What is it like setting up your own retail jewellery store in Hong Kong? We speak to fashionista and jewellery entrepreneur – Jing Zhang, about her experiences of being the co-founder of The9thMuse and of course
How did you come to Hong Kong and what were you doing before you started The9thMuse?
Well, I’m originally from China – Guangdong Province, where I run our family business with my mother. But nowadays I’m a “hopper”, between Guangzhou and Hong Kong – I actually just arrived in Hong Kong this morning!
So what make you start The9thMuse?
The9thMuse was based on an idea that was conceived about 4 years ago by my partner Charlotte and I. We recently had our 3-year anniversary. Charlotte was 24 and I was 25, so I guess we started our entrepreneurial streak early!
We’d noticed a gap in the market, as there was a lack of focus on boutique accessories from independent designers that are both affordable and have authentic designs. So we wanted to bring that here.
What made you want to venture into something that is different from your family business?
You’re right, it is indeed very different. My family business is in manufacturing – mainly furniture manufacturing. But I have a love for both sides [of doing business] – with one side teaching you how make things and cater to the market, while on the other side you learn how to understand the consumers themselves.
I’m a little bit of a business junkie, so often I’ll try to do things over the whole business spectrum. But my passion was always about retail and learning more about it. I’m still on that journey, as I’m still learning new things every day.
Do you buy all the design pieces yourself?
Yes. Everything here is bought by Charlotte and I. We like to be thorough and hands-on. Sometimes maybe a little bit too much!
What is the concept of The9thMuse? What’s your source of inspiration?
Well, it’s called The9thMuse as the brand is meant to be a shop for jewellery and accessories that fits women of different styles and different walks of life. The word “Muse” – meaning “inspiration” – in our name is therefore kind of a playful way to describe the brand’s versatility and whatnot.
I’d say that another concept of focus is to have the pieces that have that “twist” – pieces that are edgy, travel-inspired, practical for woman on-the-go and so on. So every few months or so, Charlotte and I will review and plan for the upcoming season, so the concept is always changing and on-the-go, just like ourselves.
Tell me a little bit about the challenges you faced when you first started.
There were a lot of challenges! First of all, we’re not a shop on the ground floor, so there isn’t any organic traffic. In the beginning, most of the traffic were our closest friends and family, so getting the word out was a huge challenge, as we didn’t have any significant marketing budget unlike a lot of the other established brand stores have.To be honest, till this day it is still a challenge, but over the years you do pick up tricks on what works and what doesn’t – in terms of where to best put your resources to use.Retail is something that requires a lot of diligence, and to be able to maintain that diligence. It’s not about making your shop look good because the press is coming – but to make it look good everyday.How we inspire the staff to perform even when we’re not always around – that’s always going to be a challenge. I think that any boutique retailers will tell you that to maintain that level of service, that level of connection you build with your customers – that’s the toughest part.Any advice for aspiring fashion retailers out there?
I’d say don’t start out just because it sounds cool, looks sexy or sounds fun in the moment. It’s a long and arduous process – involving a lot of hard work and steep learning curves. You really need to have that passion and the will to get stuff done, to get your idea across, to build on your concept/brand in order to sustain. There will most definitely be hard times, and I can’t remember how many times our friends and family have asked us to quit – because they see that you’re struggling and things just seems like they’re not headed anywhere.So in order to pull through, you really need that discipline and drive. So for aspiring retailers out there, I’d say as long you’ve convinced yourself and can sustain that drive – especially when the going gets tough – the results are extremely rewarding.
Do you have a favourite piece here?
I love this piece – which is actually our own design. It’s a “choker”, and I personally love chokers [chuckles]. This kind of design is very much a throwback to the past – very “Cleopatra”. It’s very easy to wear, as it goes well with a multitude of different styles and it’s light. It’s also an instant statement and I’ll probably wear this at Charlotte’s wedding next year!
You also carry your own designs?
Yes. We currently have a collection in collaboration with two New York designers. It’s our Private Label called TWELVEoTWO, where the name is basically the birth months for both Charlotte and I, and it is the next big step for us. Initially we’d like to retail the brand locally in Hong Kong, and in the future wholesale it.
So what is the idea behind TwelveoTwo? How is it related to The9thMuse?
It’s definitely a lot less eclectic, I’d say. The9thMuse allows us to collect designs and designers from a broad spectrum and TWELVEoTWO would definitely be one of the more “leaner & cleaner” collections.
Also, we’re testing out a few concepts of our favorite ways of wearing jewellery – namely “mixing & matching”. We’re trying to build a collection where it’ll make mixing & matching easier. Hopefully all of this will be ready for launch in September 2015.
As a purchaser do you look for in a designer before you sign the up?
We have a copious amount of designers coming to us to sell us the uniqueness of their designs. God knows how many designs we get sent to us on a daily basis, with every designer having a solid claim to have its own unique style. But for a boutique like us, our goal is to consolidate.
Sometimes designers often focus too much on their own design angle, and not enough on finding a place for their creations within the grander scheme of things. In other words, the designer needs to be able to place his or her designs within the food chain or eco-system, and in this case – the sphere of the marketplace.
We have to pick the designs that we feel is the best combination of sustainability and price. And at the end of the day, all that matters is the quality and viability for both our customers and ourselves.