In little more than a decade, Instagram has gone from being an entertaining distraction to a fully integrated part of nearly every aspect of daily life. Hong Kong social-media standouts Charles Lam, Pony Pong, Maggie Stadelmann, Ellie Furuya and Kenji Wong speak to Natasha Gillespie-Wong about their interpretations of influencing, the causes they’re passionate about and what they’re hoping to do next
Charles Lam – aka @char1es – is known for his chic outfits, colourful food photos and the latest high-end must-have items. Beyond Instagram, he’s a digital-content specialist and creative director at C1 Production, his eponymous production company.
As quickly as social media has insinuated itself into politics, the workplace, home life and elsewhere, it continues to evolve at lightning speed, making it tricky to predict which way it will morph next. This is something Lam has struggled with in the past.
“Before starting my YouTube channel, I had a period of time thinking that I had failed, even though in reality I was quite successful,” he says. “Others’ perceptions of me were that I was very pretentious or a very cool person, but if you know me you know I’m actually quite easy-going and fun. It made me think of myself in that way.”
Breaking out of that mindset during the lockdowns of 2020, Lam reinvented himself. Taking the time away from travel to reflect on himself and his goals, he found inspiration in even the smallest of things. “I’m very sensitive to the things around me,” he says. “Even a raindrop could trigger some ideas from me – looking at how it falls, the impact it has.”
On his inspirations, Lam says, “The letter C. I’m Charles and my YouTube name is Prince Charles. Things I love are creativity, coffee and C1 Production as well.” Lam opened C1 as an outlet for his content outside the bounds of a particular aesthetic.
“Sex and the City opened my mind about fashion and of the cosmopolitan world,” he says. “And Carrie [Bradshaw] is a C also. It’s meant to be.”
Starting his YouTube channel was likewise an opportunity for Lam to present a different side of himself to the audience. “It was quite risky because there were people telling me, ‘Your image is high fashion, very polished. If you do something down-to-earth, your image will change.’”
But for Lam, that was exactly what he needed. Being seen as a person, rather than a product for consumption, Lam found his stride and consequently found an entirely new audience.
Citing Harry Styles as his style icon, Lam appreciates the openness and soft masculinity Styles displays. “Next time put me in a dress,” he says, laughing. “One of my biggest limitations has been myself, always thinking inside the box. So I think always pushing beyond expectations is important.”
A former dancer and choreographer, Pony Pong has been making waves in the beauty industry with her influencing prowess. The beauty guru, model, photographer and YouTube personality has already been tapped for collaborations with NARS, Chanel Beauty and Dior Beauty.
One of the major upsides to social media is that the Internet is vast and social-media platforms serve as tiny corners of the universe where communities are built and relationships are fostered. “In the past, I wanted to open a dance studio but then I stopped,” Pong says. “I think if the Internet had been what it is now, then maybe I would have.”
Pong’s shy demeanour is nowhere to be seen as soon as she sets foot on set. A seasoned pro in front of the camera, she looks every inch the professional. It’s little wonder why she has accrued 305,000 followers on Instagram.
On the complexities – and opportunities – of the social-media landscape, Pong appears nonchalant. “Influence itself is not all that important to me,” she says. “Just feel yourself and do yourself – it’s just showing what you like. It’s really not that complicated.”
For Pong, the Internet is a place of learning and incorporating old loves into her new life. “My husband listens to podcasts and reads, but I watch videos every day. Stupid stuff, smart stuff, anything, it all inspires me.” There are, however, two constants in Pong’s life: “family is first place, always,” and then hip-hop.
“Hip-hop was my first love when it came to music. When it comes to the backtrack of my YouTube videos I always pick a more hip-hip-style song, with a faster beat.”
Choice of song isn’t the only thing hip-hop music has influenced for Pong. “My style has changed over time,” she says. “My first job was as a hip-hop dance instructor so I wore brighter, more out-there clothes. Now it’s a bit calmer.”
Inspired by Kim Kardashian’s penchant for neutrals, Pong now favours a more muted colour palette. “I would love to sleep inside Kim’s closet, there’s definitely enough space,” she says with a laugh.
A self-proclaimed overthinker, Pong’s biggest obstacle is, in fact, herself. “I need to think less and just do it,” she says. “My husband always says that to me.”
Swiss-Chinese model and accessories designer Maggie Stadelmann is constantly experimenting with her personal style in both fashion and beauty, landing partnerships with brands like Chanel Beauty and Kilian Paris.
Paris, it seems, is the source of Stadelmann’s inspiration. Given the opportunity to time travel, she would explore the French capital sometime in the future. “I love Paris,” she says. “The atmosphere, the environment, the food, the people, the whole place is like an art piece. I want to see how much more creative they can be.”
Studying fashion and textiles at the University of Arts London was a dream come true for Stadelmann, despite her mother disapproving of her chosen field.
During the course of her degree, however, she struggled to pursue her passions out of fear of failure. “[At university] I was worried about my performance rather than just going for it,” she says. “I’m the kind of student who does what they are told, rather than doing what they think is right. I would change that if I could go back.”
Creativity to Stadelmann means “the freedom to do anything. Fashion, art, painting or something small such as manicure or make-up.” Stadelmann regrets not pursuing everything in her youth, but is now on a mission to spread joy through her creations.
Having launched her accessories brand M. Stadelmann Studio in 2016, the designer’s pieces are inspired by her lifelong obsession with mermaids, anime and Sailor Moon – bold, whimsical and colourful.
When it comes to business, Stadelmann has found maintaining her creative integrity difficult. “Putting [time into the] business and marketing elements can make me lose inspiration,” she says. “It also makes me question my designs, because I have to make something that customers will like and want to buy, rather than just something that I want and like.”
For Stadelmann, influence means “affecting opinion” and she therefore could not live without social media. “On social media I follow various big brands, as well as smaller content creators. All of them give me inspiration in terms of art, music and many other aspects. My style icon is Yoyo Chen.”
With modelling stints under her belt, Stadelmann is also looking to a future behind the camera: “I think I’d like to be a photographer in the fashion industry or a set designer.”
Ellie Furuya‘s Instagram feed has it all – food, travel, fashion, beauty, puppies. The Japanese-born, Hong Kong-raised influencer’s flawless style combined with her charming attitude make it feel like she’s a lifelong friend, even if you only know her on the ’gram.
Having worked as a TV programmer and social media manager at National Geographic Asia, Furuya has a passion for adventure, a penchant for good food and an unwavering love for animals. “I’m a homebody rather than a party person,” she says, while admitting that living and working overseas has provided particularly enriching experiences. “I think those were some of the best decisions I made, just living abroad.”
One of the most important functions of social media today is as a platform for activism. Online-inspired change is by no means new, but a new breed of influencers are shining the spotlight on causes they are passionate about. For Furuya, it’s animals.
“Is it crazy to say that my dogs inspire me?” she says, laughing. “They definitely inspire me to be positive, they make me exercise, they get me out of the house. Even if something terrible happens, they’re a constant.”
For Furuya, her rise to Instagram fame came as a shock at first. “I don’t see influencing as a job; it started out as a hobby and I still see it that way,” she says, “Being able to monetise it is just an added perk. I think as long as you are willing to continue to jump on new things, then you’ll be fine.”
As easy as that may sound, there have been some hurdles along the way. “I’ve always been the kind of person who just says what’s on their mind; I don’t really think about it,” Furuya explains. “But online you actually have to think about whether or not you’re ready to be super vocal about certain things, because it’s easier to be neutral.”
Ultimately Furuya’s aim is to spread awareness and positivity as well as speak out about causes she’s passionate about. “It’s something that everybody can do, whatever your platform,” she says. “If you have a stance that you know people will always oppose and you’re ready for that kind of criticism, then go for it.”
So what’s the next step for Furuya? “I think if I were to choose, I would want to go 100 years into the future – I want to see the technology, I want to know what happens. I talk about this a lot with my boyfriend; we want to freeze each other to potentially wake up in the future, where I hope there aren’t any mosquitoes. They love me, they’re all over me – it’s the worst!”
Kenji Wong a busy man. Squeezing our shoot between an event and a gym session, Wong is a businessman, emcee, model, influencer and former cable TV anchor. Comfortable in front of and behind the camera, he shares his day-to-day life online.
From facilitating the union of loved ones at wedding ceremonies to hosting at Art Basel and APM x World Cup FIFA 18, Wong’s undeniable optimism and charisma make him the top pick for any and all events. “My favourite is weddings,” he says, “because you’re painting a picture with what you say, telling a story, their love story.”
Co-founder of yoga studio and multi-purpose workspace ShishaStudio, Wong understands the importance of positive thinking as well as manifesting his thoughts and goals. “Be willing to fight for what you want,” he says. “You never know who you’re inspiring.”
Wong advocates showing more than just the highlights of his life online. “It’s important to show everyday life,” he says. “Influence is not limited to just one type of person. Not just fashion, sport or lifestyle.”
One particularly pernicious concern is whether time spent on social media sites is eating away at face-to-face time, a phenomenon known as social displacement. But for Wong, face-to-face interaction is vital to being present online.
Stressing the importance of protecting the natural playground Mother Nature has to offer, Wong shares his deep appreciation for the outdoors on Instagram along with his greatest inspiration, his dog Naki.
“She inspires me to continue training every day,” he says. A mixed-breed Husky-Shiba who accompanies Wong on all of his outdoor adventures, Naki could well be the reason for Wong’s 30,000+ followers on the platform. “Most of my audience just want to see my dog,” he says with a smile. “I’m okay with that.”
An advocate for pet adoption in Hong Kong for those looking for a bond as strong as the one he found with Naki, Wong notes that if you do decide to adopt, you can spoil your furry friend with toys and trinkets from his co-owned pet supply store On Dog Dog.
An avid fitness enthusiast and upcoming Calvin Klein model, Wong spends a lot of his time in the gym and is currently on a strict diet. Crediting YouTube dog trainers for Naki’s best behaviour, Wong also hopes to share his knowledge. “If I wasn’t influencing, I would still be a model,” he says, “but also maybe a dog trainer.”
CREDITS Photography / Ricky Lo Videography / Lewis Lau Styling / Kellie Chan Hair / Dickson Chan Make-Up / Sapphire Shen Photography Assistants / Alston Chan and Azeal Ho Editorial Assistant / Sean Nagao
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