Spreading The Good Life
Tommy Lee and Edward Chen’s Shiwaiyuan.com Brings Western High Style East
In recent years, China has seen its economic growth rate approach 10% annually—the fastest in the history of the world for any large country. With a population of 1.3 billion, give or take a few million, this means that the middle class—i.e. a portion of the population with disposable income—now numbers well over 100 million. In sum, China now has a population with the wherewithal and desire to emulate the consumption standards of the West, and it’s doing so.
This reality is what Chinese American entrepreneurs Tommy Lee and Edward Chen realized during a business trip to mainland China late last year. The University of Southern California grads were both struck by how Western this most Eastern of countries had become.
“I thought to myself, ‘How amazing!’” Chen remembers with a laugh. “Chinese businessmen were wining and dining us with lavish dinners, pouring high-end wines like Chateau Lafite, were all decked-out in designer suits and wearing fancy watches. You could’ve sworn you were in Beverly Hills.” When the two men compared notes on their observations, they realized they had arrived on the ground floor not only of a major shift in the sociology of the world’s most populous country, but also of a potentially limitless business opportunity.
“Tommy and I realized that we had a chance to open up the world for the Chinese people, just as the world had always been open to Chinese Americans—as consumers of the finer things that life has to offer,” recounts Chen.
That’s when the men put their heads together and came up with the brainchild for a lifestyle website that would help educate mainland Chinese consumers about the good life beyond their own borders. Their site, shiwaiyuan.com, is described by its creators as “a luxury lifestyle website.”
“It translates basically to ‘luxury paradise,’” explains Lee of the origin of the site’s name. “The literal translation means ‘a stream of information/content from out of this world.’”
The site is divided into diverse sections, covering everything from fine food and wine, luxury timepieces, women’s handbags, baby products, and culture and etiquette. “Since there is a lot more travel to the West, it’s important that people understand what is acceptable in some cultures isn’t in others,” Lee explains. “For example, in Japan it’s considered complimentary to slurp your noodles while eating, while you would never want to do the same in Italy while eating spaghetti.”
The site offers a series of instructional animated videos, which blend humor with practical advice as well as insight into the luxury lifestyle “offering an opportunity for them to be able to compare what they see and experience and broaden their horizons so they can appreciate the differences, discern the qualitative, and be able to realize all their options,” Chen says.
Presented in bilingual format (Mandarin Chinese and English), shiwaiyuan.com is scheduled to go live at the end of July. Other topics to be covered as the site expands will include Green living and the environment, homes and property, and automobiles.
“Although many people can’t afford a Louis Vuitton bag, Rolex watch or Rolls-Royce, that doesn’t mean they don’t like looking at them, learning about them and, perhaps one day, aspiring to own one,” says Chen, summing up the philosophy of the site. “We’re hoping our website will make those choices easier for China’s new brand of consumer.”