not vegetarian/vegan. But the collectives table is really to tap within, infiltrate within the industry so that we can get the suppliers, the chefs, ya know the big restaurants, the corporates to start changing their systems, system change. So what we do is challenge them to cook plant based over one special dinner and part of the proceeds goes to a certain charity. We created a lot of buzz, a lot coverage for them because everyone is talking about plant based food now, vegetarian, putting more like wholesome foods on your menu. So we kind of help them as well tweek their image to the public and vice versa.

So we're doing it globally and we've been able to successfully change some of the chef's, like not purposely, but they are so inspired. Through that pop up, through that collaboration, they've been able to feel so inspired that they will change, maybe the percentage plant based verses meat dishes have shifted.

RICH: What are the big challenges that you face? Like day to day, like your vision perspective. What are the challenges you are facing and how do you get through them everyday? How do you wake up like alright look, we've got all these problems and we can get through it?

PEGGY: Well, the biggest problem in this industry no matter where you are, big corporate hotels, or small startups...people. We are a human intensive human based industry where everything is based on communications. That is always a problem and we have a massive shortage of qualified skilled workers in this industry right now because no one wants to go into food and beverage. Noone wants to go into hospitality. So that is one thing.

RICH: How do you fix that? Robots? Right!!

PEGGY: Gosh, how I would fix that is really just to go back internally and say how do we become better. How do we attract quality staff? We have to be role models for what we do so if we...we say all these things like...we do all these things, but we're not really good with our work ethics and even if I attract great people they would see us as they're just ya know, it's just all poster, messaging. So I first of all make sure that my team, the ground team, the skeleton team is strong and they are ya know, their ethos is exactly like mine that if I say segregate your ways, you have to segregate your ways. That has taken a lot of time. Like 2 years ago was not like this. There were a lot of chefs who came in and there were multiple shortcuts. So it takes time to build.

So that's one way that we're tackling why, how do I wake up in the morning and feel 100% to go to work and continue what I do? I see everything with a bigger picture and the bigger picture here is we need to do something about the system here.

RICH: What inspires you about the food sector right now?

PEGGY: What gets me the most excited is really to be a part of that system change. So because I've worked in food and beverage for 17 years, it's really knowing the industry from inside out and knowing how to fix it, know how to change it. Of course, I don't know everything around the world, but I'm starting in Hong Kong.

RICH: How do you measure your successes? How do you measure impact?

PEGGY: That's a good question. People have their conceptions about you a certain level. To me it's all about my confidence within. I don't need someone else to tell me who I am or whether I'm doing well or not. As long as I feel confident and comfortable with the correct feedback and being open to accepting feedback, staying humble with humility and then just focusing on doing better than I have before the previous day. Then I know I've done my job well.

RICH: What advice would you give to a young woman about how to be yourself, get it done,...?

PEGGY: One of the things the words that was used on a chef's table, I don't know if you watched it, but Chef Nikiama, she uses the word, it's a Japanese word Kreashi, which means to allow the negative energy that people give you drive you to prove them wrong. I mean that sounds reactive, but actually if you have that mentality all the time, it can become proactive and become a part of you. So, let any doubt, anything that is negative that enters you be produced back as something productive and positive.


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Sherry Poon

Sustainable Fashion and Taking the First Entrepreneurial Steps | Sherry Poon, WoBaby Basics

In this episode of Entrepreneur For Good, I speak with Sherry Poon, founder and CEO of wobabybasics, about the motivation she had for starting her first social enterprise, and the lessons she has learned along the way.

Sherry combines her experiences as an architect, environmentalist and parent to re-create children’s basic apparel with sustainable materials, simple, nostalgic styling, and modern practicality. Inspired by observations of children in action, during play, and everyday activities, wobabybasics offers uncluttered design, quality and functionality that appeals to both active children and their parents.


Her story is one of originality, catalyst, and action.


About The Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome. It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Sherry

Sherry combines her experiences as an architect, environmentalist and parent to re-create children’s basic apparel with sustainable materials, simple, nostalgic styling, and modern practicality. Inspired by observations of children in action, during play, and everyday activities, wobabybasics offers uncluttered design, quality and functionality that appeals to both active children and their parents.

Follow Sherry and Wobabybasics
Website: http://www.wobabybasics.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sherry.poon
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/wobabybasics/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wobabybasics


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

Sherry: My name is Sherry Poon, and I’m from Canada, I’ve been in Shanghai for 15 years. My background was actually in architecture, so I came to Shanghai as an architect, and then when we started having children, I started designing baby clothes for wobabybasics, my own brand of organic children’s clothes.

And now I also, I am the founder and one of the organizers of Eco Design Fair, which is a community event for anything that’s sustainable, tied to… so Eco Design Fair is a sustainable event to try and promote sustainable lifestyle and innovation.

