Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same duration of a casual speed date. This week, we speak to Ozara Yau, founder of Acsytosin — and just about a million other things.
Describing Ozara Yau can be a fairly tough proposition, even for Ozara Yau.
Yau is based between Milan and Hong Kong, like her clothing brand, Acsytosin, which runs the gamut from swimwear to sweatshirts. On top of her modelling contract with Women Management Milano, she’s a finance whiz and venture capitalist, but also a software engineer in the midst of developing her own educational app. She’s a polyglot — English is her third of five languages — and also an active rock climber. If that’s not enough, she also plays five instruments (but piano is her number one).
Maybe it’s easier just to say Yau is endlessly curious, and tirelessly devoted to pursuing the things that capture her interest, then seeing just how far she can take them. She’s done it all while cultivating a faithful fanbase — one that’s over 300,000 followers strong, including her mom — on Instagram, one platform that helps her both promote and expand her myriad projects and plans. It has even proven to be an effective recruiting tool: “I tend to recognise a lot of my active followers’ usernames because I always see them instantly commenting whenever I post because they have my notifications on. Actually, two members of Acsytosin are de facto followers of mine, and we form an exceptionally productive team,” says Yau.
It should come as little surprise that Yau finds inspiration everywhere around her, whether that’s through travel and experiences or observing the shapes of fauna and flora in nature that may trigger an idea for a new swimwear design, for example. She adds that there wasn’t one single sudden epiphany that inspired her to launch Acsytosin, but that she naturally gravitated in that direction as a result of her interests and passions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as taking on a new challenge or developing a skill she hasn’t mastered yet.
“Even though I have never created an app, I find the challenge gripping and thought-provoking at the same time; it forces me to tackle issues of accessibility to education that we haven’t addressed because of the for-profit mentality that persists nowadays,” says Yau.
When pressed for advice on how to follow in her footsteps in creating their own lane, as her fans and followers often do, Yau humbly demures. “Admittedly, I don’t know whether I’m the first person you should ask for this kind of advice as I created my platform at a time where the algorithm was altogether different than what it is today.”
“Generally speaking, however, I think that in order to start your own platform or brand you need to phase out the friction between thinking and doing. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and risk not following up with your ideas; because the real failure is fear that leads to inaction, risking every remote possibility of succeeding,” she adds.
For now, and owing in no small part to the difficulties of travelling in and out of the city, the born-and-raised Hongkonger will continue to grow in both work and in life in her new home, for now, Milan. “I moved to Milan, from idea to fulfillment in the span of one week, so I’m not sure when I will be back in Hong Kong, but my plans may change at short notice, so it may be soon as much as it may be far ahead,” says Yau.
Plus, there’s nothing like a new home to inspire new challenges. Up next? Learning her sixth language — Italian, naturally. Che Figata!
27 Questions: Ozara Yau
Name: Ozara Yau
Neighbourhood: (Currently in Milan)
Occupation: Clothing Designer / Programmer / Venture Capitalist
1. What is your life motto?
My life motto is to live with “areté”, wherein you express your highest self in every given moment, closing the aperture between what we are capable of and what we are actually doing. It’s a case of utilising reason in our actions and living in harmony with deep values. Evidently this is easier said than done; what supports this pioneering objective is to distinguish good from bad, what’s in vs. what’s out of our control and solely focusing on what’s in our control.
No matter how I machinate Acsytosin to appease everyone’s taste, not everyone will be a fan of my designs. As a matter of fact, approaching designing to appease everyone may even counter my objective to maintain Acsytosin’s idiosyncratic qualities. All the time expended attempting to control independent variables will only take away from the time I could spend on variables I have control over. Living with areté is predominantly built on four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, courage and self discipline, and I emphatically believe that living by these qualities will create an internally robust character, bringing you a step closer to eudaimonia.
2. Who is your role model?
Definitely my mom. Almost everyone assumes that I come from a generationally wealthy family, when in actuality it was quite the opposite of that. If my mom were to hear this, she would probably think that you’re just cracking a joke. Initially, my mom was born into an underprivileged family along with seven other siblings, perpetually living with the uncertainty of having her next meal or even dreading the absence of having access to drinkable water.
