Orchid Bloom, Tong Fuker and Lantau Ren are three names that Shirley Johnson goes by. Meet the Lantau mum, author, life coach, product designer and influencer
REPORTING BY Rachel Sadler
PHOTOS BY Tal Shahar – www.magnificent-hkg.com
Sitting in the garden of the Tong Fuk village house, which she and her husband Neil bought back in 2015, Shirley Johnson is the picture of tranquillity. But don’t mistake tranquil for inactive. Since moving to Lantau, Shirley’s written six books (four under the pen name Orchid Bloom), opened two online businesses and created an app. These days too, the former jet-setting luxury brand executive is the work-from-home mum of Jasmine, 5, and Max, 3. In fact, on hearing her story, one wonders how much time she actually gets to sit here admiring her glorious sea view.
Happy to chat about her books and businesses, Shirley is equally open about her personal life and willing to share about the very real challenges she has faced – growing up without knowing her birth mother, the fertility issues which led to a series of miscarriages, and her son’s brain cancer diagnosis in 2020.
“My biggest challenge was when my son Max was diagnosed,” Shirley opens. “I am glad that I’d had the experience with struggle before then so I felt more confident to deal with it. All the healing therapy I had after my miscarriages meant I could face this challenge positively.”
These past years have changed Shirley’s outlook on life, leading her to start a career in wellness training – teaching yoga and meditation, and becoming a pre and postnatal life coach (www.radiancwithin.us). “All this gives me a sense of fulfilment,” she says. “When I worked in a corporate environment, I felt like I was making an income, not making a difference. “My newer projects manifested after making peace that I need to be available at home to care for my son,” Shirley adds.
Q: Knowing a little about your background, it’s clear that your books are at least semi-autobiographical – you write from life?
A: “My novels are entirely fictional, although the inspiration is from my experience. The later books are based on real events of my journey. They mirror real life.”
Q: Your first novel, Luxe is in the Air, is a bit Crazy Rich Asians, very Devil meets Prada. The main character Phoebe works in the world of luxury brands…
A: “I wrote Luxe after having children. I had planned to return to my career which involved lots of travelling and meeting worldly and very affluent people. It didn’t feel as exciting when I was in the midst of it, but when I was out of that bubble, it looked more exciting. And that world – the world of luxury brands – lends itself to chick-lit.”
Q: Papaya Tree, your second novel, is about a young HongKonger, Jessica, who is struggling to find her own identity.
A: “The papaya tree with all its intricate branches, represents Chinese families, where you often find generations living nearby or in the same household. I wanted to show how complex the family drama can become, especially when money is involved. Papaya Tree also reveals my experience of village life – Tong Fukers are some of the most hospitable and supportive people I know.”
Q: Tell us something about your more recent books: My Roller Coaster Ride to Motherhood and The Extraordinary Fairies
A: “Both books were written as catharsis – to help me connect the dots between my own miscarriages and my life journey. And, of course, the aim was to help other families get through similar challenges and heal.”
Q:Your latest book Cancer I Forgive You came out last month, in it you share how you were able to cope with your son’s diagnosis.
A: “Yes. One day I just had this epiphany of ‘I have to forgive cancer.’ I was very angry with cancer, and how it happened to us. I started to look at a more wholesome way of dealing with this. I began turning negative emotions into positive energy. I hope the book will help parents or families with a loved one experiencing what we have, or a very big challenge in their life.”
Q: The book highlights how your experience also changed your view on conventional cancer treatments.
A: “I am advocating funding on research, and clinical trials that do not involve harsh treatments – namely highly toxic chemotherapy and radiation – which result in permanent health damage. My dream is that one day, no parents will have to make the decision we did, to have to decide between a death sentence or a life sentence for their child.
“By taking a different approach, we somehow managed to turn things around and Max started heading into remission. But he will need support for the rest of his life. That is why half of the book’s income will support my son. It is my gift to my son. And I will donate the other half to treatment research.”
THE CHANGE MAKER
Q: You launched online store Lantau Ren (www.lantauren.com) in 2017. We loved the ‘I’m a Tong Fuker’ t-shirts and the ‘Son of a Beach’ collection…
A: “Lantau Ren means Lantau person, it’s inspired by my life here – the beach, the village and just living by nature. My focus now is on sustainability, so I’m revamping the Lantau Ren brand as A New Leaf to focus on the plantbased jewellery I design.”
Q: Tong Fuker (www.tongfuker.com), the online store you’ve created with your neighbour Charmain Kleu, launched last month. It’s a sustainable lifestyle platform?
A: “Yes. We hope our products will bring the community together to encourage sustainable and impactful consumption. Living in Lantau, we feel a privilege and responsibility to protect it, we want to have a positive impact.
“We’ve worked on everyday items like toothbrushes. We brought down the bamboo toothbrush prices closer to the plastic ones and we also offer personalisation for this product and others. For every toothbrush we sell, we donate one to ImpactHK. Initiatives like the ‘kindness toothbrush’ are one of the core values of our brand.”
Q: You’re using materials like bamboo, seagrass and recycled plastic. The earrings are made from sustainable plants. But the look is very stylish, very high-end…
A: “I guess that dates back to my Hermés days. I was already trained to deal with different types of products, and I wasn’t afraid to try out different things. We hope our designs will surprise and wow – being eco doesn’t have to mean boring or uncool.
“The focus is on zero-waste. Our own brand Resolar sunglasses (www.resolarsunglasses.com) are made of recycled plastics; they are ultra-chic and ultra-light with UV400 polarised lenses. We also carry beach bags and beach towels, accessories we cannot live without on Lantau, all made from recycled or sustainable materials. And I have just designed an Eco DIY Bracelet Kit for little girls with beads that are made of elephant-dung paper (instead of plastic) and charms made of mango leaves, plated with 24K gold.”
THE SELF-LOVE APP
Q: Your new project Self-Love Studio launches this month and it’s the first platform of its kind. Why is self-love so important?
A: “While doing healing work myself, I realised that the root cause of all our problems is lack of self-love. So, I wanted to create an app to help people understand and develop self-love.
“For some people, self-love can be materialistic, for some it means having ‘me time’ or hanging out with friends. The aim is to help people to come up with answers and live their best life. To allow yourself to figure out who you are and what you really want in life is a big act of self-love.”
Q: And sometimes we need help with that?
A: “Yes. An important feature of this app is it’s a marketplace to connect users with life coaches all around the world. Having coaching is a transforming experience, everybody benefits from coaching. Most of us grew up being told what to do and we did what we were expected to do. The right life coach can help you find your own inner voice, which is when self-love can really begin.”