It Starts with Family

Sherry: Family. For me, it really was the children. I had one child, and I was pregnant with a second one, and architecture and design is very time-intensive. I was still working part-time when I was pregnant, and that was eight hours a day. And I thought, “This is crazy.” Because my own desire was to be able to spend time with my kids and to be able to see them grow up, and – that early days is so important to make them into better people, and to create the little people that they are. So I wanted to be part of that.

But at the same time, my personality is that I do need something to do. I need a goal. I need to work. And so entrepreneurship – or starting a business – was the best way.

Getting Started

Sherry: No, it could have been anything. As a designer, obviously I wanted to design something, to create something – but it could have been cups, it could have been pencils, anything at that point. But exactly at that time, I was also designing clothes for my firstborn – just little creations that were in my mind, sketching it out and having a tailor make it up for me.

And then we went home to Canada, and there were at least four or five people who asked, “Where did you get that little coat? It’s an amazing little coat. Where can I buy that?” And that was sort of the spark of, “Okay, maybe clothing could be a good direction for me.” And at the same time, also I was looking for organics for my children, and so creating something that was sustainable clothing for children was something that I could explore.

The Little Details

Sherry: Well for me, the big thing was that it had to be organic. And organic, because it’s the safest material for your baby. We looked at a whole bunch of different materials – my daughter had a bit of eczema, a bit of sensitivities in terms of skin sensitivities, but also anything that sort of touched her was very “present” in her mind. We would arrange socks for like five minutes before it was perfect, just because of the seam. So for me, to create something that she could wear that I would feel safe having her wear was very important.

So we looked at a whole bunch of different materials – including bamboo, soya, whatnot – all the different types of eco-materials, but came back to organic cotton because it is one of the oldest, one of the safest clothing, one of the safest textiles there is – for children or for anybody. So that was very important for me, was to make sure that it was safe.

The other big thing was also – as a parent – was to make sure that the clothing were easy for parents and for children. I saw my husband struggle with clothes, I had struggles with clothing – when my daughter was older, she would wear clothing backwards, and you know, you don’t have the heart to say, “Oh, take it off again and try it again.” So we created clothing that was functional, stylish, but also super easy to use – and just by little details that would make a huge difference.

Challenges

Sherry: Well, not having a fashion background. I think I started from square-one, which is, I think, a very good thing, because a lot of designers start with patterns, something that’s already been set, already been used in mass-production. But as somebody not coming from that background, I started from zero, which is great because having an architecture background, I think in 3D. Children are in 3D, so I thought clothing must be in 3D as well.

And so there’s little details, like we have little patch under the arms where it serves quite a few purposes. One that I noticed was you often pick up children under the armpits, and that’s exactly where all the seams are coming together, which cannot be very comfortable for the little baby. So we did away with that and put a little patch underneath, which allowed for more comfort, more movement because it becomes more 3D, but it also – that little patch was able to – you can sort of insert it anywhere in the pattern cutting and be able to save fabric waste as well. That’s one of the details.

Getting Help

Sherry: Well, the first thing I did was look for mentors – people that were in the business – and just ask them questions. This is even before having any conceptual ideas what I was going to do, just looking for ways – looking for experience, basically, from people who have done it before.

So I found somebody who was very much into organic textiles. He used to work for an organic clothing company – actually, an organic baby clothing company – and now, he was at that time at an agent for organic textiles in Shanghai. So he gave me a lot of background, and a lot of help in terms of where to look for suppliers – because that’s often the biggest problem in production, is finding the actual suppliers, or good suppliers.

And then I also hired a fashion designer, for obvious reasons, just to help me go through the process. As an architect, I already knew a lot of the design aspects of it – you know, like colors, and how to draw a sketch, whatnot. But she taught me more of protection – so she taught me how to make patterns. I made my own patterns, which are very similar to architectural patterns.

But she also taught me materials, field materials, different types, what do you use, how do you spec it – and more of how to get it from your sketches to actually produced in a factory, which is very different process than it is from [architecture].

It Took a Year

Sherry: Well, it took a full year from the idea of “Okay, let’s get this started. I know that it’s going to be organic baby clothing, and I want to try this out as a small brand in Shanghai.” So there was a lot of testing. Often with a lot of my friends, they have a lot samples, early, early samples – obviously I tested them on my own children as well. Tried to get a lot of feedback in terms of, for the branding, for the clothing itself, from anybody that I knew. Yeah, I really just grabbed anyone. So thanks for all of those people who supported me in the early days, because I probably was very annoying.

That time where it was just, you know, everything was home office, having two people to sell those clothing. Because we were new, we weren’t taking pre-orders, so everything was coming in hoping that it would sell. Yeah. I mean, it’s not a huge investment, but the time investment to try to market this – beyond just the clothing, there was also the branding, and we had the website up, just the whole production, the going-through with the fashion designer, the patterns.

