This week on FEW Members' Corner, we would like to introduce you to Helene Ang, Founder of KBEN & HOL, an artisanal textiles and lifestyle online store.
Hello Helene, we would love to know more about your journey.
I was born in Cambodia, raised in Australia and moved to Hong Kong 11 years ago. Having worked in corporate marketing in large multinational companies for over 15 years I wanted to pursue a more meaningful path and revisit my heritage. I also felt I was being more removed from the end customer working for large corporate companies. This was particularly frustrating as I was not doing the job that I was hired to do in the first place! It was always a burning passion of mine to create beautiful, artisanal textiles and handcrafted lifestyle goods that had a human touch and would inspire daily living. After having 2 children, I took the plunge to pursue my passion and launched my brand KBEN & HOL.
KBEN & HOL is an artisanal textiles and lifestyle online store. We work closely with skilled artisans in Cambodia and across Asia throughout the design process. Our products are all handcrafted and defined by original patterns, naturals materials, and small batch production. The collection includes home furnishings and textiles that use high-quality, hand-woven and hand-dyed fabrics, merging traditional craft with contemporary design. Our close collaboration with local communities and partners in Cambodia and Asia ensures that each piece is ethically produced. This involves providing sustainable income for our artisans and empowering them to further develop and promote their skills. Our products resonated with Lane Crawford where we collaborated with them to launch an exclusive Spring/Summer 18 cushion collection. More recently we have launched our products in China’s leading luxury online store, Secoo.
What inspired you to start your company?
Many people might not be aware that Cambodia has a long and rich history in traditional silk weaving. Unfortunately, many artisans with this skill were persecuted during the Khmer Rouge regime and as a result, the art is dying. I later learnt that many silk weavers/artisans in Cambodia were abandoning their craft for more regular employment but not necessarily better working conditions at large garment factories in the bigger cities. I was inspired to create my brand KBEN & HOL to help revive the high skilled art of traditional weaving in Cambodia and bring the technique and artistry of this remote community to the world Maintaining a sustainable income for our artisans is a key element of our brand ethos.
Most people in Hong Kong also live in small spaces so I wanted to introduce unique and one-of-a-kind lifestyle products and textiles for people to easily refresh their home decor or interiors. I wanted people to feel inspired by their living spaces with our products, each with it’s own unique story. Every home should be as unique and similar to our products, no two products are alike.
So far, what's the most challenging part of your journey?
Working with limited resources and wearing so many different hats in the business. There are different demands placed on you everyday so I’ve had to learn to be resourceful very quickly and get better at prioritising what matters. The other challenge is juggling motherhood with the business. I have to make time in the day for my two young daughters but I’m fortunate that my work allows me the flexibility to spend time with them more than I would if I was in a corporate job.
A FEW WORDS OF ADVICE
The business to date is completely self-funded and we have been growing organically. However I am looking at seeking investment in the near future to grow and scale the business so that we can expand to new markets and offer more exciting products to our customers.
On growing teams
I think it’s important to create a culture that is open to feedback, supportive and fosters creativity. Share your vision and goals with your team and let them know what part they play in it so they feel inspired to achieve them too. You need to constantly evaluate what’s working and not working and don't be afraid to pivot when necessary. Remain flexible so that you can respond to the changing needs of your customers.
On running a business
Don’t wait for things to be perfect. Take action, test and learn. It’s perfectly ok to fail forward and reset.
On building credibility and trust
I think it’s about being authentic and consistent throughout the entire customer journey. Every interaction we have with our customer is personal. We are always open to feedback from customers and are transparent with our processes about how our products are made. From the beginning, we wanted people to know that we invest a great deal in fair wages to support our artisan community and also the high quality materials we use to create our products. We don’t spend our money on fancy advertising campaigns or things that don’t deliver value to our customer. Trust and credibility are gained quickly through word of mouth and having others speak positively about your business. We were lucky to receive favourable press since we launched and are grateful to receive a lot of business through customer referrals that come from other delighted customers who sing our praises.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?:
What makes your product or service unique? It’s a crowded market and you need to be offering something of value to your customers.
How do you plan to market your business? Don’t underestimate the importance of marketing and communicating with potential and existing customers. Launching the business is the easy part but continuously creating demand for it is how you grow your business.
Do you have a sustainable business model? Be prepared for many setbacks and unfavourable market conditions but know that business is a long-term game. Think about how you can create long-term financial value for your business so you can overcome negative market conditions.
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