Mind the Gap

What a tycoon daughter’s plan to sell used handbags online tells you about Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 May, 2016, 2:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 10:26am

Much is justifiably expected of the sons and daughters of families who are blessed with wealth and power. But, in Hong Kong, if you can’t live up to that expectation, then the next best thing is to go shopping.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal decided that a billionaire’s daughter and her website that sells US$20,000 designer handbags and other luxury goods was worth reporting as an innovation to readers and budding entrepreneurs. Yen Kuok, the youngest child of Malaysian Chinese billionaire Robert Kuok, plans to launch Guiltless International Limited, a global site for second-hand luxury goods.

Whether or not Guiltless is any more special than the thousands of sites on Taobao or ebay currently selling pricey purses will be determined by the free market. The article stated that the 26-year-old Ms Kuok believes the market has room to grow given Hong Kong’s sky-high housing prices and a boom in aspirational shoppers.

Surely there must be struggling and inventive Hong Kong entrepreneurs whose endeavours are more worthy to be reported by a leading business journal.

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It demonstrates the problem of climbing the entrepreneurial success ladder in Hong Kong. The rungs are clogged with the children of the rich who always somehow manage to convince a reporter to cover their most excellent adventure. Society magazines regularly trumpet the dilettante businesses of the super rich – spas, pilates studios, boutiques. Anything to kill the senseless ennui of the idle rich between designer fashion shows.

Ms Kuok says she developed an online shopping habit during her residency and studies at Stanford University. And when she returned to Asia, she discovered that many secondhand luxury websites were unable to operate Asia. Ms Kuok saw an opportunity and wanted to fill in the void.

Guiltless is more like a fast food franchise. It does not represent the best kind of innovation from someone with an education at a leading university whose alumni founded revolutionary firms like Google, Yahoo, Instagram, among others. E-commerce sites were a breakthrough – 20 years ago.

At least we haven’t been inflicted with the spectacle of another Cyberport debacle where Richard Li Tzar-kai’s idea of an internet project was actually an excuse for a luxury residential development.

Ms Kuok should aspire to great tasks like starting an incubator for Hong Kong’s young entrepreneurs by letting thousands of square feet at no cost from her family’s vast property holdings to give local startups a break from exorbitant local rents.

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Because don’t you miss people that actually disturb the social fabric? Don’t you miss that there was a social fabric to disturb? Because now there is only a gaping social divide in Hong Kong. Hong Kong no longer has any leaders in business or culture. In Hong Kong, we are plagued with the relentless spectacle of the court jesters of international café society.

The lack of individual integrity and courage causes people take the easy way out. It is a metaphor for the decay of the city. How hard it is to exist, flourish in a place desensitised by greed and self-regard.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker