Super mama to two and creator of
The Lion Rock Press…
You’ve probably seen the adorable siu mai dumpling cards or the iconic Star Ferry wrapping paper around your local Bookazine’s… In this edition of That Mama, we’re featuring the creator of The Lion Rock Press stationery, Claire Yates! All of us at Sassy HQ have been huge fans for years and we’re so happy to have Claire working right by us at Garage Society. She’s pretty much a part of the Sassy family and we are so ecstatic to share what we already know of her amazing self with all of you!
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I was born in Oxfordshire, England, in the same hospital where I gave birth to my son 30 years later! In the interim, I’ve lived in more than 20 different homes… so I was a bit like a salmon returning to spawn! My mother is Hong Kong Chinese and we lived in Hong Kong for many years. I went to Bradbury and then South Island School, but was sent over to boarding school at Malvern Girls’ College, in England, when I was 12.
I enjoyed having the best of both worlds until my parents eventually returned to the UK. Having persuaded my husband to move back to HK in 2010, I’m now thrilled to be having the best of both worlds yet again. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins live here too, so I am lucky enough to have the family element that’s missing for so many expats.
To my father’s exasperation, I was always going to be an entrepreneur. My previous business was a Bespoke Menswear business in London using a HK tailor to be an alternative service to Savile Row for the younger generation of City Boys. It was wild, and unforgettable, but not appropriate for a mother! I do miss the banter and being so mobile… we walked between all the offices pulling our swatches in wheelie cases but I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything.
What inspired you to start Lion Rock Press? Where did the name come from?
My HK family are paper merchants, and our expertise in paper dates back more than 100 years. During my first pregnancy, I was looking for a way to continue our distinguished tradition of sourcing high quality, responsibly sourced, paper while having the flexibility to spend time with my little one. Having always been financially independent, I felt I needed to retain something of my own, and be something for myself, when I became a mother. I was also interested in a volume market, rather than the bespoke luxury market I was accustomed to, just to have a different commercial experience. I thought it would be fun to creatively explore my two cultures through the medium of printed stationery. Our greeting cards tell my story by fusing the HK-style graphics with Western humour, and we are thankful that they’re therefore well received by expats and locals alike.
The name of the business is inspired by the mountain of the same name which reminds me of our many journeys to visit my grandparents who lived on the “other side”. I’ve always loved it, and really appreciate the power in both words “Lion” and “Rock”. The word “Press” is a nod to the family business. The smell of ink and the sound of the printing press still evoke fond nostalgia for all of us, and we feel a great bond to the industry.
Where do you get your design ideas from? Are any of them meaningful to you?
Every design is meaningful to me… To give a few examples, the teapots on the wrapping paper (and now as a Christmas decoration) are from my mother’s treasured collection, the lucky cat is one that sits on my beloved brother’s desk, the chopstick greeting card “I’d be Nothing Without You” is a tribute to my grandmother.
I’m inspired by this city every day, and could produce a thousand designs if budget and storage were no issue! It is always very difficult choosing which ones to produce, and I’m always thrilled when personal favourites do well at retail!
What were some challenges you faced when starting your own business?
I found it extremely challenging working from home. I didn’t have a helper until my son was almost a year old, and I had to do everything with him. I would deliver two 15kg bags of cards to Bookazine and be carrying my baby as well, or trying to have a meeting with someone and have to suddenly whip out a boob to comfort a crying baby! I was amazed at how quickly everything took off, and in retrospect, I was really trying to do way too much. Thankfully, my helper started and my life changed overnight.
In the second year of my business, I won a competition where part of the prize was a desk at Garage Society, a co-work space (Ed note: Garage Society is also where Sassy HQ is and to our whole team’s delight, Claire joined and is definitely one of the Sassy girls!) in Sheung Wan. I would never have considered paying for a work space since I did, in theory, have space at home to work, but once I started I realised what had been missing from my life. Somewhere out of the “zone” where I was able to fully concentrate for a few hours a day on nothing but the business. During the first few months of working at Garage, my business grew exponentially. Now, I look forward to going to the office every day and I can leave whenever I please. Truly, I feel like I’ve finally found a balance in my life and I couldn’t be happier.
