When we heard two years ago that PR guy Anson Shum was shifting gears in his successful career to launch a line of luggage and travel accessories, we thought he’d lost his marbles. How wrong we were. Co-founded with two partners, the Ookonn brand now sells in 16 countries via partners that include Net- a-Porter, Lane Crawford, 10 Corso Como, Shine and Kapok, while Shum’s innovative and fun circular luggage has been featured in several design anthologies. It seems he’s hit all the right spots.
“As there’s no proven track telling you what you should and shouldn’t do, it turned out OK,” Shum says. “Being in a start-up is like an experiment — challenges arise on a daily basis. Not a day goes by without some issues, so we just have to learn to be friends with challenges.
“Running your own business puts you in a unique position of being able to create the life you want. Sometimes it’s scary, but at the same time it’s also what makes it so interesting.”
What was the impetus to shift gears when things had been going so well? “PR was only one of the many phases of my entire career path,” says Shum, who studied fashion design at Central Saint Martins in London. “I’ve worked as a sales assistant, a visual merchandiser and fashion designer. Ookonn is a wonderful playground where I and my co-founders can make use of the skills we’ve learned over the years. It was like a dream-come- true moment. How could I resist?”
Before taking a leap, Shum recommends careful planning, but not overthinking to the point of stifling ambition. “I believe that we’re our own biggest supporter — or our own worst detractor. [My partners and I] always had this idea of starting a business together since college days — we didn’t know exactly what and when, but we’d talk about it from time to time, so I guess Ookonn is a result of all the suitable conditions that came together a decade later, and ripened.”
When considering the other business people on our 40 Under 40 list, Shum admits that he finds multitasking difficult. “That’s why I always admire those serial entrepreneurs,” he says. “For me, to do one thing and do it well is challenging enough. But I’m sure everyone has their own challenges — it’s rising to the challenge that makes one a success.”
Coat: Ports 1961 at Harvey Nichols
Sweater: Loro Piana