City Weekend

How did this high-school dropout from Bulgaria succeed in fashion in Hong Kong?

Young entrepreneur describes unusual path that began with belief that technology would be king and creativity would set her apart

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 4:16pm

Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Boryana Uzunova says her decision to drop out of school at a young age has helped build her fashion and technology business.

The move did not only make her the co-founder of two start-ups in the city, but also one of the top graduates from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

“I had the luxury of having my parents’ blessing in my desire to learn in a non-standardised way,” Uzunova, 23, explains.

I had the luxury of having my parents’ blessing in my desire to learn in a non-standardised way
Boryana Uzunova, entrepreneur

Her home country of Bulgaria, she says, has an education system that resembles Hong Kong’s in that it features a “very fixed curriculum where everybody takes the same classes”.

“However, I feel that our world today allows you to really absorb this type of knowledge in a much more efficient way. Even out of school, I could still read the books by myself.”

As a teenager, Uzunova recalls being aware that textbook learning might not afford the best preparation for her future. She thought technology would be king and creativity would make her stand out from the crowd.

At the age of 14 and leaping bravely into the unknown, she dropped out of school, bid farewell to her family in Bulgaria and moved to Japan to pursue her career.

It began with a Tokyo-based digital advertising agency, and later two fashion companies in the city. Her fascination with Japan’s art and culture led her to the island nation. And she wanted to understand how Japanese people thought.

Being in the fashion industry was always her dream job, she adds, describing herself as caring “deeply about aesthetics”.

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Uzunova says her first job taught her a lot about marketing, and she is grateful for acquiring insights in the thick of the industry as opposed to learning theories from a textbook. Meanwhile, her employer expressed happiness with new blood like her.

“The company had a lot of people who graduated from Harvard, who knew all of the framework and the books,” she says. “But it was also exciting to get the views of someone who didn’t [come from a similar background].”

Getting outside the classroom and travelling to different countries made her feel as if she was learning more than her peers. And her forward-looking vision caught the attention of some top universities.

After spending a year in Japan, Uzunova moved to Hong Kong on her friends’ suggestions. In 2013, she gained admission to HKUST’s Global Business Programme after passing the SAT exam.

Uzunova decided to go back to school as a “hedging opportunity” when she was preparing for the launch of MorphX, a technology business allowing customer clients to have tailor-made clothes from apparel manufacturers without leaving their home.

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“If MorphX didn’t come to life or took longer to break into the market, a degree would help me get a job to support myself in the meantime,” she reasoned.

While at HKUST, she also gained admission to an LSE overseas study programme offering a fully integrated year of undergraduate study to students in the top 10 to 15 per cent of their home university.

Last year, Uzunova graduated from HKUST with a bachelor’s degree and achieved first-class honours. She credits the programme director and adviser with “giving a shot to a self-educated student”.

And there’s no indication she’ll slow down. This year, Uzunova launched another start-up, with fellow HKUST alumnus Ufuk Inci and Germany-based Paulina Quinn. It is Kouture Kapsule, a digital platform that connects “the world’s coolest up-and-coming designers with fashion aficionados around the globe”.