Where do you see LRP going?
Honestly, I have no huge aspirations for the business. I’m just happy that people like the things I design for them. I hope my Christmas decorations become collector’s items, and that people look forward to new ones every year. I hope that the cards my customers send make the people that receive them happy… that’s my greatest reward. I simply make things that I want to buy myself, and then if anyone else likes them I’m delighted. LRP is like my therapy, it is my “other life” that allows me to be someone other than mummy.
Do your kids help out with LRP?
I like for my kids to understand what I do, and know that mummy also works too, not just daddy! They are very understanding when I tell them that mummy has to work now, but really enjoy it when I let them get involved with little bits and pieces, especially around this time of year when everything is very colourful. They’ve enjoyed sticking the Mother’s Choice stickers on all the charity cards these last few weeks!
I’m so lucky that my whole family helps out with LRP. My 88 year-old grandmother folds and packs virtually every card and tag. At this time of the year, she will manage to get 30,000 charity Christmas cards ready for retail in less than two weeks. She’s a remarkable woman.
Tell us more about your new Christmas ornament range. They’re gorgeous! Where and when can we order a set (or two!)?
Thank you! I was absolutely blown away by the reaction to last year’s TRANSPORT range of decorations. I originally ordered 750, and ended up selling 10,000! This year I’ve been inspired by the culture and heritage of Hong Kong, and the ornaments include a dim sum basket, a lion dance and a silk jacket. They are available to buy on my website and all Bookazine stores.
At this time of the year, our charity work is the most important thing to me. I design a range of charity Christmas cards, gift wrap and tags in aid of Mother’s Choice. It is a privilege to support such a worthwhile cause. We’re hoping to hit the HK$200,000 donation mark this year.
Calling all Sassy Mamas! Here’s a perk for all you Lion Rock Press fans! Simply use the code SASSY16 to redeem a $50 HKD cash voucher to spend on the website! Offer ends Tuesday, 31 January, 2017.
What advice can you give a fellow mama who’s trying to start up her own business?
Don’t be afraid. There isn’t a better place than Hong Kong to start a business as a mother. We are privileged to have help which allows us to have the flexibility required, and the headspace to concentrate on your work. We are also incredibly lucky to live in such a supportive and helpful community where people love to encourage fellow mums.
Most of us have been new to something once, and we remember how grateful we were for the support, and we extend that to others. Many of us don’t have family here, so our friends become family and they lift you up and support you like they’re blood. I could never have had the success I’ve enjoyed without my circle of girlfriends here. From helping to pick and pack, manning the stalls, delivering orders, brainstorming ideas, helping with the kids during busy times when I can’t get away, sharing the highs and the lows. They’re my biggest champions, and never miss a chance to promote my business, I’m so grateful to them all!
As a mother, I am lucky enough to be living in a place where, as close as is possible, you have the chance to “have it all”, so I feel inspired by the freedom I enjoy here to follow my dream. I must also add that I’m extremely grateful to my husband for encouraging me (and paying ‘dem bills!) while I built my business, and was able to work, at a pace that wasn’t dictated by necessity.
How do you save time? Can you share any organisational tips and tricks?
Anyone who knows me can attest to this not being my strong suit! I am hopeless with technology, and very impatient… a hellish combination! All the “time saving” apps and spreadsheets that my friends swear by are right over my head. I just try and cram as much in as possible and hope for the best!
As any entrepreneur will tell you, it is virtually impossible to separate home and work life, especially in this digital age when you are always “available”, but I try my best. At the times when I’m with my kids, I try to be completely present and not distracted, so managing my schedule as carefully as I can allows me to be successful as I can in this regard. I often work best in the evenings, especially the two days a week when my husband trains with his rugby team, and I often get up before the rest of the household to put in an hour or so before the chaos starts!
