Walking into Jennifer Barba’s apartment above Wanchai’s Star Street you immediately sense this is the home of someone with an energetic and creative nature. From the Biba-esque peacock feathers found at OVO to the statement indigo wall and the numerous bookshelves housing an impressive magazine back catalogue, Jennifer, a new arrival and budding tech entrepreneur, has created a unique and vibrant home for her and new husband.
Jennifer admits to being a Pinterest and Houzz addict; websites she can happily pore over for hours looking for decorating inspiration or to gather ideas for the mood boards she creates for clients of her new marketing consultancy.
Her guest room/dressing room is where her creative side has been unleashed. Surprisingly, simple plumbing tape has cleverly been used to create a stunning wallpaper effect above the yellow mini sofa from Francfranc and contrasting spots were stencilled on one wall during one of her rare quiet afternoons.
Originally from the Philippines, Jennifer headed to the bright lights of New York when she first graduated. It was here that her interest in social media and online marketing was sparked through her role as an executive assistant at a brokerage company that dabbled in tech development.
“I moved to New York straight after I completed my degree in liberal arts in Manila,” says Jennifer. “A lot of my family live in the States and Canada so I decided to give it a go. Career-wise and relationship-wise it was a good move as it’s where I met my husband who was there on a business trip from London.”
After a 10-month cross-Atlantic relationship, Jennifer has gone from Manhattan to Mid-Levels, singledom to marriage, and from employee to entrepreneur.
“We moved to Hong Kong for my husband’s job in IT,” explains Jennifer. “It wasn’t a hard move for me as we were both excited about the new opportunities and I have been visiting Hong Kong on family holidays from the Philippines since I was seven. It was also a great start to married life – we were both up for the adventure and were discovering new things together.”
Unfortunately Jennifer’s biggest challenge on arrival was finding a stimulating job. Her lack of Cantonese was a major hurdle but being made redundant shortly after securing her first Hong Kong role in headhunting was actually the catalyst that resulted in her launching not one but two successful small businesses. Prettybooked.com is an online directory of the city’s best spas, salons and treatments, which was borne out of Jennifer’s own troubles tracking down the city’s best grooming spots. “When I moved here I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t know where to look for things; there was no YELP and no comprehensive directory,” she says. “I am a beauty addict; it’s cheaper than therapy. I love having my nails done, my hair done, I love a massage, so I started out just collecting a list of the places that I love, after I found everyone was talking about the same 10 or 12 places and I wasn’t completely sold on them. I wanted to find the new best deals, best service, best locations.”
Since launching in October last year, Jennifer has built up a loyal following of regular visitors, and spas across town are delighted to be using her site as a platform for promotion. Networking in the industry has led to a new role as a freelance marketing and business development consultant for several top spas almost landing in her lap.
Jennifer has been lucky in that she has found a market that is in its infancy when it comes to ecommerce but she is also passionate about spreading the message that Asia is an almost untapped market for web development. Last year she founded networking group www.geekgirlmeetup.hk with the aim of connecting with and learning from women entrepreneurs and professionals who agree the future of tech is in HK.
When she’s not busy transforming the city’s spa industry and striving to get it online, it will come as no surprise that she leads a healthy and active lifestyle. She is a committed vegetarian (her husband is vegan) and she enjoys Pilates almost daily either at VIM or Iso Fit. Luckily their choice of neighbourhood caters well to their lifestyle with Just Green organic grocery store just around the corner in St Francis Yard, Maya Café on Moon Street and favourite vegan restaurants Veggie SF, Grassroots Pantry and Mana right next door to Jennifer’s office in Lan Kwai Fong or a short walk across Hong Kong Park from home.
“We chose Star Street for the restaurants, the shops and the convenience. We both wanted an urban lifestyle. Coming from New York we were used to having everything available and we weren’t ready to move somewhere quiet just yet.”
Just two years since arriving in her new city, Jennifer has grabbed the entrepreneurial opportunities available here with both hands and found herself a niche in an industry that she is passionate about. Not just a pretty face, then!
Jennifer’s Top Beauty Picks
Facial: I am very loyal to my Yon-Ka facials, which I first got a taste of in New York. Art Express Beauty and Health Trading, 13/F, Eubank Plaza, 9 Chiu Lung Street, Central. 2528 0038
Hair: I love Ivy Sung of The Upper Room. I love that in her hair studio, I am the only client for the next two hours and no one else. She is a one-woman show and something of a Hong Kong hair secret. Room 2206, Workingview Commercial Building, 21 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay. 2810 0550
Massage: I always say Su of Iyara is the best. Iyara gets it right with its Ship Street location in Wan Chai for a spa within the city. 2545 8637
Nails: Anywhere depending on my location and budget. I think HK can be aptly called the nail salon capital of the world.
Wax: I like the ladies of Om Day Spa. 1/F, World Wide Commercial Building, 34 Wyndham Street, Central. 2978 7581
Beauty Shopping: Joyce Beauty (various locations) is a favourite, with its well-curated selection of products. Their instore facials are also something of a secret but worth checking out. Strawberrynet.com is just heaven-sent with delivery now in less than a week.