Get us in your inbox

Search
International Women's Day 2021 feature on women leading the way
Time Out Hong Kong | Vera Lui, Sarah Garner, May Chow, Peggy Chan, and Dimple Yuen

Women leading the way: Hong Kong women trailblazers who continue to inspire us

Meet inspiring women trailblazers in Hong Kong

Written by
Tatum Ancheta
,
Jenny Leung
&
Fontaine Cheng
Advertising

Women are a force to be reckoned with. Throughout history, we've seen many women who pushed boundaries, smashed stereotypes, and paved the way for other women's successes. Today we are commemorating International Women's Day and celebrating women's achievements throughout history.

At Time Out, we are turning our masthead purple to support and honour women around the world. Here in Hong Kong, we're putting the spotlight on remarkable women in various fields who have risen the ranks to excel in their chosen industry and continue to inspire us. Read below and get to know Hong Kong women trailblazers and learn how they pushed boundaries, rose above their struggles and sacrifices, and found a balance to rise to the top. 

RECOMMENDED: Celebrate IWD at these events in the city and take this time to tap into your feminine energy and unleash your inner goddess

Hong Kong women trailblazers

May Chow, chef and restaurateur, Little Bao and Happy Paradise, 36 years old
Photograph: Courtesy Little Bao Ltd

May Chow, chef and restaurateur, Little Bao and Happy Paradise, 36 years old

With a big smile and incredibly positive disposition, it’s easy to see why Hong Kong chef and restaurateur May Chow is so well-liked when you meet her. But that doesn’t stop the award-winning chef (Best Female Chef 2017 by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants) and founder and owner of Little Bao Diner and Happy Paradise, talk about more profound topics with perceptive insights and an observant glint in her eyes.  

As we chat, she recalls how she started cooking and shares “I was interested in food for as long as I can remember, thanks to my mum’s passion and connection with food. I have her to thank for sparking it.” Unlike other Asian kids growing up, May helped out in the kitchen. “She’d give me a stool, a little knife, and then I would cut, or peel, wash the rice, make Shanghainese wontons and spring rolls [for her family],” she continues.

Fast forward to today, and her most recent significant achievement is “surviving Covid-19!” She adds, “you ask yourself: how do I take care of my staff? How can I continue serving my guests well? How do I make sure my investors are happy? These were things that I had to resolve ­– and quickly. And I think being able to survive these last two years, from protests to Covid-19, really showed how determined and resilient we can be no matter the circumstance.” 

1) What lessons have you learnt that are unique to being a woman in your line of work?
It’s not just about being a woman I think, but when you’re with very dominant people, how you hold your ground or fight for opportunity is very important. There was a time when I didn’t react quick enough to an opportunity. There was no ill intent there, but because someone was quicker to react and more sure to claim what they wanted, they got it. That’s when I thought I just need to react faster next time. I need to know what I want and just have the confidence to go for it.

2) Name a woman who’s inspired you the most, and tell us why?
Jane Fonda. Her career is six decades-long and still going strong. She hasn’t just won awards [from Academy Awards, Emmys, Golden Globes, and more], she’s also an environmentalist, former fashion model, woman’s rights activist, and so many more things. She made an exercise show that became the all-time most sold VHS program, published a number of books, and then at 70 put together the Netflix show Grace and Frankie to critical acclaim. From VHS to Netflix – that’s incredible in itself. She is such a great reminder that you can define your careers, have a voice, and more importantly, continually evolve.

3) What advice do you have for women who want to become chefs or restaurateurs?
Be aware of the challenges you can potentially face, find mentors early and work at restaurants that champion women empowerment, and provide equal opportunity. At the same time develop confidence, and the expertise, so you can differentiate what is right and what is unfair, so as not to become a victim of situations. By building up that knowledge, you can trust that if you feel you’re right about something you can then boldly go for it.

4) In your opinion, what does it mean to be a feminist in 2021?
Being a feminist is not limited to females. I also think we should fight for each other’s rights because if we win as a collective, it’s much more beneficial for the future. Being a feminist is aligning yourself with your allies, voicing the things you want in a coherent way and understanding the challenges of today, regardless if you’re female because this can happen to people you care about –your mother, sister, or daughter. Instead of thinking the world will fix itself, educate yourself instead of waiting for someone to educate you. Be responsible for your own growth. Being a woman doesn’t automatically make you a feminist, but learning and being a better role model for the next generation is. 

