Barbara Yu Larsson created a SMART Wardrobe™ platform allowing users to curate, digitize, store, rent, share, sell or recycle their wardrobe
What’s your story?
I’m an accidental entrepreneur, but I am curious and have always been attracted by the unknown. Travel was my first outlet for this passion. Whilst in college, I sought summer jobs in Paris, London and Taipei. I’ve always been willing to take risks and discover new experiences.
I grew up in a very traditional Chinese family and embraced those values. Therefore I’ve surprised myself, many times, choosing the less traditional path. Instead of Harvard B School, I chose a role with Lehmans, travelling in Europe and Africa. I then chose to stay in Hong Kong, without my family, to start PAKT.
What excites you most about your industry?
It’s an industry that hasn’t been disrupted yet, so being able to create the first SMART Wardrobe™ is exciting. PAKT was ahead of its time when we started, but 4 years later, clothing ownership, the sharing economy, nomadic living and concerns about the planet and sustainability have all focused attention on how to care for what you already have, along with the concept of archiving, and then monetising the items you no longer want. We recently started a partnership with Vestiaire Collective. To do that with the leading online marketplace where people buy and sell authenticated pre-owned luxury fashion, is fantastic.
What’s your connection to Asia?
Born in Taipei, my father was from Ningbo and my mother from Nanjing. He was a diplomat and posted to New York City where I grew up in a very Chinese environment. All our friends were Chinese, only Mandarin was spoken at home, and it was a rare occasion to eat a meal that was not Chinese. Even the barbecues had a Chinese flavour.
I also travelled to China and Hong Kong very often, when I was married, as my husband was in shipping. Despite being an ‘overseas’ Chinese person working in New York and London, I feel Chinese in my core.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong. Despite the fact that these are challenging times, I have seen Hong Kong over several decades and know how dynamic and adaptable the city is and how it will continue to embrace change. Hong Kong has a resilience, to be much admired, with a can-do attitude and a connectivity not seen in any other city.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Just do it. Being prepared is important but sometimes it’s all about taking the plunge. I met my husband at a dinner party in London in November 1986, a mutual friend did some matchmaking and we met again at a house party in December. He proposed in April and we married in August 1987. We met at the right time in our lives and despite different nationalities had so many of the same values. Three wonderful children too.
Who inspires you?
My mother. She was an extraordinary woman. She grew up in China during the war, had chronic malaria and many other childhood diseases, but also a will of iron. She had insights and a determination that was amazing. After my father was assassinated, she chose to stay in New York in order to see my sister and I through Harvard. More important than anything else, she made me feel loved and invincible because of that love.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Reading a book called “Utopia for Realists” by Rutger Bregman, who says, “One thing is certain however: If we want to make the world a better place, there’s no getting around migration. Even just cracking the door would help. If all of the developed countries would let in just 3% more immigrants, the world’s poor would have $305 billion more to spend, say scientists at the World Bank. That’s the combined total of all development aid – times three.”
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I don’t think there is much I would have done differently – there was a ‘right’ time for everything. I had a high powered banking career, I got married, had my 3 children whose upbringing I was very much involved with despite working. Becoming an entrepreneur was also a question of finding the right idea and then, of course, timing is everything. Though I do wish that I had started studying martial arts when I was really young.
How do you unwind?
Reading, hiking, martial arts, cooking and going out dancing (usually until late…)
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Siem Reap, Cambodia. I love the pace of life in the Tik Toks especially at this time of the year with the cooler weather. I have great friends who live there, who know all the charming places to go. I sleep, read, lie by the pool and visit Eric Raisina’s boutique – an ocean of beautiful fabrics and colours that he has turned into stunning clothes.
Everyone in business should read this book:
“Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman gave me great insights about why we make the decisions we do.
Shameless plug for your business:
PAKT is the modern way to manage your wardrobe. We look after what you already have, we archive, store and digitise it so you can access your wardrobe at the tap of a finger. When you no longer want something, use our smart wardrobe platform to sell, share, rent and recycle. GET PAKT today!
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connects’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’ and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.