Our new series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. Here, we meet JULIE ROUT, co-founder of new luxury baby product brand, Ben & Ellie Baby.
Where are you from originally? What do you miss about it?
It would be simplest to say Sydney, Australia. But before that I spent nearly 20 years in Wollongong, a beachside city south of Sydney affectionately known as ‘the Gong’, with a strong camaraderie that wouldn’t let me get away with not giving it a mention!
I miss having the luxury of space and the comfortable outdoor climate. I’m still not used to stepping outside into the Hong Kong humidity and feeling wet in a matter of minutes!
Is Hong Kong your first overseas posting, or have you lived somewhere else?
I’ve previously lived in Switzerland in the gorgeously quaint little town of Lucerne. (Rumour has it the Queen of England has a holiday residence there and I can see why – it’s divine, and if you haven’t visited you must put it on your places to see when we are done with COVID-19!) I was born in Europe so I have a bit of an affinity for it.
Is Hong Kong “home”?
Yes! I’m raising my family here so for me it certainly has become home. Kids have a way of grounding you and living in the present moment. There is so much to love about Hong Kong, I feel it’s a real privilege to be able to call it my home. I love this quote by Miriam Adeney: “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” It sums up expat life for me perfectly.
What do you do here? Tell us about your business.
I’m the co-founder at Ben & Ellie Baby, a new label that blends classic luxury with functional design to create baby products that make parenting effortless and stylish. For me, the business was inspired by my own transition to motherhood while settling into expat life in Hong Kong. We moved here when my daughter was eight weeks old. I was travelling frequently with my baby between countries and my identity, as I knew it, as a high-achieving professional woman, had taken a hit. This was compounded by the lack of baby products that reflected my style as a woman (rather than just my function as a mother), and just how hard it was to go out with my baby without carting a huge gaudy baby bag around.
One of my key challenges was nappy changes on the go. Finding a baby-changing room in Hong Kong isn’t always easy; and it turns out I wasn’t alone in this frustration. Our co-founder Jess was having a similar experience in Australia. So, we teamed up to design the Ben & Ellie Baby Nappy Change Clutch. It’s the ultimate baby changing accessory for every new mother!
It’s the modernisation of the everyday nappy wallet that folds out into a premium change mat. It’s packed full of unique features, too, like a magnetic closure and a built-in wipes pocket that allow for easy one-handed use – essential with a baby in hand. We wanted to make our lives easier and look good while doing so! And because this is the sort of product we wish someone had given us for our baby showers, we’ve made gifting easy with our beautiful eco-friendly packaging that makes unboxing the product a lovely experience.
This is truly an investment piece that will stand up to the job from birth to the toddler years. Once you have one, you’ll never leave the house without it!
Give us an insight into a typical working day for you.
Like every day, it starts with coffee – made by my coffee connoisseur husband! My business partner is based in Australia so there is a lot of online communication and planning. I’ll respond to emails in the morning while the kids have breakfast, followed by a quick check of our social media channels, and then switch into parenting mode. I manage our social media, content creation, supplier relationships and marketing here in HK – so there’s always something to do.
It’s a juggling act between parenting and work. I will often take the kids along with me to the post office to fulfil the previous day’s customer orders. After several event cancellations this year, we’re currently working on our event schedule. We’re planning to showcase at the AWA Bazaar on 11 November 2020 at PMQ and several of the Discovery Bay Sunday Markets. We’re excited about those, and we hope we’ll be able to attend.
What have been the surprises and challenges of doing business in HK?
The surprise has been just how supportive the business community and fellow entrepreneurs are. It’s been wonderful.
Having launched the business only months prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has been a huge challenge for us. Our products are new and innovative and need to be showcased at events to be fully appreciated. The softness of the vegan leather, the luxurious beauty of the eco packaging and the water beading off the soft inner surface of our mat all need to be seen and felt to be believed. There is a lot of innovation in this product and, along with that, education is needed to bring customers on board. Sadly, most events have been cancelled and this has been a huge challenge for Ben & Ellie Baby as we pivot to a more online model.
What neighbourhood do you live in, and why did you choose it?
We live in Repulse Bay, which we love. Initially, we were looking for a quiet, family-friendly neighbourhood where we could lead a relaxed lifestyle with good accessibility to the city centre. We landed here in a serviced apartment at The Repulse Bay and after searching in Mid-Levels, Discovery Bay, Kennedy Town, Stanley and Tai Tam, we ended up staying in Repulse Bay. We love the beachside lifestyle with the convenience of The Pulse and Repulse Bay Arcade shops.
What are three things you like about your neighbourhood?
- The hiking trail to Deep Water Bay and back – the views are incredible, it’s child friendly and flat.
- Being surrounded by nature and the beach on our doorstep!
- The quietness. It’s so nice to come home to after a day of hustle and bustle in the city.
Describe your home to us.
A bright and airy modern apartment with incredible views. We see the container ships cruise along the sea from one aspect and also the lush green of the mountainside behind us. I like minimalist, clear spaces and everything to have a place, which is becoming increasingly challenging as our family grows. It would be a disservice to all parents of young children everywhere if I didn’t admit that one corner of my living room is piled high with toys and currently resembles a kids’ playroom!
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
Hiking and lounging by the pool with the kids! Evening tennis with my husband once the kids are in bed. I was also indulging in a spot of painting pre-COVID at an art studio and had been working on an acrylic-on-canvas panda for my son’s bedroom.
Quick questions about Hong Kong: what is your favourite …
Casual restaurant? Limewood
Date night restaurant? The Verandah
Local food? Dumplings. Most definitely dumplings.
Thing to do with visitors? Take them to the Peak!
Thing to do with kids? Ocean Park
Nearby holiday destination? Japan
Like this? Read more in our Living in Hong Kong section:
HK People: 10 minutes with Brenda Hojgaard
Expat guide to where to live in Hong Kong