Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Courtesy of HKTDC

Totally On Trend

Bonnie Gokson (Photo courtesy of Luxury Insider)

Bonnie Gokson is one of Hong Kong's leading ladies, notable both as a style icon and successful businesswoman. After a career in luxury fashion and lifestyle business that included being the right hand of her sister, Joyce Ma – fashion doyenne of the JOYCE Boutiques Group – and an executive position at Chanel, Ms Gokson turned to entrepreneurship, opening hip restaurant SEVVA in Central, in 2008, Ms B's CAKERY in April 2011, and c'est la B last November. Recognised as one of China's Top 100 Outstanding Women by the China Association of Women Entrepreneurs, Ms Gokson says having a passion for business is her secret to success.

How does Hong Kong compare with other fashion capitals?

We have few designers who have really made a huge fashion breakthrough – perhaps the best-known is Vivienne Tam, who works mainly abroad now. Hong Kong is more known for its excellence in efficiency and manufacturing, producing well-finished garments.

However, compared to other international capitals, we have a great variety of fashion labels collected in a small city like ours. I would just hope to see buyers of fashion be more daring in their selections, and not keep it too safe and conventional. We may have the labels, but having the eye to carry a storyline in picking and editing the clothes is very important.

You moved from fashion to food, opening SEVVA and other F&B businesses. How easy was it to make that transition?

Hong Kong is still the city that gives great opportunities to those who have the drive and ambition to launch a business venture. However, it should be unique and not just a copied one. As much as there are loads of openings in China, they may lack the sophistication, service and efficiency that Hong Kong has, and this does set us apart from other places in China or Asia. 

How is the restaurant business faring these days?

In Hong Kong today, despite the escalating leases, F&B business continues. We have a large population of middle class who spend and very often dine away from home: food is their joy, comfort and release from a hard day's work. Therefore, the lower end bracket of restaurants survive and in fact do well, while the higher end ones sustain as people do enjoy the treat of going out. What may not do too well would be the mid-range businesses. Rentals may be too high and cutting costs in everything just to keep afloat would be too hard.

What's your strategy for surviving the hard times?

SEVVA has been blessed, especially during the economic downturn. When we opened – in the year the crisis unfolded – we found out that people still loved to dine and be entertained well. This has always been so for Hong Kong, with its grand way of hospitality. Before, there may have been events for 150 people, but instead of scrapping the whole idea, companies cut, to say, 60 guests.

People still like to surround themselves with beautiful atmosphere, good service and to dine in quality, so all the more during those harder times our management looked into every detail. We focused on cutting where we could (for example, saving money on marketing campaigns), and kept to our philosophy of giving our guests the best there was. This commitment to integrity and ethics is the reason why we have so many returning customers.

Ever popular 'Small Plates' from a vast selection of international tapas at Taste Bar.

Why do you think your business model works?

First of all, I am extremely hands on: I treat SEVVA like my home, an extension of a lifestyle I have been shown as a small child and grown into. As I say to my management team, it's just like giving a party and entertaining well at home every day. 

The tiniest attention to detail sets us apart. I am used to an environment with good energy and living plants, fresh blooms and scents, good food and service and a place always filled with music. I love to change decor with the seasons, keeping everything fresh. We keep an inventory of interesting crockery that changes all the time for our guests to enjoy.

I have been given enormous opportunities in life, and my travels have been the catalyst for new and inspiring menu ideas. This is a very rare situation, we believe, on the F&B business scene. I also believe that every business has its own target audience. For example, it's no use following others in "early-bird dining" concepts or offers of a free glass of champagne, when your target audience has no need for these small perks.

Bankside (All photos courtesy of SEVVA)

Do you see yourself as a role model for other women with business ambition?

It is my choice to work as hard as I do for I love to create. I would say that if one is serious and has the passion and dedication to be in the F&B business, then go for it. Otherwise, it's stroking your own ego to tell others you own a restaurant, as it is a very challenging business. 

My secret to success is that I love what I do and still hold enthusiasm and passion for my work, plus the blessing of having a good team behind me. To me, it is not just about the money you make – the ability to give people that moment of joy is irreplaceable.
Source: HKTDC

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