Yen Kuok has been typecast all her life. Whether it‘s ‘family black sheep’ for leaving father Robert Kuok’s Kerry Properties, or ‘spoiled rich heiress’ during her school days, she has lived in the shadow of her family name since birth. Over the past few years, however, Yen has taken great strides to break free of the stereotypes that have been attached to her by carving out a name for herself in an industry she is passionate about: second-hand luxury.
In 2015, Yen founded Guiltless, an e-commerce site targeted towards the Asian high-end market allowing people to buy and consign pre-loved designer items. Last November, the brand launched a pop-up on Queen’s Road Central that was so successful they ran for two months instead of the normal two-week duration for standard pop-ups.
In a disconcerting spin on events, last December the shop was broken into by unidentified burglars who escaped in a white seven-seater. The three felons ran away with fifteen Hermes and YSL handbags worth a jaw-dropping HK$1.44 million (US$184,000).
We were able to catch up with a less than chirpy Yen just three days after the robbery. Although gutted by the blow to her business, she showed up for the photo shoot and kept her composure throughout the interview, sending rapid-fire messages to her team handling the crisis every time she had a few seconds’ break.
Scroll down for the first part of the exclusive online Q&A precluding our March 2018 print coverage of the interview and photo shoot with Yen Kuok.
Last December the Guiltless pop-up shop was broken into. That must have been a huge blow to you – can you tell us about that? What happened?
In the early morning a few minutes past 6 o’clock on December 5, the CCTV showed three robbers breaking in via the mall’s interior entrance to the store. They used a giant hammer and literally smashed through the glass. They knew exactly what they were looking for, going straight for the bag cabinet where we kept all our Birkins. They picked out fifteen bags and made a swift exit.
It was quite scary because they clearly knew what they were doing; the robbers didn’t go for the exotic bags because they knew it would arouse more suspicion if they tried re-selling it in the second-hand market as they’re more easily identified. It’s also more difficult to bring those exotic Birkins overseas because all these skins are being restricted just like furs… the thieves made sure not to stir up any suspicion on the Queen’s Road Central main entrance side. They did everything inside the mall. It was a shocking experience.
Sorry to hear that. What’s the equivalent value of what they got?
The estimate is up to HK1.5 million. It’s difficult to put a price on the Birkin bags, it’s like trying to put a tag on a limited edition stamp.
I stopped by the pop-up just last Sunday, actually, and thought the branding was really well done.
We had only wanted to do two weeks in the beginning, actually. We didn’t want to compromise on a prime location as it was our first pop-up; we had to do it in a place that sets the standard. It had to be on the ground floor – none of those walk-up-the-stairs gallery space kind of nonsense – it had to be a main street location in Central. We had dabbled with the idea of doing it in Causeway Bay, but decided that for the first one we definitely had to do it in Central; we treated it like a flagship.
And did it work?
The results were really good, so we extended it for another month. The landlord was happy about that because it was driving a lot of traffic to the mall itself, us being right at the entrance. The window displays were interesting and fun – we had games inside the store. The management approached us to extend, and we said ‘Yes, looking at the financials it makes sense to do it.’ But in the end I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse since we got robbed!
What were your demographics like? Who were your biggest fans?
A lot of the people who went to our pop-up have actually been the slightly older customers and tai tais who come in and buy like ten items at a time. They would say things like ‘Honestly I don’t really buy anything second-hand, but everything here looks so new, it’s wonderful.’
That’s the feedback that we get all the time, so much so that when we just opened the pop-up store, people didn’t realise it was second-hand and couldn’t figure out why we were so cheap. In the first week we had to print emergency store stickers saying ‘second-hand’ because unless you say it, people think it’s first-hand!
Stay tuned for the second part of this article, up next Sunday. Yen divulges tidbits from her personal life along with her fashion inspirations.
Interview by: Julienne C. Raboca