5) How are you using your position to help challenge gender equality and promote female empowerment?
We have to challenge it with action. For example, when we are highlighting female chefs and menus created by them, maybe we don’t need to say that it’s a ‘female chef’ or menu ‘made by women’. Celebrate these women for their achievements and not only for the fact they were born female. We should just do things that champion women without having to explicitly say so every time. Or even with these articles, I’d actually suggest that instead of only featuring women during Woman’s Month, action on a commitment to equality by simply covering women in at least 50 percent of articles.

6) With the ongoing global health crisis, what has been your biggest indulgence at home? What do you miss doing in Hong Kong, and what are you looking forward to doing once everything settles?
I miss late-night food because things close at 10pm right now, and late-night food is hard to make. I love Korean BBQ, yakiniku, and izakayas that have all these innards. I recently found, in a supermarket freezer, things like pig intestines, Korean soft tofu stew pots, and cod fish roe, but I would never normally cook this stuff because it’s so hard to clean and cook. But now these packs have saved my idea of a late night out. So, when I can go back out, I would like to revisit late-night food spots.

7) What do you think the future of F&B looks like in Hong Kong?
I think there will be a lot of comfort food, coffee shops, and day-to-day foods because businesses need repeat customers. There will be more products, e-commerce, and delivery. Things that will also be more experience-driven, like the outdoor cinema [The Grounds]. Creativity is unstoppable, this is them adapting their concept to the environment today. I hope foodies –  the ones that are paving the way to creativity and giving Hong Kong a unique voice – can really support these things. They might not always be the ones that are most commercially viable, but they are the ones that are culturally relevant and they need to survive in order for the culture to be intact.

Visit Little Bao and Happy Paradise or follow May on Instagram to see what she’s up to next in the world of food.

Sarah Garner, founder and CEO, Retykle, 39 years old
Photograph: Julia Broad Photography

Sarah Garner, founder and CEO, Retykle, 39 years old

Working in fashion for many years, Sarah Garner witnessed the lack of sustainability in the fashion industry. Aiming to be an agent of change and provide a solution to the ongoing problem, Retykle was born in 2016 as a sustainable fashion-loop platform. The idea came about when she became a first-time parent and saw firsthand how children quickly outgrow their clothes. Today, her preloved childrenswear platform, Retykle, is one of the most established children's resale fashion platforms in Asia and is currently preparing for an Asia-Pacific expansion. "I wanted to serve a greater purpose with the experience I had gained in the [fashion] industry, and I'm fulfilled knowing that Retykle serves to help parents reduce waste," Sarah shares. "Given that my kids are my greatest achievement, I'm happy to work on something that will have a positive impact on their future," she adds. 

1) What lessons have you learnt that's unique to being a woman in your line of work? We still have a long way to go to break down gender bias. In the industry of luxury fashion, 90 percent of women serve a dominantly female customer base, but men filled almost all senior management positions throughout my career. There are distinct imbalance and reflection of the opportunities that lay ahead for women in the industry. We need more female role models at the top for other women to learn from and aspire to be.

2) Name a woman who's inspired you the most? Why? My mom. She was dedicated and excelled in her career as an architect and balanced motherhood, family, friendship, and philanthropy with generosity and love. 

3) You are a leader in your industry regardless of gender. What drives you? I was driven by ambition and the desire to succeed and climb to the top. That changed when I had my first child. I just wanted to do something that he could be proud of and, in my small way, also improve the state of the world for him. When I found a bigger purpose than my ambition, I found fulfilment in what I do. My drive comes from wanting Retykle to serve a purpose and create an impact. 

4) What are the biggest challenges you have faced throughout the pandemic? Homeschooling has been a challenge. Losing the structure and kid's time at school added to our daily time management. At work, we've had to adjust protocols to ensure the team's safety and allowed some periods to work at home. There has been a lot of uncertainty on how the pandemic would affect sales and day to day operations. It's been an exercise in adaptability and resilience for all. 

5) What advice do you have for women aiming for career or leadership positions in your line of business? Invest in learning and ensure that you feel challenged every step of the way. I am a big believer in gaining varied experiences in your chosen industry so that you can form your own leadership style based on what you've encountered. Seek courses and mentorship opportunities, and take on leadership roles. Share your knowledge with others and give them the tools to be your successor. The greatest leaders are those who create more leaders.  

6) In your opinion, what does it mean to be a feminist in 2021? It is about supporting other women to achieve their goals – pay it forward to help others rise to the ranks. 

7) How are you using your position to help challenge gender equality and promote female empowerment? I will try to help other women build their businesses, prepare them for investment, and guide them in balancing family life and entrepreneurship.  