So there were – it was more of an investment than just the 3,000 for the production. It was definitely adding up. And when you’re just starting, you don’t see any returns coming in yet, obviously you get a bit skeptical.


For anyone starting a business from scratch, you often have these days where you’re like, “What am I doing? Am I going the right direction? Is this going to work? Is it not?”


There’s a lot of things, a lot of concerns, and it was the same for me. I mean, there were a lot of questions, and at the same time I was still working part-time as an architect, and I didn’t want to take that risk to let go of my job just for this idea that I had, in case it did not work out.

So there were a lot of worries, and I think just before production started, I remember asking my husband, “Do I do it? Do I not? This is a huge risk. I’m putting in an order. This is it.” And he was the one who was like, “No, just go for it. So we lose a bit of money if it doesn’t work. Just do it. Otherwise you’ll never know later on if that’s what you want to do. Just do it now and get it out of your system. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If it does, then fabulous, keep going.”

Go for a Swim!

Sherry: I went swimming. I took a swim. For me, that’s like meditation, so if ever I had a problem or was feeling down, I’d just go for a swim, and by the time I finished, the problem would be worked out, or at least I would feel more relaxed and be able to just go for it again.

I think all entrepreneurs need that. They need a downtime, some time where they are just not thinking about their business, or are able to just let go – and often you have a clear mind, and you can go back to your task at hand easier and getting the job done faster.

Work-Life Balance

Sherry: It’s tough, finding that balance for any mother who is a working mother is tough. And it’s going to be that eternal question that I don’t know if anybody can ever answer. In the early days, of course I could have put a lot more time into it. It became more of a part-time job because my other part-time job was taking care of the kids, and obviously that was my priority.

So there were often were a lot of late nights trying to get things done. The business was intended to be very local, to be selling to China. I think we came in a bit too early, because there was not that market originally in China yet. We were selling a lot to foreigners in the early days, but obviously that is not Shanghai. We needed to reach out to more of the locals, which that market was not there.

So after a few years of trying to do markets, small-time markets, and still balance between life and work, I decided to actually do more of a – upscale it, take it to trade shows, and sell it outside of China. At that time, I was not working anymore at an architecture firm, so this was like “the business”. So it became bread-and-butter.

It was more than just a hobby, so it was a conscious decision for my family, “Okay, let’s give it a try, to make it – take it one step up.” And that meant also that I was not able to spend as much time with the kids. But the ayi would have to take over a lot of the work, and it was just one of those decisions that we had to make.

Going back a few years afterwards – now I’ve switched back. We’ve done the trade shows, we’ve done the markets, we’ve seen the business grow over the past eight years. I’m a different type of entrepreneur now – I know where my priorities are. I’m not as self-conscious or feel guilty to let go of the company a little bit more, for my priorities.

I’ve seen where the business has been able to go to, and I’m very satisfied with it, and so with our third child, I was able to go, “Okay, let’s just not grow the company. Let’s actually let it go a little bit, let the sales go a little bit, and lower it down. Try to maintain – I mean, still maintain the quality of the clothing, and the designs, and the branding as we’ve always had, but lower production so that I can be able to actually spend more time with the kids again." And that was, again, another conscious decision of my own.

Making Hard Decisions

Sherry: Yes, definitely – I mean, when we downsized, we had to let go of some staff, we had to move offices. There were a lot of decisions that we had to make for the business, but – and also, you know, I had to take a lower salary obviously, with not a lot more sales – everything, all expenses had to be very, very tight. And that was something I was willing to do just so I could have more quality time at home. This is an ongoing discussion between Rick and myself. Yeah, I’ll let you know in about half a year!

Yeah, no it’s something that – I mean, as an entrepreneur, I think it’s great to have that availability to be flexible with time, but also with the business direction, that you can slow down, you can speed it up, and at this moment, we are just trying to maintain the branding of wobabybasics and the quality of it. And I think for at least the next couple years, it will maintain at that small scale – and then if we need to, it will still be there ready to ramp up again.

What Makes China Hard?

Sherry: I think it’s because there’s no one way to do things. You can’t just go to a bureau and go, “Okay, I want to go from here – A to B. Get me there.” What’s the process? There is never – nobody will give you the same answer. There’s not – any one entrepreneur has had the same direction, or experience with the same direction, so you can never get from A to B the same way. You always have to find your own way. It’ll be like A-B-C-D, and then eventually you’ll get to that spot.

And it’s always a learning process, it’s always that discovery, I think, that is very tough. In Canada, you just go to the Small Business Bureau and go, “Okay, this is what I want to do. Help me out.” And it’ll give you all the steps, and you’ll follow those steps, and you’ll get there. You just can’t do that here. Every single person has to discover their own way to get to where they want to go to. And that’s really tough.

