May is all about the French fervor in the air. With the various film screenings and events happening in Hong Kong and Macau, we decided to speak to a few French expats themselves on their life, work and views on Asia.
A double law graduate, this French expat is making beauty and makeup services in Hong Kong a lot more easy and affordable. After working with investment banks, Diane Younes decided to start Sponge– which offers professional beauty services at your fingers tips and at your doorstep. Since it is an at-home service, the high rental costs in Hong Kong can be evaded thus making it more affordable than conventional salons.
We speak to Diane on the challenges of starting a business and being a Frenchie in Hong Kong.
Where are you from originally and what brought you to Hong Kong?
I was born in Paris but grew up in London, made my way to New York when I was 16 and did my first law degree in French in Canada. I did my second law degree in New York before I started working in investment banking for a few years and then decided to come to Hong Kong because my husband was offered a job and I thought why not? It is a nice adventure … so here we are.
Can you tell us about your background and what you do?
What I was doing before has nothing to do with what I’m doing now. I was working on the trading floor back then for Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital but I always knew I wanted to start my own business, it was just a matter of timing. Within four months I built a website and business. I had the idea for Sponge initially because I was floored by how expensive spas and salons are in Hong Kong and I figured out it was because they were paying rent. We don’t pay expensive rent for a salon or spa at Sponge which drives down prices. We can come conveniently to your location- your home, your office, your hotel, your event, your photoshoot etc.
Can you tell our readers more about “Sponge”?
Sponge offers professional beauty services at your fingers tips and at your doorstep. You book online in three simple steps, it takes 10 seconds and you get a beauty professional at your location of choice. Right now we offer hair and makeup, eyelash extensions and makeup lessons. In terms of the name, I just wanted to find something that was part of your everyday life. The whole concept behind Sponge is that its part of your daily life, its not just for special events. Especially because of how we are priced and how convenient we are. So people book us in the morning before going to work, during the day or in the evenings before events. I was in the kitchen trying to find some inspiration for a name and I looked over at the sink and saw a sponge. The name is easy and short and makeup artists use sponges too.
How does someone use your site to make a booking?
If you go to our website you will see a menu of services and looks. For makeup, there is a full-on smokey eye contoured look to a more natural look with an emphasis on the lips, for example. This makes the booking and services faster and easier for clients. Everything is then customized for clients to match their preferences at the time of the appointment. You can of course also show our experts the photos of what you want on arrival or leave photos or comments in the comment box at the time of booking. We also use our Instagram to post all of our clients’ looks. This serves as beauty inspiration for our clients as well.
What has been your biggest challenge with starting your own business and why?
Honestly, it was the technology part that was the biggest challenge. Hong Kong is lacking in good web developers that are decently priced. You can get the best here but they are very expensive or you can pay a really low price and get someone who writes you code that might not support a business very well. So I think what is key is to find, web developers who know their stuff, and who have a project manager who can relay your wants and needs into “techie talk” to the developers.
What is your favorite French beauty brand and why?
Caudalie has this beauty elixir spray, it’s like a water spray but there is something about it. You might not need it in Hong Kong because it’s so humid but when your makeup is starting to feel “ugh” during the day you spray it on your face and it just revives your face. Another great French brand I’ve been using for years is Avene. They have this cleansing lotion that is very gentle on your skin. I’ve been using it for about 10 years now. In terms of makeup- Makeup Forever HD is actually very good-, especially for photo shoots.
What’s is the one beauty item everyone should splurge on?
That’s a tough one because there are some that don’t break the bank. My favorite is a great Korean mask I use that is super cheap, I get it from Sasa. Its called Beyond. It has canola honey from Jeju and I use it every two days. In terms of makeup, there are so many great brands out there but I like to splurge on my Guerlain terracotta bronzer.
What do you think is a French stereotype that isn’t true? And one that is?
One stereotype that is true is that our food is amazing. And contrary to popular stereotype, we love to work too.
Any beauty/makeup trends for Summer 2018?
Contoured looks and lots of highlighter. You are seeing highlighter not just on cheekbones but down the bridge of the nose, the temples, chins, etc.
What advice would you give women who want to start their own business?
Really think about it before you do it. I encourage everyone to try it if they really want to do it. But just know that you will not be your own boss, you will not have flexible working hours. In my experience, it is the most inexpensive and best degree I’ve ever done in life. So I do encourage people to do it but before you jump, buckle in because it’s a wild but awesome ride.
Living abroad, what things do you do when you are missing home?
I love to watch French movies. I feel hearing your mother tongue it simply relaxes you. There is something about hearing the French language, you associate with your family and loved ones.