8) With the ongoing global health crisis, what has been your biggest indulgence at home? What do you miss doing in Hong Kong, and what are you looking forward to doing once everything settles? Our biggest indulgences have been slowing down. It's all about bringing it back to basics – cooking, growing our own vegetables, and baking bread at home. I miss the beautiful beaches! I can't wait until they open up again. We're looking forward to getting back to Canada to see our families. The separation has been hard, particularly for the grandparents. 

9) What do you think the future of sustainable fashion looks like in Hong Kong? I think the future of sustainable fashion is fully circular. I hope that there will be a consolidation of fast fashion and that everyone will move towards buying less and buying better quality clothes that are meant to withstand time and obsolescence because of trends. If items become unwearable post resale and repair, I believe we will adopt widespread recycling for textiles, create drop boxes for fibre recycling, and spin new from old. I am optimistic and excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for the future of fashion, and I have confidence that consumers care and will drive this change by changing their habits. 

10) How would you sum yourself up in three words? Canadian. Mom. Entrepreneur. 

Visit retykle.com to shop and support their cause and follow Retykle on Instagram for updates. 

Advertising
Dimple Yuen, head distiller and co-founder of Two Moons Distillery, 32 years old
Photograph: Courtesy Two Moons Distillery

Dimple Yuen, head distiller and co-founder of Two Moons Distillery, 32 years old

Her love and passion for gin led Dimple to become Hong Kong's first female head distiller and establish the Two Moons distillery – the city's first microdistillery – with her partner Ivan Chang in 2019. She acquired her distilling diploma at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and learned more about the art of distilling during her stay in the UK. "My journey into the distilling world was a spontaneous one," Dimple shares. "I had no experience in the F&B industry since my previous career was in programming. Purely stemming from my love towards gin, my path began with a passion project and eventually led me to switch careers. I never looked back since," she adds. "I'm proud to have contributed to the local gin scene, and hopefully, this will help pave the way for future distillers out there to join this community." 

1) What lessons have you learnt that's unique to being a woman in your line of work? In my experience as a distiller, it doesn't matter what gender you identify as. However, being in a male-dominated industry does mean that people sometimes focus on my gender. Most of the time, the comments have no malicious intent, and it can sometimes even play to my advantage. I've learnt to turn the conversation around, especially if I'm being labelled because of my gender before my profession.

2) Are there still biases that you encounter as a woman in your chosen profession or in Hong Kong? I'm fortunate enough to say that my overall experience as a woman in the distilling industry has been a pleasant one. People have been very supportive, regardless of gender. I know some who are not so lucky, and there is still plenty of bias and prejudice across all genders today. It's important to emphasise that today's fight is not just about women's rights but also everybody's rights. It's about inclusion, expansion, and equal opportunities for everybody without bringing anyone else down.  

3) Name a woman who's inspired you the most? Why? Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female US Supreme Court justice. She fought tirelessly for equality across all genders and challenged traditional gender roles in society. Her courage to stand up in the face of adversity is commendable, and I look up to her because of her persistence in fighting for justice for all sexes.

4) You are a leader in your industry regardless of gender. What drives you? The satisfaction that comes from making something out of nothing is a big driver for me, especially if it's an experience that forces me to step out of my comfort zone. The sense of fulfilment is almost addictive.

5) What are the biggest challenges you have faced throughout the pandemic? Launching our business right when the pandemic hit meant that all the planning we did beforehand was no longer relevant. With borders and bars closing, the challenge was planning how to sell our gin, the uncertainty of bar closures, and how to keep afloat during these times. But the experience only made us more resilient, and it taught us how to manage our fears during these uncertain times.

6) What advice do you have for women aiming for career or leadership positions in your line of business? Stay curious and keep challenging yourself. A curious mind fosters personal growth and helps pave the way to achieve your goals. Also, learn how to train your mind and take care of your mental wellbeing. A strong and healthy mind is what you need to push through challenging times.

7) In your opinion, what does it mean to be a feminist in 2021? It's about celebrating our differences and embracing diversity while fighting for equal rights without prejudice or bias, no matter what we identify as or how we choose to carry ourselves.

8) With the ongoing global health crisis, what has been your biggest indulgence at home? What do you miss doing in Hong Kong, and what are you looking forward to doing once everything settles? I'm prone to burnout, especially with the never-ending lockdowns, so one of my biggest indulgences have been purchasing an abundance of house plants. Being a proud plant parent has been a great form of therapy for me to cope with stress. I miss making real-life connections with people outside, though. And I look forward to travelling again, one day, and giving that first hug!

9) What do you think the future of local spirits and distilling looks like in Hong Kong? Local spirits used to be an old industry in Hong Kong, with few producers making traditional Chinese wines. Recently, there has been a rise in Hong Kong branded gins and other spirits, which shows that people are interested in reviving and expanding this sector. The market has been extremely receptive to supporting local businesses. I'm anticipating a rise in distillers and enthusiasts joining the local spirit industry in the future, and I can't wait to see the community grow!

