Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Grace Choi

Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Grace Choi

“For me, inspiration can really come from anywhere. Even when I am walking on the street, I could stumble upon a tile design and be instantly inspired. Then I will take a picture of it and see how I can mold the image to create a unique pattern for the cheongsam. I have always been drawn to colour and prints and combining the two is just so interesting to me.”




Grace Choi

Founder of Yi-ming

Our Urban Explorer


Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?

Hi! I am Grace Choi, a fashion designer and the founder of Yi-ming – an oriental-influenced cheongsam brand based in Hong Kong.


From a successful career in modelling to event management and then founding your own fashion brand, how did this all happen?

With a background in modelling, I had the opportunity to walk in numerous coveted fashion shows around the world. I was always fascinated with lighting, production and behind the scenes aspect of putting on a whole show. At some point in my modelling career, I transitioned into event management and helped other brands and designers put on fashion shows. My work has always revolved around fashion and during this time, there weren’t many brands in the market yet that produced cheongsam, so I seized this opportunity to launch my own label. I envisioned it to be a lifestyle brand that people could wear any time of the day. They would wear it for business or pair it with jeans for a casual outing. From a cultural perspective, the cheongsam could still be a piece you could pass on to the next generation.


What does a day in the life of Ms. Grace Choi look like?

Time management is crucial when balancing between being a fashion designer and a mother. I am a very hands-on mom so I will usually work from home on most mornings where I can take some work calls, then make breakfast and lunch for my kids and send them off to school. Once they are all set, I can finally get back to my own work, whether hopping out for a meeting or visiting the store.



What does “Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?

Exploration to me is a mindset. It is not just about exploring the city streets, but it is observing the details through your own eyes and interpreting the experience first-hand. It could be good; it could be bad. But you can take it in and create something beautiful out of it. In a busy city like Hong Kong, you can find inspiration at every corner.


Art You Can Wear


What made you decide to specialise in cheongsam and qipao?

I have always loved cheongsam, from wearing it to collecting it. I knew I wanted to create a modern oriental brand that would be easily accessible to all where shoppers wouldn’t necessarily need to go to a cheongsam master to get a tailor-made dress for them. Instead, they can purchase it from off the shelf and pair it with their everyday staples.


Where does your inspiration for each style come from?

For me, inspiration can really come from anywhere. Even when I am walking on the street, I could stumble upon a tile design and be instantly inspired. Then I will take a picture of it and see how I can mold the image to create a unique pattern for the cheongsam. I have always been drawn to colour and prints and combining the two is just so interesting to me.



What is the most challenging about your work?

The most challenging about my work is personal time management because I have to constantly balance between my personal and professional life. In terms of business, I think customer service is quite difficult to manage because there are so many different problems you may encounter within a day. I really enjoy speaking to our customers and encountering these problems face-on because that is how I can understand what the clients need and how to improve our offerings.


Initially, your brand offered only evening dresses, but the range has since expanded to include a resort line as well as tops, capes, accessories, and a children’s line. Was this something you always planned for when you initially started the brand?

My vision for Yi-ming has always been about creating a lifestyle brand that can be easily accessible to all. Hence, it was a very natural progression for us to expand our line to kids wear and lifestyle products for everyday use. Our brand values culture and heritage but we wanted to infuse modern elements into it as well to appeal to a younger generation that also aligns with our beliefs.


What can we expect from Yi-ming in 2024?

We have recently launched the new resort line collection that we are so thrilled about. It is still under wraps but we are also in the midst of planning a collaboration that promotes heritage, craftsmanship, and handcrafted detail designs but we are still in the development stages. In addition to this, the Hong Kong design pattern we launched several years ago was very well-received, so we plan to re-visit the idea of creating another pattern that pays homage to Hong Kong stories. There is a lot more to come so stay tuned!



Were there any style icons you looked up to growing up?

There are two icons that I particularly love – local singer and actress Kelly Chen and British model Twiggy. As a teenager, I really admired Kelly’s style as she was always so trendy and dressed for her body type. She is still my icon right now! My other favourite style icon is Twiggy because I love everything about the 60s and her style is impeccable. In fact, I used to have magazine cut-outs of her because I just loved her look!


If you could choose either modelling, fashion design, or event management, which would you prefer and why?

If I had to stick to one trade, I would definitely have to say fashion design. Being a model opens you up to a world of unique experiences where you can meet so many different people from all walks of life. It is so enriching but as a model and even in event management, you are actually the execution person in which you are constantly presenting an outfit or an idea to your client. As a fashion designer, I get to run my own brand and share my own stories and inspirations. I love that I get to be the whole decision-maker in crafting the story rather than presenting someone else’s stories.


Exploring The City


Where do you find inspiration for travel?

I mainly look to Instagram for travel inspiration but nowadays, when I think about traveling it always revolves around my kids and what they would like to do. I prefer to travel with the entire family, so I need to seek out kid-friendly destinations!



What other destinations are on your bucket list?

I would like to visit Cuba because I love colour combinations and this destination is just so vibrant and picturesque. I can imagine being surrounded by a myriad of beautiful pastel-coloured buildings lined up in a row. Another place I would love to travel to is Mauritius because my dad used to tell me how beautiful it was. I love the sun and the beach and being surrounded by nature so this would be an ideal travel destination for me!


In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?

Vibrant, Multicultural, Efficient