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CUHK MBA Trades Banking For Fashion Retail

CUHK MBA Marselle Ma spotted an opportunity to tap into the rising consumer class in Asia so she left her job at HSBC to start selling designer goods across the region

By  Ifeatu Nnaobi

Tue Oct 9 2012

We’ve interviewed Marselle Ma, a Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) MBA and founder of Fashion Fiesta, a luxury goods company based in Hong Kong. 
Marselle, 27, grew up in Canada and gained her Bachelors degree in Health Management from the University of Western Ontario in 2007. She worked as a senior credit manager for Wells Fargo for two and a half years before joining HSBC in Hong Kong as the Vice President of Risk Analysis in 2009. 
Marselle joined CUHK to sharpen her entrepreneurial skills. We find out from her why she made the move into the luxury goods world and how going to business school has helped.
In a nutshell, what is Fashion Fiesta?
Fashion Fiesta operates through two arms. One is a retail shop located in Hong Kong, for luxury goods, while the other is a wholesale trading business to sell luxury items to mainland China and the rest of Asia. The company specializes in 100 per centauthentic and new designer products offered at discounted prices.
Some of the brand names we stock are: Balenciaga, Celine, Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo, Proenza Schouler, Fendi, Gucci, Tods, Prada, Chloe, YSL, Celine, Burberry, Givenchy, Hermes, Rolex, and Cartier.
When you say luxury items, what types of products are you speaking of?
Things like handbags and purses, sunglasses, and wristwatches. 
How much would it cost to buy the cheapest item in your shop and what would it be?
The cheapest thing would be a wallet that costs from HK$ 2,000 to 3,000 (US$260 to 390)
That's expensive
Well, these are high quality designer goods. Our target market in Hong Kong are the mid to upper level range of consumers and our prices are lower than what customers would pay if they travelled to Europe and got a tax refund. The business model is based on giving our clients discounts because we buy directly from the producers in Italy, UK and Germany, and we buy in bulk!
So why did you decide to leave banking for the luxury goods world?
I started as an online shop in 2007 before I got into banking. My passion has always been for running businesses. I also loved purses and other fashion items and naturally, I wanted to buy at discounted prices. Eventually this led to me setting up a business. 
I moved to Hong Kong in 2009 but I quickly realized that Hong Kong and the rest of Asia is full of opportunities for luxury goods. Asians love brands and want to buy these products so I kept my job in the bank and hired people to work in the retail shop. 
Did you take any lessons from banking into entrepreneurship? 
In banking my focus was credit and risk and this is totally different from being an entrepreneur. However, the MBA has helped me tremendously. You meet people in different sectors. I’ve met a few entrepreneurs who have inspired and encouraged me. In banking it was numbers, numbers, numbers. In business school I’ve learned about how an idea can be brought to life.
I always hung out with bankers when I was at HSBC but the MBA has allowed me to meet people in the creative industry. I had to do the design and logos for my business and creativity is not my strong point but I met colleagues who helped me. 
Has it been hard being a woman and an entrepreneur in Hong Kong?
Nowadays, I don’t think being a woman makes it any harder. There are many successful women who are entrepreneurs. The challenges that you face are being able to see the risks involved and to be able to prepare for the worst case scenario. As an entrepreneur I think the stress is more internal because its about being self-motivated and being strong, hardworking and disciplined.
How would you like to grow the business in future?
I would like to expand the retail sector but I want us to maintain our online wholesale presence. We also want to introduce new lines such as skincare and jewelry so we're working on building the right partnerships.
More stories on students, alumni and programmes at Chinese University of Hong Kong here