10) How would you sum yourself up in three words? Creative, courageous, passionate.

Two Moons Distillery is currently working on new flavours and collaborations with Hong Kong artisans and farmers. Follow Two Moons Distillery on Instagram for updates. 

Vera Lui, co-founder, Sally's Toy and Women's Festival HK, 34 years old
Photograph: Courtesy Sally's Toy

Vera Lui, co-founder, Sally's Toy and Women's Festival HK, 34 years old

After discovering the power of sex toys in her 20s, together with her husband, Vera Lui launched sex-positive sex toy shop Sally's Toy in 2010 to share with others the transformative power of sex toys in relationships and sexual pleasures. "I grew up with a lack of sex education in Hong Kong," Vera shares. "My passion for pleasure-based sex education started when I explored my body and experienced my first orgasm. That mind-blowing experience empowered me to own my body and sexuality. It became clear to me that my mission is to share sex-positive education so everyone can feel good in their own body," she adds. Today, Sally's Toys have four branches across Hong Kong, and their products are also accessible in their online shop. Since launching her business, Vera has become a mother, co-founded the Women's Festival HK in 2018, hosted a talk show about sex on viuTV, and continued to educate her viewers through her sex ed channel on YouTube. 

1) What lessons have you learnt that's unique to being a woman in your line of work? To be my true authentic self. Just because I am a woman, it doesn't mean I can't talk about sex openly and postively. Also, being a woman doesn't mean I have to put up a strong face all the time to break the stereotype. It's okay to be vulnerable. 

2) Are there still biases that you encounter as a woman in your chosen profession or in Hong Kong?  Yes, people still think that as a woman, I shouldn't talk about sex so openly. Some people may also think that it is okay to send me messages, comments, or photos that are considered harassment because I am willing to talk about sex.

The main challenges regarding gender-related issues in Hong Kong are the lack of education on gender and sex since early childhood. If kindergarten classes still teach our children that there are only two genders, how are they supposed to nurture an all-inclusive culture in the workplace and at home in the future? 

3) Name a woman who's inspired you the most? Why? As an intimate store owner and sex educator, I have met amazing women who shared their personal stories. They are all truly inspiring. I am always amazed by how strong and beautiful they are. I'd say women from all walks of life inspire me. We all have a thing or two to learn from each other. 

4) You are a leader in your industry regardless of gender. What drives you? When people tell me they have found happiness and embraced their sexuality because of something I said, a video I made, a talk I gave, a sex toy I reviewed, it fuels me to keep advocating for sex-positivity. 

5) What personal sacrifices have you made throughout your career? To be honest, I am a workaholic. I have neglected both my physical and mental health for quite some time. Self-care is still something I am learning to do every day. 

6) What are the biggest challenges you have faced throughout the pandemic? It's very hard to have a stable and consistent working environment during the pandemic. As a team leader, my biggest challenge is to make sure my team feels safe physically and psychologically by being more transparent and actively listening to their needs.

7) What advice do you have for women aiming for career or leadership positions in your line of business? Do it because you love it. Don't do it just because of money. 

8) In your opinion, what does it mean to be a feminist in 2021? I always think that it doesn't matter what era we are in. A feminist always believes in the equality of everyone and everybody. Feminism was never only about fighting for women's rights. It's about everyone's rights.  

9) With the ongoing global health crisis, what has been your biggest indulgence at home? What do you miss doing in Hong Kong, and what are you looking forward to doing once everything settles? I now try to squeeze more self-care time, like meditation and hiking, into my routine, to nourish my physical and mental health. Of course, sometimes I just want to lie down and do nothing but watch Netflix. 

Since the pandemic, I have been doing a lot of Zoom meetings. It's very convenient for sure. But, I also miss the in-person connection. I look forward to travelling to the States and visiting my sister in New York. We haven't seen each other physically for two years. 

10) What do you think the future of sex-positivity looks like, especially for women, in Hong Kong? Before we started Sally's Toy in 2010, I don't think anyone, especially a woman, talked about sex so publicly and positively on mainstream media or social media. I guess that's why when I put up my first video about finding the G-spot on YouTube, it became super viral. Since then, I think people slowly get used to the idea that sex is something that can be talked about.

I don't think we have overcome all the stigma yet. However, I do believe Hong Kong is more open to the idea that we need positive education about sex. More organisations and young people are devoting their time and energy to promote sex-positive education. I am very sure the future of sex-positivity looks very bright! 

