CO-FOUNDER OF ONLINE JEWELLERY RETAILER PLUKKA
I have been living in Hong Kong for the past 20 years but I am an American. My entire career, except for one period where I founded an environmental notfor-profit [Ooi was CEO of the Clean Air Network], has been about luxury goods, fashion, marketing. When I was at the NGO, through a board member I met Jai Waney, who I founded Plukka with. He loved what I had done at Shanghai Tang [Ooi was creative director at the international clothing retailer] and he watched me do a lot of brand-building in Asia. He wanted to start a business.
We wanted to do something that had a disruptive business model with manufacturing as a central pillar of the business. We are based in Hong Kong and that is the epicentre of the world’s manufacturing. We didn’t know what product category to plant our flag in and by chance I met a woman who is now our business director [Elle Hill], and she basically turned on us to how screwed up the whole jewellery industry was. She explained that a ring from a well-known designer brand that sells for $US900 ($1300) retail actually costs about $US45 to make. We just looked at each other and thought Eureka! This is the right product category for us because it is clearly very inefficient and opaque to the consumer. That is why we went into it.
Only 12 per cent of the jewellery industry is owned by big brands. That is really startling. The rest is all these independent retailers and designers. The whole industry is extremely fragmented, like the fashion industry was 20 years ago. To open a boutique in London or New York or Hong Kong as a jeweller, you are going to have to spend at least $US2 million just to make sufficient jewellery inventory. Then you have to deal with the store fitout and the lease. Most importantly, you are a not a famous brand in that local market so you have to have enough money to spend on marketing for at least three years to brand yourself. You may not recoup your costs for a long time. These jewellers don’t have the backing of LVMH or any other big company. If you don’t have that backing, it is virtually impossible to make an impact on a new market in this day and age.
Plukka has a multi-brand display of jewellery designers from around the world. Jewellers give us inventory on consignment. We do all the heavy lifting on marketing, we PR it to death, we do
the advertising. They can become visible and well-known in new markets without having to lose their shirts. That is why our business model has been called the future of fine jewellery retail.
We represent more than 60 designers. I sign a new designer a week because they want this global distribution that I give them. We are the only company of our type. Our business model really unleashes their creativity for the world to see.
I graduated from law school and didn’t want to become a corporate lawyer in New York. I was in Hong Kong visiting my then boyfriend and fell in love with the place. So I came out on vacation and ended up working in a garment buying office. Then by sheer chance — it’s a very Hong Kong story — I met a friend of French shoe designer Stephane Kelian, and he was looking for someone to head up sales and marketing in Asia. I met him one day and the next day I was on the plane to Paris. I couldn’t speak French at the time but subsequently became fluent because I had to manage this company.
I was charged with wholesaling and marketing their brand in Asia. I learnt by the seat of my pants the entire luxury goods distribution industry. And in the process developed a very big Rolodex of the all the top luxury retailers in Asia, through a very steep learning curve. One thing led to another. My life has been pretty much a pin-ball machine within the luxury goods industry ever since.
We started Plukka as an onlineonly business. To market the site, we showed the jewellery to a group of women in person and they freaked out over how beautiful it was and we thought, maybe we just cannot have a pure online brand. Maybe we need to bring the goods to the consumer. That is what led to the opening of our first pop-up boutique, which was so successful, we made it a permanent boutique [in Hong Kong].
We decided by that time that jewellery should be sold in a bricksand-mortar environment. We anticipate opening six boutiques before the end of 2017. We have also launched a view-on-demand service in certain countries.
A lead investor who is extremely experienced recommended we list on the Australian stock exchange. It has brought us a total different level of visibility. It creates an immediate halo of legitimacy and trust.