First Person: Colin Grant
Pure International founder and CEO Colin Grant landed in Hong Kong as a young tennis star and never left. A born entrepreneur, he launched a tennis racket-stringing business and Movieland, a chain of video rental stores, when he was still a teenager, before fundamentally shaping the region’s health industry with his yoga studios and gyms. He talks to Hana R. Alberts about entrepreneurship, hiking and expanding Pure across Asia.
[My father] was a civil engineer, and he designed highways and bridges in Nigeria, then England, then Iran. When he came here he worked on the MTR.
So when people say, “Where are you from?” I say, “Well, it’s not that easy.”
My childhood was spent at tennis tournaments waiting to play or, if it was raining, hanging around with the kids and getting into trouble.
I would string rackets at local professional tournaments and for other kids. I also dabbled in starting a line of clothing, and had samples made in Korea.
I had to make a decision—do I continue at university or come back to Hong Kong and play tennis? I was running a video business at the same time. It started to do okay, so I decided I was going to play a bit more tennis and see what happened with Movieland.
I wanted to do something I felt passionate about and loved.
By chance I ended up doing a yoga class in Whistler in 2001 while on a holiday.
I didn’t play golf and decided to do yoga for the rest of the week. I thought, “I’ll open a yoga studio in Hong Kong,” because I believed in the yoga so much. And now I’m talking to you, 10 years later.
We started Pure Yoga in January 2002. At that time… nobody practiced yoga, really, it was the kind of thing you did maybe on Lamma. It was kind of seen as something bohemian, or you had to be a gypsy or whatever, but now it’s a mainstream thing.
In New York, there was an article saying yoga’s the new golf. You take your boss.
Some people say we’re expensive. But actually, it’s not that we’re expensive, it’s that I think others were too unsustainably cheap. If we charged what our competitors charged, we’d go bankrupt, too. And that’s why we don’t.
Hong Kong is probably a business city first, so we’re not going to be an international sporting city. You can’t be a jack-of-all-trades.
I go hiking quite a lot. There is definitely that side of Hong Kong, and if you look hard enough you can find it.
I do yoga at Pure. I try to do two or three classes a week, and then I play tennis on the weekends with friends.
I can do headstands, but I’m not like a pretzel. I’m very stiff because of my tennis days. So I’m trying to undo all the damage.
I struggle. I have tight hips and tight knees and tight hamstrings. But most guys do.
I have a dog and my girlfriend has a dog, so on the weekends we try to take them for walks, whether to Pok Fu Lam, Parkview or the Peak.
I try not to go to the [Pure] clubs on the weekend, because I’m there during the week. Although I do go to the restaurants quite a lot. To be honest, Pure is almost my life. I work and breathe it. I love it. I’m on the phone whether it’s 7am or midnight, whatever. And so it’s a blurry line between work and not work.
My least favorite [thing about Hong Kong] is pollution, pollution, pollution. I can only imagine the damage the pollution has caused me in 30 years.
The good side is just the energy of the city.
There are a lot of cities where, after 10pm, you don’t walk in that area or this area. In Hong Kong you can almost go anywhere, any time.
It’s so compact. You can have three or four meetings in a morning.
I don’t want us to be the biggest. I’d like us to be the best.
We’re looking at Shanghai…We’re opening a second gym in Singapore in November, so that’s a big project. And we’re looking at opening a few more sites in Hong Kong when the rents are a bit more reasonable.
We’re not going to go out to the New Territories. An IFC gym or a Fairmont gym maybe wouldn’t work in Sha Tin or Tsuen Wan.
In 2031, I’ll be living in Hong Kong but spending some time in Tahiti.