Jessica Hilston is Australian-Vietnamese, the founder of By Own (by-own.com) and co-founder of Women of Saigon. Hilston holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Marketing from Curtin University, and divides her time between Saigon and Perth, Western Australia.
The 27-year-old’s latest project is Women of Saigon, a monthly networking event that aims to connect and empower Saigon females. With three successful events now under her belt, Jessica is in talks with several sponsors in order to capitalise on the achievements of past events and make it even bigger and better in future. The main problem seems to be locating a venue big enough to accommodate all the attendees.
Taking the Leap
Jessica’s real passion, however, is By Own, the start-up she returned to Vietnam for in the first place. Taking the leap from traditional employment to entrepreneur can be scary, but Hilston is glad she finally summoned up the courage to do it.
“Like most entrepreneurs, I’ve had many business ideas,” she says. “This one in particular came about in July 2014. I was shopping around for a new leather backpack and I just couldn’t find the perfect one. Either the price was super expensive for a branded product, or the product was affordable, but the quality was lacking.
“I experienced this on more than one occasion and I guess this frustration led me to start By Own to allow other people who have been in a similar situation to create their very own custom piece.”
So what exactly is By Own? According to Jessica, it is the creation of bespoke leather goods that fit a person’s “unique sense of style, the subtle quirk that defines who [they] are.”
Jessica remains coy when I ask her where exactly the leather comes from. “We’ve partnered with only the very best locally-sourced fabric suppliers and artisanal tailors across Southeast Asia to help bring your dream to life.”
Like a seasoned journalist, she prefers to keep her sources under wraps, and can you blame her? The Vietnamese start-up scene can be cut-throat, and ideas and sources are often — ahem — “borrowed”.
It’s not all bad, though. Hilston has a lot of positive things to say about the Saigon start-up environment. “There is a tangible energy throughout the start-up scene here, and there’s a real sense that things are just about to take off. Even foreign newspapers such as The Australian are beginning to sit up and take notice of what’s happening here.”
What does the future hold for By Own? “Leather by Own for Men will be launching before Christmas!”
Watch this space, gentlemen. — Kieran Crowe