On top of that, she was obliged to give up her own education at the age of eleven to earn money and prioritise the education of her male family members, because of the traditional presupposition that sons will be the breadwinners of the family. She had a long overdue graduation — compared to her peers — over thirty years old after harrowingly having to provide for all her male siblings while not being able to afford it for herself for over two decades.
For this reason, she’s the role model I look up to, the person who motivates me to work so hard in order to reciprocate just a fraction of the effort she had to put in just to provide me with a quality education, comforts and the resources I have now. The fact that even when I was born, we weren’t in the best financial situation, just motivated me to want to provide for myself ever since I was young, and I will forever be grateful but wistful for the hardships she withstood for the sake of me and my siblings.
3. What was your first job?
My first job was being a swimming coach assistant at the age of 14 for ESF schools. I recall my shifts starting really early in the morning, with each shift lasting around three hours — I really hated it though, because I was always shivering in the water.
4. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
5. What is your drink of choice?
A fresh coconut.
6. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
“What the Hell” – Avril Lavigne
7. What’s your favorite tradition?
Cheung Chau Bun festival. It consists of building a scalable 60 feet tower out of steamed buns.
8. Start your life again at age 15 with all the knowledge you have now, or fast forward 10 years?
I don’t regret what I’ve lived through. Truth be told, I’m pleased with the manner in which life unraveled itself and I wouldn’t change it at all. Albeit, if I had to choose, I would like to fast forward 10 years.
9. Do you have a catch phrase?
“It is what it is.”
10. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
The best thing about my house right now is definitely the lift because I’m too lackadaisical to be bothered with walking up and down four floors.
11. If you could snap your fingers and fix one thing about the world, what would it be?
Probably the prevailing economic system that allows us to produce enough resources to feed the world’s population 1.5x while hunger is still rampant among us. This only incentivises the cruelty and exploitation of the weakest members of our society, encouraging violence for greed, placing profit over safety and ethics — and the prosperity and future of the planet itself. By tackling this issue, we would catalyse the global scope of development.
12. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
I just take a long ass bath usually with scented candles and rose petals.
13. What’s a relationship deal breaker for you?
I would consider it a deal breaker if my partner were devoid of ambition and encumbered by a fixed mindset. These traits are antithetical to my persona and I would naturally diverge from a relationship of this kind.
14. How many countries have you been to?
I have been to a total of 97 countries, give or take, due to my parents’ love for travelling. I am extremely blessed to have had the privilege of travelling since I was a toddler; it truly widened my horizons and removed certain biases I harboured from growing up in Hong Kong.
15. How often do you prepare your own meals?
I don’t remember the last time i’ve prepared a meal; I usually eat out or have someone cooking for me.
16. What is one movie everyone should see?
Come and See is a heartbreaking portrayal of war that could probably change a lot of minds. Many people are way too casual about their views on the military and war in general, but that’s because they are so disconnected from it.
17. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
Ms. Lee, my IB biology teacher, taught me the importance of empathy and kindness. At the time, I found myself in a challenging predicament, a slew of external issues led to internal issues like anxiety and depression that trampled my experience in high school. It was genuinely agonising, but Ms. Lee was ever-understanding and compassionate towards me despite the fact that I never disclosed my circumstances to her.
18. Do you have any favorite tattoos or special birthmarks? What is it?
Probably Pickle Rick, because why not?
19. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
I don’t have a top destination at the moment. If I want to go somewhere, I just go.
20. When was the last time you drove a car?
I can’t drive, I’m scared I’ll kill someone, and I don’t want that sort of liability nor responsibility on my shoulders.
21. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?
Being born and raised in Hong Kong my entire life, you would assume that I am qualified to answer this question; however, growing up I’ve never been considered a real Hongkonger because of my educational background in an international school that strongly deviates from traditional schooling. In defiance of being invalidated by many people about my identity, I firmly believe that being born or living in Hong Kong for most of your life makes you a real Hongkonger. Arguably, claiming to be a true Hongkonger in itself sounds absurd; anyone who claims they are one could give you a completely different answer from someone else with the same claim, yet they would still be equally valid.
