Today’s interview is with the lovely Pui Shiau – founder of the luxury boutique Gramercy & Co. I love interviewing small business owners, especially those in the retail and/or luxury industry, because they have such interesting insights (not to mention, beautiful items in their homes)! Pui has extensive experiences in the luxury industry – ranging from Bergdorf Goodman to Sotheby’s – and was kind enough to take some photos of her home and some of her treasured possessions for this interview. She also offered an awesome item giveaway for Feather Factor readers! Check back this weekend for giveaway details and to enter, though there’s a little sneak peek later on. Enjoy meeting Pui!
First things first – who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
My name is Pui Shiau and I am New Yorker at heart as I was born, raised and first worked in Manhattan. And over the past 15 years, I’ve lived twice in Tokyo and three times in Hong Kong, before moving to Palo Alto to prepare my two boys for university. Having been inspired by the modern, cosmopolitan feel of cities and the artisanal craftsmanship of the finest products from Asia and Europe, I founded an e-commerce venture, Gramercy & Co., to bring unique and personally selected objects, home décor and fashion accessories, to international women.
The Gramercy & Co online site
I know you have your own lovely shop on the internet – Gramercy & Co! Can you tell me more about it – what inspired you to start this shop, and what is your thought process behind what you sell?
The world has become more connected with the ease of travel, Internet and emergence of new economies such as Asia, Brazil and Eastern Europe. Yet, in the US, we have been inundated with the big box retailers in the same strip malls all over the country. Gramercy & Co.’s vision is to bring beautiful objects from around our global village. I find so much meaning in learning the unique story behind each product, from where it was crafted to the art and technique of the artisan. Whether it’s at my friends’ homes or my own, I always love discovering the journey behind finding these objects that we treasure and love to live with.
Some beautiful and personal items from her home
What has been the most rewarding thing about owning your own business – and the most negative thing you’ve found (that you were surprised by?)
It’s incredibly rewarding when a customer first touches one of our products and immediately knows that they are holding something of exceptional quality. For instance, the lacquer on our boxes and trays are hand-poured for superior durability and polish rather than spray-painted, and our scarves are softer than other pashminas – these are the details that are so important to me. The other great reward is building our company with great partners who share in our vision of giving back to our community by donating 10% of our profits to charity.
In a small company, the challenge is managing time, and balancing the 24/7 needs of a startup with the ongoing demands of my family. However, I realize that I’m very fortunate to be able to pursue my passion in building this business with the support of my family.
Some of Pui’s orange lacquer boxes
Can you tell me more about your experience before? I know you worked at Sotheby’s which sounds absolutely amazing! What were some cool and unusual details about your job?
I worked in the editorial department at Sotheby’s that was responsible for publishing the monthly newsletter and annual Art at Auction coffee table book. In editorial, you are in contact with all the different departments gathering information for upcoming exhibitions for the calendar and editorial content for the newsletter. Sotheby’s was a great place to extend my learning and expertise which I gained from my Masters in East Asian studies from the University of Chicago.
A treasured painting
What about your experience at Bergdorf Goodman? What’d you do there? And based on that experience – can you give readers some advice on style/shopping? Any sale strategies?
I worked in the advertising department at Bergdorf, after graduating from Barnard. As a New Yorker, Bergdorf’s is a mecca for high end fashion in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. I learned very early on that price alone is not a good determinant of the shopping experience. Instead, I ask – what is the quality that I am getting for this price, ie value? Never pay more than you have to but don’t be afraid to pay what you can afford for classic items that you will use or which give you great joy for years to come.
Trendy items that you think you’ll only wear for a season or two should be purchased on sale. A great sales tip is to apply for the department store credit card. It gives you insider benefits such as pre-sales that are key. Bergdorf’s has the best shoe sale ever!
A little snapshot of Pui’s closet
What are some of your favorite items that you own in your closet?
I love bold colors and patterns. From Lilly Pulitzer to Tory Burch and Etro, I don’t think there is a print that I don’t like! Statement jewelry that pops, such as my collection of enamel bracelets and peridot ring, are among my favorites.
Another beautiful painting
What are some of your favorite decor items in your home?
My favorite pieces in my home are pieces that I have accumulated over years of travelling. A hand carved window screen from Macau, a ceramic Botero-esque female figure atop a globe from Copenhagen, paintings from France and Vietam, a carved wooden fisherman from Chiang Mai and so many more!
Her wooden fisherman from Chiang Mai
I am a total dunce to decorating and it really intimidates me. I don’t know where to start and everything seems really expensive. What would your guidance be – what are important pieces to buy first and splurge on, and where should I start?
You should surround yourself with things that you find beautiful and that you love. I’m a big believer in mixing high and low design. Some of the greatest items I’ve found have been at markets; Chatuchak, Clignancourt, Portobello Road, Brooklyn Flea are treasure troves for all sorts of decorative objects. However, that being said, I do believe in spending on quality furniture. I purchased my current set of furniture over 15 years ago and I love it so much that I see myself living with it for the rest of my life!
What has it been like as a woman in the business world? Can you share some advice for women out there – those who are working at companies, and those who might one day have their own business?
In my business, I work with a lot of women. In my experience, the women I have met have been very open with sharing advice. Don’t be afraid to seek out mentors to be trusted advisers.
How about some overall life advice that you’ve learned?
Life is short. Take a chance and follow your dreams. Having dedicated my life to raising my two sons to be young adults, I am grateful to pursue my other passion for the next stage of my life, building a brand and lifestyle with partners that I’m proud to be associated with.
What do you think the luxury retail space is going to look like in a few years – both offline and online?
I believe luxury brands will increase their web presence through social media in efforts to reach both the affluent and aspirational markets. Through creative digital media marketing, the luxury brand creates an experiential interaction bringing the retail experience to the consumer online. The luxury brand can reach the customer whether they are in New York, Indiana or Bali.
Some of her jewelry collection – major drool
What are your thoughts on the influence of Asia in luxury – and your thoughts on the correlating increase in luxury goods and their prices? Do you think this is sustainable? What are some adverse effects?
The wealth creation in Asia is truly astounding. We shall see increased flow from Asian consumers to the rest of the world and their purchasing power shall influence designers who are targeting these new tastes. As Asia evolves, we may see their interests turn to their own culture where they invest more in the local artisans and these new artisans will export their thousand year old crafts to the western world.
Finally – please share something surprising about yourself!
I love Scrabble, but now with the iPhone, my favorite app is Words with Friends!
The last photo is a preview of what’s coming up this weekend – Pui was kind enough to offer one of my personal favorites from Gramercy & Co, a beautiful orange lacquered box, to a Feather Factor reader Thank you so much Pui, for letting us have a peek into your beautiful home, and for sharing your insights with us all. Check back this weekend for more giveaway details!