Virtual gem of a business model

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong-born model and television star Amber Atherton is relaunching her online jewellery business with a stronger social media focus. 'I am relentless with work. If I didn't need to sleep, I wouldn't. I want to be constantly going,' says the 20-year-old about her online business,

On the surface, Atherton is a typical, ambitious Hong Kong expat. Daughter of a Cathay Pacific pilot, born at the Matilda Hospital, she lived in Discovery Bay, Sai Kung, and Pok Fu Lam, and spent her teenage years at boarding school. She has that privileged expat worldliness and love of shopping, but that's where the 'typical' part of Atherton ends.

Wide-eyed innocence, freckles, heart-shaped face: Atherton is reminiscent of a Caucasian Devon Aoki. But don't let her youth fool you. She has spoken at conferences on new media, is co-designing a fine jewellery line, is studying Brand Management at the London College of Fashion, and her own jewellery collection, Typhoon Palace, hits Hong Kong's Harvey Nichols in September. The London It girl's business has grown into a successful online portal for eclectic jewellery designers and customers, with all labels hand-picked by Atherton from around the world.

Her British television debut was on NBC-owned programme Made in Chelsea, sold as a 'scripted' reality version of Gossip Girl. With the show set to go stateside, Atherton's career is at a major turning point. 'They wanted to pigeon-hole us as rich girls doing nothing,' she laughs. 'They don't film as much real life stuff as I'd like, like me going to business meetings... so the public will have the perception we are these brunching, shopping tai-tais in Chelsea!'

Young labels like Yuen and Sophie Breitmeyer have received international exposure thanks in part to exposure on Atherton's site, and Atherton has collaborated with 2010 New Jewellery Designer of the Year Alexander Davis. Traffic on MyFlashTrash is hitting about 25,000 visitors a month, with sales every day. 'We have such an international fan base - it's exciting for me to see FlashTrash as a global brand.'

Atherton says that the strength of her e-commerce model is a focus on social retail and marketing. 'We have a really interactive platform: a magazine, blog, MyFlashTrash TV, social media - [there's] a real community feel.'

The business started at high school as a practical offshoot to her holiday jewellery shopping trips to Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. 'I started bringing it back to sell at boarding school. Everybody used to love it,' she says.

The model admits to being a bit of 'a tech geek', building her own first e-commerce website in 2008. After approaching designers at London's Brick Lane and Portobello markets, new designers began to contact her and the website grew from there.

She wanted to present something different - 'what's not in Topshop', as Atherton wryly puts it - targeting those interested in art, design and culture.

Atherton is no stranger to fashion. As British Tatler 'Babe of the Month', she was scouted to be a model in Hong Kong at the tender age of 12. 'From there, I went on to do bits and bobs for Hong Kong teen magazines,' she says. 'I even filmed a small part in Naked Weapon with Maggie Cheung ... and then I signed to Premier Models in London.'

Nowadays, her online business takes up most of her time. 'The modelling stage has sort of passed,' says Atherton. 'I'm only 20 but I've done 12 work experiences and worked in fashion distribution and management consultancy.' The young overachiever naturally throws business jargon into conversation. Her professionalism and maturity are disarming, especially as she still looks like a teenager, albeit a very tall, groomed and stylish one.

Atherton accredits her entrepreneurial edge to Hong Kong: 'Something about living here has definitely affected why I'm so motivated and such an opportunist,' she says. 'Here, successful business people become celebrities and that structure inspires me. I miss the buzz of living here, the Asian pace.'