Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. In this instalment, we chat with Veroni Koutna about her global wanderings and how she came to launch The Good Stuff HK, a platform for connecting shoppers with pre-loved and second-hand furniture items.
Tell us a bit about your background; where are you from, where did you grow up, and is Hong Kong “home” for you?
I was born in a small town in the Czech Republic. Growing up, we were just a bunch of kids running wild and free around the hills until the sunset, so that was a bit different from Hong Kong! Although sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship, HK does feel like home. I have never stayed in one place for this long in my entire grown-up life.
Where did you live and what did you do before coming to HK?
I left home when I turned 19 and just kept moving. I’ve lived in many places around the world, mostly thanks to my happy-go-lucky attitude. During all that, I somehow managed to finish my MA in Foreign Affairs and was set on pursuing a career in the diplomatic service.
While in New York, I was working for the United Nations and also getting paid to be a spare player for an amateur football league up in Queens. Or working 5am shifts in a bagel store in Williamsburg! A bit of everything.
Then, on the spur of the moment, I moved to Shanghai and discovered Asia for the first time in early 2015. I was so lucky to meet Mr Perry M Jacobs, an amazing architect, who just happened to be standing in line in front of me at the flower shop. He took me under his wing and helped me understand interior design better. I loved that. Later I moved to HK and enrolled at Savannah College of Art and Design.
What was your motivation for starting your business and the story behind it?
Starting from zero, alone and in a new city was always challenging. Where I found comfort was the world of preloved stuff. It was accessible and magical! I love the makeover process. To turn the ugly tiny rentals into a decent space. To be able to easily play around and be creative. Seeing and making the change from bad to good – instantly; with my own hands; independently. That was therapeutic to me. Especially when this “change” in other aspects of my life was taking way too long and wasn’t always under my control.
I fell in love with thrifting in California! Visiting estate sales, flea markets and driving around different goodwill stores made me so happy. In New York, every Sunday people just leave free furniture on the curbside! Over time, I became really good at carrying stuff double my weight. That’s a good skill to have if you’re into all this salvaging.
But here in Asia, I felt like the second-hand furniture market was a bit frowned upon, unless we are talking superb antique objects with a hefty price tag. The few second-hand stores I found were overpriced, far away and not very welcoming. That’s when I dived into the world of online listings. It was less fun, because I love to touch everything, but a good lesson! Nevertheless, I was always thinking that there must be a better way to do this.
And that led to The Good Stuff HK?
Yes, I started an Instagram platform for the second-hand furniture market, where people can easily connect to listings from various sites, share their finds and even trade with each other.
Every day, I go through HK classifieds and select a few good pieces based on uniqueness, quality, cost or practicality. I collate the information and share a link that connects you directly to the owner. To keep the second-hand market popular and even grow it in the future, it’s important that it’s presented to a wide range of people, directly and in an enjoyable way. And all this can be done on Instagram.
Over the years, I’ve put together a pretty good system that allows me to quickly pick and choose the right stuff. At The Good Stuff HK, I bring the best from the pre-loved market directly to your feed. I eliminate the tedious process of going through the listings and seeing factory shop after factory shop in disguise, trying to sell you new stuff. I eliminate overpriced Ikea pieces, items that are way too far away and so on. To make it more enjoyable, I add inspirational photos and reels, to give a better idea of how a certain item could look good, even though the listing photo is terrible.
It is not a business per se. I have no financial profit or cut from sharing the listings or providing them. But I support the ideas behind the second-hand movement and sustainability; it’s important for our future. I aim to make second-hand finds easier to access and present them in an engaging way, so more people will embrace them. By doing so, we save money and help the environment a bit.
What have been the surprises and challenges of being in HK?
I was surprised how fast one can adapt and become part of the city. You don’t have the feeling of being a stranger for too long. On the other hand, obtaining a working visa or having the ability to start a business when you arrive on a tourist visa and with no company or spousal back up is a rather hard process and limits your options.
What neighbourhood do you currently live in, and why did you choose it?
Repulse Bay. I’m so grateful for every day here. After living in the heart of Causeway Bay, I felt overwhelmed with the sounds, smells and density. Total sensory overload! Being constantly stuck in a cluster of people, unable to walk at my own pace drove me crazy. Changing the location helped me a lot mentally. I love the ocean breeze, open views and the freedom to be able to get to the city fast and easily if I need to. Also, I am close to my favourite tacos!
What are three things you like about your neighbourhood?
The open space, small-town vibe and direct access to nature. And hearing the ocean every morning and night.
Describe your home to us.
A bright and peaceful space on the beach – low-rise with a beautiful garden! The interior is constantly changing. I am shuffling furniture around all the time, playing with the layout and changing the atmosphere. But it’s always full of art and the majority of furniture is, of course, preloved! Besides that, it’s functional – and filled with Google Nest devices in every room, so the AC, window blinds, speakers and lights are regulated by voice command.
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
In HK, I mostly enjoy hiking and swimming. Generally, I love being around nature and in fresh air. I wish there was a smooth path along the coast to skate or take bike rides from Stanley all the way to Kennedy Town.
Quick questions about Hong Kong: what is your favourite …
Casual restaurant? Lawry’s or Limewood for their tacos!
Date night restaurant? Nicholini’s in the Conrad. You must sit in one of the booths!
Bar? Zuma does an amazing yuzu and grapefruit gin and tonic
Local food? Bacon and egg brioche from Feather & Bone in Happy Valley; or braised eggplant
Thing to do with visitors? Riding the Mid-Levels escalators, hiking to Violet Hill or taking the MTR in rush hour to Causeway Bay food market – unforgettable!
Nearby holiday destination? Skiing in Niseko
See The Good Stuff HK on Instagram @thegoodstuffhk.
Like this? See more in our Living in Hong Kong section.