After realising a gap in the market for a sophisticated, fun and stylish winter wardrobe in Asia, Sandy Ip along with three friends decided to take a leap of faith to fill the growing demand with The Ski Project. Though her new business has only been around for just over two years, her curation of slope-side fashion has made quite a name for itself, attracting modern travellers with its collections inspired by style, performance and comfort. Stocked in upscale department stores such as Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Shanghai and the Emporium in Bangkok, her vision of the ski-set lifestyle has become easily accessible to snow carving lovers on this side of the world.
So, how did a girl with a background and degree in architecture and town planning establish herself to great heights in this niche industry? We stole a moment with the Founding Director herself for her tricks of the trade and what living the startup life means to her.
Name: Sandy Ip
Profession: Founding Director
Start up since: 2017
Company size: 20
Tell us about your business. What do you do?
Having spent 10 years working for luxury brands, I wanted a change. I started The Ski Project with 3 partners 3 years ago, feeling that there is a lack of stylish and technical slope to city winter-wear for fashion savvy customers in Asia. Our goal is not just to open a retail store but to bring to life the European lifestyle of the “Ski-Set” which at the time was not prominent in Asia. We began the business from Niseko in the winter of 2017. Since then, we have expanded to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok and we will open our all year-round winter to summer vacation wear concept at the newly opened Park Hyatt Hotel Hanazono, in Niseko Japan.
Tell me about your best and worst day at work?
The best days are when we receive returning customers complimenting the style and functionality of the pieces they used while on their winter trip, coming back for more, and referring us to their friends and family. This really gives us a sense of satisfaction as we are providing a solution to something that is missing in the market.
The worst days are when the stress with working on store opening deadlines hit. Sometimes it is not a single person’s job to make things happen, all parties must be aligned and it is hard to get everyone working at the same pace or have the same sense of urgency as you’d wish.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Find me up in the mountains in the winter, or by the sea in the summer.
Looking back now, what would you have done differently?
Getting more comfortable with the unknown situation. As a Founder, you have to make decisions without knowing exactly what is coming. But there is no need to stress about the outcome when there is no way of knowing. You just have to get comfortable with the situation and go with the flow.
What is a normal work day like?
I start the day with reading about industry news and checking sales against plan and forecast. I’ll also communicate to my team, reply to emails on the go, visit the point of sales, speak to customers and also review plans for the next months to come.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start up?
Be original and don’t copy a concept because others have made it happened. Authenticity is the most important. Stay relevant to what is going on and try not to be too consumed by just making money out of the business.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do now?
I would still be working in the corporate world of fashion. I actually really enjoyed working in a corporate environment and working with all the different departments. I don’t think I would have the same confidence starting my own business if not for all those years of training.
As a child, what did you aspire to be?
A ballerina when I was a child, and then a fashion buyer when I was a teenager. I thought it was the best job, which takes you to all the most beautiful cities in the world – the fashion capitals – New York, London, Milan and Paris. It wasn’t until later did I find out that it is more about number crunching and being a geek at excel spreadsheets. I have an Architecture and Town Planning degree from University, so it is funny how I ended up doing what I do now.
What has been your biggest hurdle?
The biggest hurdle would have to be the economic and financial situation in Hong Kong right now. This has taken the industry completely by surprise and there is nothing you can do about it.
How did you overcome it?
Luckily, we are still performing according to plan as we have diversified our point of sales to other parts of Asia this year.
Why is Hong Kong an important market for you?
People often ask me why I would start a luxury skiing retail concept in Hong Kong — a city without any immediate ski slopes. The fact is, through this project, we have met so many people who are so passionate about the winter lifestyle. They are very open-minded and curious about the newest edits every year which made it very enjoyable to create this connection with them and it pushes us to create more elements within our curation.
If you were to invest in another start up, which would it be?
A drone that can withstand the adverse weather and can follow you around on the slopes taking video and pictures as you ski. Or a heated phone case, so your phone doesn’t freeze at sub-zero temperatures. These are the two things I wish I have with me when I am skiing.
What are your goals for 2020? And in the near future?
We plan to expand on The Ski Project footprint – bringing the best winter edits to modern travellers.
How hands-on are you?
100%! I have a 360-degree role from merchandising, branding, marketing, social media, logistics, accounting to retail design and retail sales and operation.
How do you define success? Do you consider yourself successful?
I think part of being successful is building a brand from scratch and following your passion – it gives you a real sense of accomplishment. However, I do believe that it is best not to be give yourself too much credit when times are good, and not too much stress when times are tough. Stay humble, focus on growing the business and keeping it alive is key.