It’s not everyone who can claim that a friend’s birthday led them to start a new business, but that was the case for Eric Delplanque. Eric and his wife Charlene last year established The Great Diggers, an online marketplace with carefully curated, artisan products – from tech to food to accessories – aimed at discerning men. Eric has lived in Hong Kong for the past nine years, after moving from France to Shanghai in 2007 and working with electrical equipment and renewable solar energy. Here he tells us how the business came to be.
Where did you get the idea for The Great Diggers?
It all started with Charlene. She’s in the food and beverage industry and follows food entrepreneurs’ stories. She told me about the story of Marou Chocolate, two guys who were in Vietnam and found out about the unique cocoa beans growing in the south of the country. They decided to make their own chocolate, which is now very famous. The story behind it is fantastic – a perfect combination of an entrepreneur mindset, high-quality products, and a sustainable and mindful approach.
I was looking for a way to do something with this, so I started researching and discovered a lot of similar stories. But I needed a concept and a business model.
We were invited to a friend’s birthday. He was turning 30 and we were in charge of the gift. We had to spend a lot of time to find a gift in our budget. The offerings in Hong Kong are very limited for men. This is how I found my concept – offering curated, sustainable, mindful products with interesting stories behind them made with soul for charismatic men. From there, I launched the website on 1 April 2017.
Why do you think it is difficult for men in Hong Kong to find unique products?
Men’s products can be found but it’s just luxury brands in malls. I think the main reason is the high retail rent. Opening a shop in Hong Kong is very expensive and often only the big chain stores can afford it. Consequently, there are a limited number of independent shops.
Tell us about how you select your stock for The Great Diggers.
We’re lucky to travel a lot, so most of the products we stock have been discovered during our trips. For example, we went to Cape Town a few months ago and we met Alistair, one of our favourite makers. He manufactures sustainable wooden sunglasses. All the frames are handmade from recycled paper and off-cut timber from local furniture producers. We also visit specialist fairs in Paris, Tokyo and New York. We read a lot of blogs and search on Instagram.
We have six collections on our website, with a premium multi-brand concept that offers selected men’s items that are exclusive or limited. We stock 26 brands now, from more than 10 countries including Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Portugal and New Zealand. We plan to double that by the end of the year. We focus on artisans because they care about quality instead of quantity. They are really passionate people and always have unique stories about what led them to become entrepreneurs.
Do you think a retail site aimed specifically and only at men is unusual?
Shopping hasn’t evolved for men as it has for women. Yet men’s products are seeing explosive global growth at the moment. Men are increasingly paying more care and attention to themselves. That, along with the advent of social media, has meant there is more demand than ever for something different in the men’s goods space and a significant consumer base to serve. Rather than trying to sell cheap and shift volume, and competing against a significant number of brands, we’re sure our quality design pedigree and partnerships make us stand out as an alternative option in Hong Kong.
MEET THE MAKERS
Eric is passionate about featuring products that have a story behind them. Here’s the background to just two of the brands available on The Great Diggers.
Le Colonel Moutarde
“Le Colonel Moutarde makes bow ties in Lille, France. This is an authentic family story. It all started because Remi, the founder, had a tough time finding a bow tie to his taste, so he decided to design and sew his own. His passion for sewing was passed on by his mother and grandmother.”
Entre 2 Retros
“One of our best sellers is a toiletry bag made in France by Entre 2 Retros. They offer durable, 100 percent eco-friendly items for men inspired by the car industry. Both the design and recycling fabrics (from luxury seat car fabric) are very important for them as that’s what gives their product value. The key of owning a Entre 2 Retros bag is the knowledge that every piece is completely unique and handmade.”
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This article first appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.