Currently, Vera is busy planning for the Women's Festival 2021, a festival celebrating feminine power. "We want to create a festival to celebrate everything that's part of us and build a space where we belong. I guess that's our little way of empowering women and also everyone," she ends. 

Visit sallystoy.com to shop for their products and follow Vera on Instagram to get updates to their events and sex-ed video releases. 

Advertising
Peggy Chan, founder and director of Grassroots Initiatives, 36 years old
Photograph: Courtesy Peggy Chan

Peggy Chan, founder and director of Grassroots Initiatives, 36 years old

Peggy’s interest in the culinary industry first started with a part-time job at Starbucks while she was still in school. The job sparked her love and passion for the food and beverage industry, and since then, Peggy has achieved many milestones in both her career and personal life. In 2012, Peggy founded the vegetarian eatery Grassroots Pantry – which started the green cooking movement and conscious consumption around the city – before opening the Grassroots Initiative Consultancy, which aims to help others in the hospitality industry on how to best implement sustainable food systems. She also helped design and provide consultation for Mother Pearl, a healthy bubble tea shop that opened on Lyndhurst Terrace in 2020.

Through all the achievements, Peggy remains humble and believes that the awards and accolades she has received over the years, though much appreciated, are just added bonuses to her. "If you're not working for glory, any moment can be a significant achievement," Peggy shares, who feels that a simple recognition by her peers or a thank you note from the people she has helped along the way is enough.

1) What lessons have you learnt that's unique to being a woman in your line of work? Do not be afraid to stand out and do things that are not considered the status quo. It's actually what you will become known for, recognised for, and what others will want to imitate eventually.

2) Are there still biases that you encounter as a woman in your chosen profession or in Hong Kong? I've encountered all sorts of gender biases and discriminations, and for the longest time, I put up a wall so people could see my 'tough' side. Those biases would range from the speculation of whether I could land a management role because of how 'young' I look, or how I might not be 'tall enough'. It's especially difficult to break this cycle too when our Chinese culture is inherently more reserved and internalises cultural and gender norms. The biggest challenge is when people are afraid to speak up. By speaking up and showing up for others, that's how people will show up for you.

3) Name a woman who's inspired you the most? Why?  Dr Vandana Shiva – although I've never met her, she embodies empathy, principles and moral values, and has not stopped fighting for farmer rights.

4) You are a leader in your industry regardless of gender. What drives you? Building a community, uniting those who share similar voices, making right all the wrongs in this world; as heavy as that might sound to others, it's my very source of energy to know that what I do and what I advocate can help make it better for others and future generations to come.

5) What personal sacrifices have you made throughout your career? Missing out on birthdays, weddings, holidays, family time – the usual. But I honestly don't see them as sacrifices because all will happen in good time. I'm made for the hospitality life and all of my family and friends see that as being innate in me, so I simply don't ever experience guilt, judgement, or FOMO for the choices I've made for my career.

6) What are the biggest challenges you have faced throughout the pandemic? While the topic of sustainability might have been placed on the backburner in the hospitality industry, there is so much happening on the policy end. The challenge is whether the private sector is catching up. We can't go back to the way it was, regardless of how comfortable it was for some. The restaurant industry will need to be prepared to bounce back better and integrate United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and sustainability targets into their operations.

7) What advice do you have for women aiming for career or leadership positions in your line of business? Surround yourself with good people, bridge allies, and tune out the noise.

8) In your opinion, what does it mean to be a feminist in 2021? I'd expect everyone to be feminists. Showing up for women as we do when we show up for men should be pretty basic, no?

9) This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge, how are you using your position to help challenge gender equality and promote female empowerment? I choose to challenge gender norms just by being who I am and seeing myself as an equal to my industry peers. By simply doing what I'm comfortable doing whether as a chef, founder, consultant, and paving the way for other women to join us at the table, that's how we can collectively break glass ceilings and inspire younger girls to feel that it's ok to demand equal pay and equal treatment.

10) With the ongoing global health crisis, what has been your biggest indulgence at home? What do you miss doing in Hong Kong, and what are you looking forward to doing once everything settles? Biggest indulgence: working in PJs all day. Missed doing the most in Hong Kong: trying out new restaurants and dining out at night. And I look forward to travelling!

Grassroots Initiatives is currently targeting to launch Zero Foodprint's Asia chapter in the second quarter of this year to help mobilise the restaurant industry around agricultural climate solutions. Peggy is also completing her very own cookbook at the moment which has been successfully crowdfunded and will hopefully be printed by May. Visit @grassroots.initiatives to find out more about the brand or follow Peggy on Instagram for the latest updates.

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising