Learn more about Nghi Kinh, the young female transforming the Vietnamese Tech Industry with a styling app called Phleek.
Nghi Kinh has always used fashion to express herself. Growing up in Ho Chi Minh City, she felt as if women were missing an easy platform to create their unique style in an affordable, effortless and advanced way. At only 21, she left her career in marketing to pursue her own business, a styling app called Phleek.
Nghi’s vision is bigger than just another fashion app. She knows that consumers expect a curated experience, tailored to their specific style. She’s taking her platform a step further by offering a personal stylist, weekly outfit ideas (with click to shop capabilities), and most importantly, a community of women inspiring each other to become the best version of themselves. She’s changing more than just the way women in Vietnam shop. She’s changing the way they think. “Phleek is all about individuality, which is a subject that isn’t being discussed enough in Vietnam.”
Designing a platform to empower women takes an empowered woman. Nghi overcame challenges in the early stages of building her company that most people will never face. She’s a young female in Vietnam, taking on the male-dominated tech industry. When we met with Nghi, it came as no surprise that she exudes confidence, from the way she articulates her business plan down to her pink stilettos she looks like she was born wearing.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I was born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City. My mother is half Vietnamese, half Hawaiian, and my father is half Taiwanese, half Japanese. I’m an only child, so my mother could be rather controlling, and that was somewhat suffocating. I felt like she needed to let me make my mistakes. That forced me to express myself more and allowed me to realize that I must stand up for what I believe in because my voice matters. Growing up with such a strong female figure, a lot of that rubbed off on me. But hopefully only the good parts.
How did you get the idea for Phleek?
I went to university for communications. I never wanted to be an entrepreneur, my dream was to work for a big advertising firm. When I started working for the ad firm I always wanted to, it was great – the work environment and the people were amazing, we got snacks all the time and wine on Fridays. How could I complain? But then I realised there was a passion that I didn’t even know I had.
The idea for Phleek stemmed from personal experience. Over the years, women often came up to me to ask where I got my clothing. I would tell them the different shop and they’d say, ‘Oh, I would never think to buy that until I see how you put it together.” I realised something was missing in the fashion industry in Vietnam.
I did my research, held focus groups, created an idea of what I thought women in Vietnam could benefit from and decided, ‘I’m going to go for it.’ I contacted classmates, friends, talked to strangers I saw on the street and nailed down the insight I was looking for. With fashion, having too many options is overwhelming. Knowing the right places to look for inspiration is challenging. Seeing outfits on social media that you like but maybe can’t afford is disheartening. Phleek eliminates these problems.
Can you describe the fashion scene in Vietnam right now?
Fashion in Vietnam, especially among the younger generation right now, is extremely trendy – but that is only a small portion of the population. About 90% of the female population are young professionals or working mothers, so many other women are trying to find and define their style while balancing everyday life. The only resources available for style inspiration are social media platforms, but it can be hard to define your style and execute it with minimal resources.
These women don’t have time to scour Instagram for ideas and then try to find somewhere to buy the pieces. They might not even know where to begin. I want to close that gap a little bit and make it easier for these women.
How is Phleek different than other online shopping platforms?
There are a ton of curated fashion platforms that recommend items based on your purchase history. Yes, we use this algorithm, but it’s not just an app. We’re building an entire community of strong women who are tired of following “trends” and who are ready to use their style to reflect who they truly are. I want to help women look amazing and feel even better. This is a missing puzzle piece in Vietnam. Phleek is all about individuality, which is a subject that isn’t being discussed enough in Vietnam.
There have been negative stories about women working within the tech industry. Have you experienced anything where you feel like you were treated a certain way as a female entrepreneur in the tech industry in Vietnam?
The only negative experience I’ve had so far is more not being taken seriously because I am young, I am a female and I am not the daughter of a government official. People ask me this question a lot, and I always tell this story. I was pitching Phleek to a local businessman; he’s well established, good looking, in his 30s, and I was telling him my business plan and goals. When I finished, the first question he asked was, ‘Why are you so ambitious? It’s tough to find a husband if you’re ambitious.’ So, I told him, ‘I guess I’ll have to find someone who’s on my level,’ and, honestly, he replied, ‘Successful men like pretty girls who don’t do anything.’
Unfortunately, this attitude is typical in Vietnam right now, but I hope it’s changing with younger generations.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while getting Phleek up and running?
There have been lots of moments where I’ve questioned continuing. We all know there’s a specific demographic that typically succeeds in business. They happen to be white males, often from wealthy families. I’m not sure if you can tell, but I don’t fall into that demographic.
If you don’t, things can be difficult, and it’s easy to get discouraged. Being an entrepreneur is hard as it is. Not fitting into that demographic makes it a lot harder. But, I think if I work hard, who knows, right now I’m 21, so I might go somewhere by the time I’m 26. It’s not an overnight thing.
Can you explain how Phleek works?
Right now, we have the website and the app will be launching (hopefully) by November. You’ll download the app and create your account, filling in a customized style profile. After you create your unique profile, you enter our ‘Tinder’ portion, where you swipe left or right on several different outfits so we can begin defining your personal style.
After you finish swiping, we match you with one of our in-house stylists, who specializes in your style. Each week, your stylist will send you 5 outfit inspiration ideas. You can shop the look right on the Phleek app or talk with your stylist about outfit ideas.
There’s no markup on the clothing, so it’s the same price as what you’d pay in the store. We’re working with tons of local brands, so there will be a broad selection to allow shoppers to define their style.
What are the top three local brands that you like to wear?
My three favorite local brands are Mayli Concept, Lovell Concept and CHADDIE.
Best advice for someone thinking about starting a business in an industry that might seem intimidating?
Be ready to fail from following your passion rather than succeeding when you’re following someone else’s passion. It could happen or it could not, but you need to be prepared.