What do you do to get in that “me” time?
It is absolutely essential to have “me” time. I’ve always had a very strong personal agenda, and it has been a big adjustment to have so much of my time now dictated by the kids. So, my favourite thing to do is eat with friends, and basically have them take the mickey out of me! They love to call me HK’s Del Boy! I enjoy a good ribbing.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of parenting?
I think I always suspected I would find being a mother challenging. We were married for five years before we started trying for children, and I had to reluctantly sell my previous business before I could even consider it since so much of my identity was tied into what I did for a job… I needed to have a clean slate. So, we moved to HK and started trying right away. I thought it would take at least six months so made lots of plans for travelling, but I was pregnant before we’d been here a month!
All those plans went out the window as I was so sick during my pregnancy and I basically lay on the sofa with a bucket! So, I’d gone from a very sociable life in London with a thriving business which I loved, to lying by myself in the house puking my guts up! It was not what I’d signed up for!
It was no surprise, in retrospect, that I suffered with post-natal depression which clouded the first year of my son’s life. I was thankful that there’s a wonderful support group here called the Post Natal Depression Awareness Hong Kong which helped me get back in control and start enjoying motherhood. To answer the question, I think the most challenging part is being present and upbeat when you really don’t feel like it.
Before you have kids, it’s easy to be self-indulgent when you’re feeling down, but suddenly you need to be on good form for these little people who get upset when mummy looks sad. I have an auto-immune disease that can often make me feel totally wiped out, but I still need to dig deep and find the energy to smile and be engaging with the kids, when all I want to do is hide under the covers! Likewise, at very busy times of the year for the business like the run up to Christmas, I’m exhausted and stressed, but I don’t want the kids to feel like mummy isn’t okay, so it’s a big effort to put on a brave face!
Favourite family holiday spot?
We’ve become big fans of Premier Village in Danang, Vietnam. A 90-minute flight, 10-minute transfer and you’re in the pool by 10am! They have lovely pool villas big enough to fit two or three families, and a great beach and facilities for kids. We love villa style living with the convenience of hotel facilities. A short shuttle to the wonderful Hoi An with all that DELISH Vietnamese food. We just keep going back.
What are your favourite spots to eat at with your family in Hong Kong?
My HK family eat dim sum together every Sunday, there can be up to 20 of us! We love the char siu at Dynasty. Café Malacca, at Hotel Jen in Shek Tong Tsui, makes the best Singapore/Malay food in the city, and they have a great set up for kids too. Around our home in Sai Ying Pun, you can’t beat the burgers at Electric Ave, and we love to walk down Pound Lane to pick up a bagel from Schragels on a Sunday morning and play in the park afterwards. My son is a notoriously fussy eater, so it is a joy to see him demolish anything!
Can you tell us about how your career was pre-baby as compared to post-baby?
My head was a lot clearer before I had kids, and I was able to fully dedicate myself to growing my business, and enjoying my success. Now I have to worry about my business as well as think about what the kids are going to eat, who they’re going to play with, if they need a haircut, where they’re going to school, if they are going to need the doctor, when their vaccines are due, if my helper is happy, if they’ve done their homework, if their schedule is too tight or too loose… all the normal things that us mothers fret about constantly! Before I had kids, I was focused on my business being as successful as possible, but now I feel much more that my success is a wonderful bonus, but it is the lifestyle that’s important. I don’t want to work full-time, so I’m not motivated to push as hard as I used to be.
What’s the best advice you’ve received as a parent?
You don’t need to be the best mother in the whole world. Your kids don’t know any different, just do your best and be at peace with your decisions. Let go of the guilt and don’t wish the time away.
There’s no such thing as post-natal depression, it’s just being melodramatic.
Something that you wish someone had told you about motherhood?
