Two young entrepreneurs, Angie Poon and Ning Ho, saw a golden opportunity to combine their creativity with the convenience of the internet by opening Instagram handicraft stores. That was more than four years ago and now both university students have a flourishing business.

By Vicky So
Advisor: Ms Sandra Lowe
Pages editor:Carol Chan

Poon has been running her accessories store Atopos on Instagram for four years, while Ho started hers when she was just in secondary two. At first, Poon would make bracelets in her leisure time, then she came up with an idea to turn her interest into a business so she could earn money to pay for her tuition fees and reduce the economic burden on her family.

“Making DIY bracelets is sort of my interest, but that’s just my hobby. Aside from that, though the trend of Instagram shops was escalating, there were not many handicraft shops at that time. So, I decided to give it a go.” Her unique DIY bracelets and earrings attracted around 3,000 followers on Instagram.

Ho, who is obsessed with calligraphy, would post lyrics or slang written in her own style on her Instagram page for around 12.2k followers to appreciate. “Before I started my page, my friends always praise me for pretty handwriting. Slowly, I developed an enormous passion on calligraphy.”

She is also keen to trying new types of calligraphy, for instance, a Harry Potter style. One of her followers then suggested she should create her own brand of postcards, bookmarks and stickers using her calligraphy skills.

In today’s digital world online shopping is now the norm and there are many stores can be found on Amazon, Taobao and Ebay, which are some of the largest platforms. Not only are these mainstream channels common, but online stores with originality and creative content on social media platforms captivate young people’s eyeballs. Online shopping has eliminated the limitations of time and location, offering flexibility and convenience for customers.

In the beginning, Poon faced some difficulties. She sourced materials for her bracelets from unique wholesale stores in Sham Shui Po, which took a large amount of time and she also had trouble with some of measurements.

“I didn’t even know how long a rope I should buy or what a yard was.

However, I am thankful for meeting some of the nicest wholesale store owners who kindly taught me. Maybe this is an advantage of being young,” she said. She also read a lot of DIY accessories tutorial books for reference. “Personally, I like DIY tutorial books from Japan as their art styles are more delicate and suit Hong Kong people,” she added.

For Ho, though, sourcing items for her calligraphy products were not complicated, as she could visit different printing houses to compare prices to lower costs.

Being a secondary student who had limited ability at that time, they did not face much implicit and explicit issues. They balanced study and business well as managing their business did not take much time.

The pair of entrepreneurs found online stores ideal because they had lower running costs and avoided expensive rents on a bricks-and-mortar shop. Despite such cost savings, they did not price their goods too high because their target customers are youngsters and students, who have limited budgets.

Since their online stores were more mature, they had taken a leap of faith to place their products in lattice shops and weekend markets. They have earned considerable profit in the lattice shop.

For Poon, she paid rent in a one-off store of HK$1,000 a month in Dragon Centre, which was in a good location with a lot of foot traffic, so she earned HK$5,000 in profit.

Unfortunately, she suffered from a great loss at a weekend market. Not many customers came as it was held during the rainy season and the school examination period. After those experiences, she has learnt to be more careful in her choice of venue as well as the timing, which are elements of success.

Apart from profits, Poon has gained her greatest motivation – the happiness and satisfaction she receives from customers’ compliments. This joy is neither materialistic nor monetary. Shebelieves the key to earning customers’ trust is to be attentive and fulfill their requests as much as possible.

Every customer has their own needs and styles, so Poon listens to their requests and creates tailormade accessories that are special. “Through this conversation and interaction with customers, I have even made friends, which I didn’t expect that at all,” she said with a smile.

As the popularity of online stores grows, there are more competitions, but Ho likes and encourages this atmosphere between entrepreneurs like herself. She believes it will only improve and motivate the handicraft industry. “I’m glad to see small shops being noticed. Of course, there are more resources in chain stores and big brands, but small local handicraft stores can produce good products, too.”

Ho agrees that interaction between entrepreneurs can provide more inspiration, but there is the issue of plagiarism. “Creativity is a freedom but this situation has become more serious,” she added.“Some online shops are overly money-orientated,” said Ho, who encountered unethical behavior that made her angry.

“Some people who started their own calligraphy pages asked me to teach them my techniques. I am willing to share, but I saw the calligraphy they used with the exact same style as mine in their posts. I thought they would only use my style for reference.

However, they didn’t even make any minor changes. This direct copy of my work is not fair for me.” She hopes this unhealthy atmosphere can be improved in coming future.

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