From client care to skincare, in 30 years
The return of her brother from Canada offered Angela Lee a catalyst that helped her turn her childhood interests into a business brand
For many readers of the South China Morning Post, Angela Lee, a former partner in the Hong Kong offices of international law firm Baker & McKenzie, is a familiar face.
That's because since 2003 Lee has regularly provided readers with legal advice in relation to property buying and selling, as well as on rental issues.
But a career shift at the end of last year took her into the realm of advising on something completely different - how to take care not of legal matters, but of your skin.
After 30 years with Baker & McKenzie Lee retired from her legal practice to take up the full-time manufacturing and marketing of her own line of skincare products, which she has called JaneClare.
She described the product as herbal-based and tested for efficacy on Asian skin.
It was not an impulsive move but one she had nursed together with her brother for 10 years.
"I spent 10 years on research and development," she said and finally, after spending HK$100 million, she embarked on the full-time production of her skin care products.
"Since I was young, I have had a strong interest in skin care. I wanted to create quality skin care products from natural ingredients and establish a high-quality beauty brand," said Lee.
A turning point came in 2002 when her elder brother, John Lee, returned from Canada and needed to find a job in Hong Kong.
"So I asked him to come with me and help turn my idea into real products," she said.
John Lee, who is a mechanical engineer with a computer science degree, was intrigued by the challenge. He searched online for all relevant information and began importing ingredients from around the world.
Lee's house in Bowen Road served as their first laboratory, while a manufacturing base was set up in an industrial building in San Po Kong in Kowloon
"Over the years, we invited many international skincare experts to discuss our results, including Professor Chan Sai-chung. Chan is emeritus professor of dermatology and associate dean of Oregon Health Sciences University. As chief executive of the Contract Research Organisation related to the university, he led research projects for some of the world's best-known skin care brands, and he was also a science adviser to the White House during the Clinton administration," added Lee.
In the early years Lee said she tried various business models as she juggled the demands of her legal practice with her fledgling business. Eventually she came to the decision that being a part-time entrepreneur did not work.
"At the time, I was busy at Baker & McKenzie and just focused on the skincare business over the weekend. This was a limitation on my business."
So, at the end of last year she resigned from the law firm, though she continues a relationship with her old practice as a consultant, to become a full-time entrepreneur. In September this year her JaneClare products were put on sale in Watsons outlets and will soon be sold in China.
Her company, JaneClare, has signed-up a distributor in Suzhou and has also negotiated an agreement with a CCTV direct sales channel as it prepares to launch JaneClare products on the mainland market.
Commenting on the biggest difference between giving legal advice on property matters, and advice on skin care, Lee said : "If my clients follow closely my advice on skin care, I am sure I will see a visible difference when I next see them. The difference that my legal advice on property matters may have on my clients is usually not visible!"
In Her Name
The JaneClare skin care products Angela Lee is now marketing were named after her niece.
Years ago, when Lee imported a skin-testing machine from the United States, family members excitedly competed with one another to see who had the best skin. "As a result, we found that my two-year-old niece had the best skin, and we accepted that what God makes must be the most beautiful," she said.
Now Lee's dream is to develop a home-grown brand of skin-care products that can compete with the best-known international brands.