Every day does not feel magical. Sometimes it is horrible and you want to run away! I wish there wasn’t so much pressure on new mothers to love every second of every day as soon as they give birth. It is okay to feel frustrated! It doesn’t mean you don’t love your children or you don’t want to be a mother, or you’re not good at it! Of course, being a parent is a gift and wonderful and all the other superlatives you’re supposed to feel, but it is also frustrating and quite often challenging! Mums tend to be really hard on themselves, but it is important to be kind to yourself and not expect daily perfection in every aspect of your life.
What has been your most humbling moment as a mum?
This has to be the first time I heard my son say “I love you”. We were waiting at the bus stop and he was staring at me and smiling and I asked him “why are you smiling at me”, and he said “because I really love you”.
I didn’t grow up in a house where we said that kind of thing, and neither did my husband, so to hear him freely say it was the most special moment, and I still tear up every time I think about it. We’ve worked hard on making sure we all feel comfortable with hearing, saying, and meaning those words. He now tells his little sister “I love you so much my cheeky baby” and yesterday he told me that nobody has a nicer home than him in the whole wide world. Of course, he has no real yardstick, and our home is tiny and chaotic, but the main thing is he really believes it. That was a great lesson for me, I don’t need to be the best mum on the planet because if my kids think I am then that’s the only thing that counts.
How do you keep the romance between you and your husband alive with such a busy work and family life?
We schedule Tuesdays and Fridays out every week religiously. Whether we are out with friends, or just the two of us, we make sure we have time to get spruced up and see each other as more than mummy and daddy!
Ideally, we like to eat out somewhere that we can walk back from, and we are spoiled for choice living in Sai Ying Pun. We love going to this tiny little curry house on Water Street, which only has three tables outside. The food is unbelievable, and the “Friday Night Cuzza” that was our little thing in London has finally been resurrected now we’ve found the best Indian food in HK.
It is so easy to take each other for granted especially with such a fast paced life, but he’s a big part of my success quietly letting me do my thing, and understanding why it is so important to me. I designed the dumpling and sauce card “Made for Each Other” for him – I’m the XO sauce to his har gau dumpling!
Favorite date spot in Hong Kong?
Although it’s nice to dress up now and then, we really prefer informal dining. We actually love wandering the streets and just picking a random restaurant to try… sometimes you can find a gem! If it’s awful, it just gives us something to laugh about; we say “that was so bad it was banter”. I love it when he chooses an absolute donkey and the next time I back a winner! Haha!
As a mama, I wish I were better at…
Being silly. My own mum is amazing at playing these mad games and making the kids howl with laughter! I am still a bit awkward and need to work on my Paw Patrol trivia. I am, however, excellent at sorting Lego bricks and building Lego armies which I’ve strangely started to actually enjoy (slash obsess about).
I wake up in the middle of night thinking about…
New ideas for LRP. I was an insomniac for about 20 years, and still don’t sleep well. I usually get up to make notes, and then check on both kids before getting back into bed satisfied that everyone is okay.
Bedtime is always smoother when…
I turn my phone on silent. Working for myself, I find it hard to switch off mentally as there’s no real “working hours” and it is tempting to look at messages, emails and FB/IG comments the moment they appear.
If I want a calm bedtime, I need to focus on the kids. They know immediately if I’m distracted. My daughter goes to bed first so I make sure I’ve given her lots of love and attention, and my son knows to wait for his turn and will usually play quietly with his Lego. After I put her in bed, I turn my attention to my son who usually wants me to sit with him and pick out the Lego pieces he needs for his latest masterpiece! We use this time to chat about the day and plan our adventures.
My favourite moment of the day is…
When I come home, knock on the door and I can hear the kids shout “Mummy!”. I know they’re going to leap into my arms the second they see me and dance around desperate to tell me all kinds of nonsense. The look on their faces…. well, if I could bottle it and sell it I’d be the richest person in the world.
Thanks to the talented Michelle Proctor of Michelle Proctor Photography for all of the beautiful images above! Follow her on Instagram @michellejproctor