In my opinion, any citizen identifying as a true Hongkonger is admissible as one. Moreover, I dissent with the premise that some people are not true Hongkongers because they haven’t had the same level of engagement with the culture as they could have, especially if attending international schools extends to a large proportion of Hong Kong’s population; that in itself appears to be an integrating part of our culture. Accordingly, traditional culture and national identity are really far removed from each other in this day and age of large-scale interconnectivity.
22. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Probably crabs, I love crabs.
23. Do you believe in astrology? Why or why not?
No, I don’t believe in astrology and I can’t grasp its logic either; do its proselytes think that astrologers are wizards with supernatural abilities? If not, what are the methods they use to make such absolute conjectures? I’m quite uninformed on the topic though so if anyone were to disprove my ethos on astrology I would love to hear it.
24. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?
Given the choice, with no limits, I would get some truly unconceivable people on that table. First off, I would invite Jesus and Moses so I could ask for them to prove it [laughs]; or perhaps DB Cooper and Amelia Earheart, to investigate and obtain some clarifications as to what actually happened to them. Or maybe I would just like to meet Rihanna and Beyoncé; two Stakhanovites, utterly talented, accomplished and hot.
25. What was the best gift you ever received?
I’ve received quite expensive gifts in this lifetime but I would have to say the best gift I ever received was a letter that my best friend wrote me for my birthday last year. I felt immensely appreciated and grateful for everything I have in this life. Per contra, I’m consistently asked why amongst gifts that confer a weightier material benefit, I would unhesitatingly choose a simple letter as the best I’ve ever received. Owing to the significance of the sentimental value a gift can play, the emotional encoding of this letter is unequivocally richer than the economical or functional value of the other gifts; hence making it the most memorable one ever. Nonetheless, I earnestly cherish every gift anyone has given me in my lifetime as they act as tangible words for communicating endearment to me and I will be endlessly grateful for it.
26. What energises you about your work?
In the field of fashion, my clothing business Acsytosin is the pinnacle of the passions and desires I’ve nurtured in my youth; throughout middle and high school, fashion was always the creative outlet that facilitated and expedited the way I expressed myself. Being able to say I have gotten this far and being able to create the clothes I wish for has simply been riveting. It really compels me to utilize this chance to make the clothes I envision and make everyone feel unparalleled and confident when donning Acsytosin.
Truth be told, I was never a confident kid in high school and always dealt with severe anxiety. I radically grew into the polar opposite of what I used to be; I no longer concern myself with the thought of making other people comfortable with themselves by making myself miserable; and I would like Acsytosin to be a reflection of that. Moreover, I find myself in an environment brimming with exceptionally dedicated and talented individuals who imbue me with the determination to keep striving towards my goals. To conclude, I’m eager to learn anything new that will broaden my field of expertise, Acsytosin being a project that heavily differs from my other enterprises just makes it that much more exhilarating to work on.
27. When did you feel that you ‘made it’?
Firstly, we need to define what “made it” means in this context, for me to make it is to reach eudaimonia. Literally, it means happiness; however, flourishing or thriving better encapsulates its original Greek meaning. To be explicit, your everyday actions are in a state of harmony with your ideal self; in lieu of feeling emotional and cognitive dissonance. For instance, my ideal self right now is to make my clothing brand successful and my actions rigorously follow-up as I’m putting all my time and effort into it.
Frankly, I cannot hinder myself with the term “happiness”, as it only refers to a transitory mood; whereas eudaimonia refers to the overall quality of life. I am cognisant of the common fallacy that the collective equates “making it” with the numerical value of your worth. However, if your basic needs for shelter, water, food, et cetera, are already met, money only marginally alters a person’s level of contentment. I wouldn’t associate or commensurate Acsytosin’s success to its balance sheets, but to its impact on society.