And obviously, language is another one – language and culture, not being from here. Having to depend on your staff to try to understand what you want to do and how to get there is also a big challenge. I depend a lot on Chinese staff to be able to operate in China, and that’s a lot of trust that you put into somebody.

I think there’s two ways. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of distractions when you’re trying to figure things out that could have been so much easier if you were somewhere else. And these distractions, obviously when your time limit on working hours is so limited that – yes, it would have been much easier if it was in Canada, and I would have been able to go from A to B a lot faster.

But saying that, the skills that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur here is invaluable, I think. Any entrepreneur, I think, has to be malleable – you have to be able to see what the problems are within your company and be able to fix them quickly. If you can’t do that, it’s hard for your business to thrive. And being in Shanghai, and having these daily problems that you have to fix, my skills are really good at that. Because that is something only being here can teach you so easily. I’m really thankful.

Sharing and Success

Sherry: What’s different from here and maybe other places is that entrepreneurs here – isn’t not as competitive here, I think. Or… how do I word this? I think, for a lot of entrepreneurs who have succeeded, is that they’ve been very open in sharing what they want to do. If they’ve got an idea, they’ll ask whoever they want, whoever they need. “Okay, I’ve got this idea. What can I do? How do I get there?” They share their idea. They’re not really protective of it.

Whereas I think, maybe in the West, you’re always wondering, “Okay, who’s going to steal my idea? So I’m just going to keep it to myself and try to work on it.” Whereas I find successful ones here just blast it out – “Okay, what can you do? What can you help me with?” And that’s partly because Shanghai is a “We’re all in the same boat” kind of thing, where there’s only so many opportunities here.

We all try to help each other, if we can. It’s all about networking here. Who do you know? “How can that person help me?” So I often see that successful entrepreneurs here are very good at networking, and being able to share their ideas, and being able to get it out – and I think the results do come in.

Staying Inspired

Sherry: I think children – the family still keeps me going. In terms of design inspiration, it’s definitely them. I watch them every day and see how they wear their clothes, use their clothes. That’s definitely the design inspiration.

In terms of getting the business going, it would have to be the clients. I intentionally do markets within the community here – even though at some times I know I may not get that sales coming in, but I will get the feedback from the clients. And overall, it’s always good to meet the clients to just get feedback, but also just for your own sanity to hear all these great comments about your products – always gives me that energy to keep going.

Chinese vs. Foreign Clients

Sherry: I think the Chinese market and the foreign market are very different here, in terms of – we’ve even had to change branding, and what we write in Chinese and what we write in English is a little bit different. For the Chinese, obviously it’s more about health, especially for organic products. They don’t care that it’s going to help save the world, but they do care that it is better for their own children. And I think that’s a very valid concern to have – it’s just a different concern than foreigners might have.

So when they do come to see the products, or feel the products, they do want to know – first of all, where’s the cotton from? If it’s Chinese cotton, or if it’s imported cotton. And actually, ours is imported cotton. When we originally started, I actually wanted everything to be sourced, and supplied, and produced in China. At that time, it was very hard to find good quality, organic cotton in China, so it isn’t being imported. And luckily, that is something that the Chinese are looking for, so it does help the brand. So they want to know if it’s a local product as well, if it’s made in China or not. They’re very concerned about quality.

They’re very concerned about, also, if I actually have a store here somewhere. Because I think that makes it more of a valid business, instead of just a hobby, just going to markets and having a table. It’s very important for them that it’s a valid business that they can trust that company and then trust that product. I think they’ve had too many reports, too many news of products that are – food products and whatnot – that are not safe to be of concern about this.

For our local clients, they’ll ask a lot of questions, and if they’re satisfied with the questions or with the product, sometimes they’ll just buy one piece just to try it out. But I’ve often seen – after that one piece and they love it, they’ll come back and buy ten, twenty more pieces, and they become very, very loyal clients. And price is not a concern for them.

For foreigners, it’s often the other way around. They’ll love the products, they’ll understand the brand, but they’ll just be able to afford one piece or two pieces – and price is often a concern. I’m often asked, “Okay, can I get a discount?” from people that I did not think I needed to answer that question to.

Environmental Premium

Sherry: The environmental part is always a second thought. I mean, obviously for products, they’re looking at – first of all, do they like the product? Do they like the design? Then, you know, is it affordable? Then, okay, if it’s eco, then that’s either a bonus or – yeah, let me grab that, because the one beside it is about the same price but not eco.

So that kind of affects their decision – and then that’s for both foreigners and locals. The foreigners are often buying because it is a new piece. We often have a lot of more Chinese-inspired designs that they like to take back home or they like to buy as gifts. So it’s something that is memories from Shanghai.


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.