Serious business

Michelle Ong on connections, confidence and Carnet

Michelle Ong, founder of jewellery brand Carnet and charity First Initiative Foundation, discusses her work and her passion

What was your inspiration for launching First Initiative Foundation in 2010?

I worked for more than 25 years on behalf of a variety of charitable organisations – all very worthy causes. Still, I saw areas that needed development and felt the time was right to start my foundation with an emphasis on the arts, culture and heritage.

How do you offer support in these areas?

I wanted to create really dynamic programmes with a lasting impact. We offer educational experiences, and always try to do more to maximise these experiences. If we sponsor an inspirational performance by an international artist, for example, how can we extend that initiative? We can include a music masterclass where Hong Kong students can learn directly from the artist.

FIF’s next educational outreach involves a dinosaur! Tell us about that project.

I wanted to make sure this year’s educational outreach would be a new and unforgettable experience for our community. We will unveil an exhibition of a signifcant and full-size T. Rex skeleton at IFC mall from 6 to 27 June, to coincide with the premiere of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It should be a fun adventure. It will also include a thigh bone that can be touched, a section of a dinosaur’s spine with a T. Rex toothmark, and a real T. Rex tooth to go with it. We will also launch an educational trail full of activities and learning experiences for families.

Michelle Ong, thought leader, Carnet

What’s the role of philanthropy today?

I think philanthropy begins with love of community. Philanthropy today should be creative and proactive, and no longer just about passive giving. It’s a connector, a motivator and a source of positive momentum. I always ask myself, ‘What kind of support and exchanges will best enrich our community?’ If we want a lasting effect, we need to keep challenging ourselves to find the right areas for development and growth.

It was more than 20 years ago that you launched Carnet. How have you seen the luxury jewellery market change?

I see women embracing their individuality more and more. That confidence and independence directly affects the luxury jewellery market. Women are buying pieces to express themselves and their personal style. Add to this a greater freedom from rules – for instance, men wearing adornments such as brooches and lapel pins to express themselves through beautiful jewellery – it’s a highly creative market with unlimited possibilities.

Michelle Ong, thought leader, Carnet

How were the challenges of starting a brand back then different from how it would be today?

I think it’s always a challenge to start a new brand or business, now and then. It takes determination, hard work and real devotion. Of course, now we are all connected via the internet and social media, so perhaps the outreach to clients is a bit different – new brands need to compete with instant gratification these days. Carnet is fortunate to have built a level of trust with our clientele; our designs appeal to experienced collectors looking to invest in sophistication, time-honoured values and tradition.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Do what you love and love what you do. It makes life worth living.

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