French connection: business links between Hong Kong and country fostered at conference in Paris


Chang battled huge language and culture differences in Paris as she pursued her new life, but some French expatriates did the same in reverse and also rose to the challenge.

Chang, who graduated from university in the United States in 2016, moved to Singapore to work for an investment bank for two years before she studied for a master’s degree in entrepreneurship in Paris.

“Because of Covid, I wasn’t able to go home and I found it was a little hard to find my childhood pastries like egg tarts and pineapple buns in Paris,” she explained. “So I decided to mix two of my favourite things which are coffee and Hong Kong food and launched this idea.”

Chang, backed by her parents back home, decided to stay in Paris because she loved the pace of life.

She started her restaurant nine months ago and named it Bing Sutt – a style of Hong Kong cafeteria.

“I think I was also very lucky as a food blogger. I have a lot of friends around the world who have opened restaurants already, sharing tips to make sure everything is done correctly in terms of rules and regulations,” she said.

Chang, who admitted language was the main problem she faced as a foreigner, said she found support in Hong Kong expatriate social media groups.

“You need to be very open minded. Learning French is the first step. I always remind myself when I get impatient and respect the way that French people are taking things slow,” she said.

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Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, in a keynote speech at the Paris business symposium, held in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre attached to the world-famous Louvre Museum, told delegates the city was back in business and open to more opportunities involving France.

“Business aside, our city is a cosmopolitan society unlike any other in the world. Asia’s global city has long been shaped, and reshaped, by the unabated flow of cultures and peoples, East and West,” Chan said.

“Today Hong Kong remains a surpassing city in which to work, live, and raise a family in.”

Hong Kong’s population rose by 2.1 per cent from the middle of last year to June this year, with 152,000 more people living in the city, statistics revealed last month.

It was the first significant increase in population since the downward trend that started in 2020 because of strict Covid-19 restrictions and an emigration wave.

Arnault Castel, a French national who founded fashion and lifestyle chain Kapok in Hong Kong, was among the conference participants.

The 50-year-old arrived in Hong Kong in 1996 and worked in the financial industry through a programme that allowed him to work at a French company overseas to replace a year of compulsory French military service.

But he said, since that first contact, Hong Kong had become home and that he had travelled to France to learn and explore potential business opportunities.

La vie en rose: Arnault Castel arrived in Hong Kong in 1996 to do a year in business, but stayed and founded the successful Kapok fashion chain. Photo: Oscar Liu

“I don’t know people in other industries and I want to know how they’re doing and what they have done to improve their business,” Castel said.

“Also I hope to connect with the business community in France and share my experience, but also see if they’re interested in coming to Hong Kong to collaborate.”

Castel started his distribution company in Hong Kong and brought some French and European brands to the city and Asia. He founded Kapok two years later at a small shop behind his home at the time in Tin Hau.

He realised he needed more shops and locations in 2014. He started an expansion programme and now has a dozen stores across the city and 60 employees.

He added Kapok had done well during the pandemic as people opted to shop online, but rental costs remained a problem.

The French Chamber of Commerce revealed the number of its registered nationals in the city had dropped from 14,000 in 2019 to 10,500 at present.

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Castel said the city needed to rebuild its image, which had been affected by the pandemic and the political atmosphere.

“The brand image of Hong Kong is not so strong at the moment. And I think it’s a bit difficult to attract talent, to attract investment. But I tell people that I’m still living and working here because it is a nice city,” Castel explained.

He said despite the language and cultural differences, he wanted to stay in Hong Kong because he had built good friendships over the years, even though he did not speak Cantonese.

“I think Hong Kong people are used to meeting others anywhere in the world. I understand now it’s a bit difficult to attract investment and talent, especially a lot of expats and their families left. But I want to tell people, I’m still living and working there,” Castel said.

He added he hoped the government would promote the city and also give support to foreign-owned businesses that opened up in Hong Kong.

“We know the office and store rents are high. Tax or financial support for the first three or four years, which are the most difficult times for new companies, would really help,” he said.


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