Kim Bui Kollar & Thomas Kollar, Fashion Director & Partner, #legend & Mayer Brown - Incredible Two

Work-life balance? Success? Wonder how this ambitious couple Kim Bui Kollar & Thomas Kollas have worked through their career to gain their success they had today. Read more for their story…


Thomas Kollar: When I first started my career as a corporate lawyer, I always reminded myself that I had to keep my eyes on the prize. I realized that it was going to take years of hard work. Success doesn’t happen overnight, so I had to be persistent and consistent with my work performance. I mean, if I continuously thought about achieving goals in a short period of time, my mind would get very frustrated, right?

So, what I did was, I used to break down my goals into smaller ones. I have been doing this for over 17 years now. Normally, I go to work and push myself as hard as I can to get through the day, and when I’m done, I celebrate the success of being a very high performer of the day. And every night, I’d prepare myself for the next day and make a to-do list before I go to bed. I find being driven by the lists really helpful to become goal-oriented. Crossing something off is really satisfying! We all feel good about completing a task – it’s an achievement.

Kim Bui Kollar: It’s like visualizing a little bit.

Thomas: I usually write down at least 10 or 12 things that I need to get done on a daily basis. Do it, then cross it off. One by one!

Kim: I like seeing the list being ticked off as well.

Thomas: Sometimes, the list could be really, really long. If I am not able to finish any of the tasks, I’d just move it to the next day.

“For me, failure is part of success; success is really understanding how to fail.”

But, do I think not meeting my expectations is part of failure? For me, failure is part of success; success is really understanding how to fail. There were so many times in my career when I didn’t get what I wanted, and I was so frustrated by the process. But I’d re-evaluate why I didn’t achieve that goal? What could I do differently? How would I make sure that I can make it the next time? In the meantime, I’d keep reminding myself that I have to pick myself back up and keep going. Soon enough, I will meet my goals.

Kim Bui Kollar: I completely agree with Tom in terms of goals. Speaking from my personal experience, I love what I do. It’s insanely long hours of work, but I never feel like it is a job until I don’t know what I am doing. (Laughs)

The thing is, we have to visualize where we’re going. For example, I want to be an assistant designer, make it to being a head designer, and then the next step will be to become a creative director. So then, I have to figure out what skillset I need to learn in order to become who I want to be and map out a plan of actions to achieve my end goal.

Another highly important thing is to have flexibility in terms of how I see my path of achievements. This is something that I learned when we made the transition of moving from New York to Hong Kong. As an example of this, I moved to New York from Los Angeles to pursue a career in design. I started with Philip Lim. It was a very small company with just him and I to build up the brand. It entailed working for extremely long hours, but it was amazing because I loved what I was doing and it didn’t feel like work. When Tom had the opportunity to move here to Hong Kong, I was still consulting for the brand. it was supposed to be for a year but then it looked like it wasn’t a year anymore…

Thomas: Nine years later. (Laughs)

Kim Bui Kollar: Yeah! I was like, ‘Okay. I need to acclimate to Hong Kong’. There weren’t any design houses here that I could really work for, honestly. Soon after, I met Peter Harris, who was the President of the Pedder Group, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come in and do some special projects for me?’ And to me, retail is so different from design because it isn’t that creative but, involved a lot of numbers instead. I understand a lot of people want to be buyers, but it wasn’t just a path I wanted to pursue. But, he was very convincing and I was like, ‘You know what? I’ll try it out. It wasn’t full-time so I can test it out!’

I’m so glad I made that decision because I learned so much about retail – a whole other aspect of the business. It has now made me so much more well informed of how the business works. It is a much more powerful tool for the brands or the retailers that I work with. If I start a brand now, I feel like I would be able to do things at an optimal level. And this only came from being flexible. This is why I think goals and flexibility are two of the really important things to take a career to the next level.

Kim Bui Kollar & Thomas Kollar, Fashion Director & Partner, #legend & Mayer Brown - Incredible TwoKim Bui Kollar & Thomas Kollar, Fashion Director & Partner, #legend & Mayer Brown - Incredible Two


Kim Bui Kollar: I grew up in a very traditional Asian household. My father was a doctor and I went to a magnet school. They didn’t want me to go into medicine but they were like, ‘Okay, why don’t you go to a law school? After you go to the law school, we will support you to go into fashion.’ They thought I would just get so engulfed in law and that I would love it so much that I won’t get into fashion. But, just from a really young age, I wanted to get into the fashion industry and had to fight hard for it for a while. For a while, I also didn’t really have my parents’ support. I just had to figure it out on my own. Luckily, I was around really amazing people who showed me the way. And then, I thought to myself, ‘If you are really passionate about and good at what you do, and you’re willing to put effort and work hard in it, you will have a certain amount of success and of course, there is some luck factor that plays a part in it.’

“Make sure you’re good at something and let people know what you’re good at.”

So, for me, I always felt like if I did something that I loved a lot, it would be the best thing for my kids to see and understand. Not for them to do what I do but to find a passion that they would devote themselves to, be curious about and endlessly enjoy the pursuit of their dreams.

Thomas: I think they have to understand that nothing worth having comes easy.

I was on recruiting for my law firm so I went to eight universities in the UK and talked to lots of students last week. I feel like they all want success right away and they are not as resilient as we used to be. They want constant affirmation, assurance, and praise.

Like I said earlier, you have to know how to fail and feel comfortable with failing in order to succeed. You are going to fail more times in life than you’re going to succeed. That’s for sure! Understanding failure is the key to success. Today, if the students fail, they can’t take it. They’ve got to pick themselves up and keep moving.

Kim: But to me, it seems like they don’t want something bad enough.

Thomas: I know. And you’ve got to invest plenty of your time towards a goal.

Kim: For one goal!

Thomas: You see successful people, they sacrificed their time that could spend with their children, their wife, or even pursuing their hobbies. And they devoted themselves to one goal.

That’s not always the healthiest thing, right? But I think young people should have that drive to put in that time to achieve something which may take 15-20 years. And they have to accept the fact that it takes a really long time.

Kim Bui Kollar: Make sure you’re good at something and let people know what you’re good at. If you work towards something that you are really good at, and hopefully, it’s something that you really care about it, the job itself won’t seem like work. There would be a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you do. And it’s not just like, ‘I’m going to go for this goal because this is the goal that I want to achieve but, I’m going for this goal I also actually really care about.

You also have to understand how everything works in a sense. It will give you more power of intelligence to make the best decisions at every step of the way. Instead of guessing or making a bad decision, you have to put in the time to learn. You can’t google everything!

Kim Bui Kollar & Thomas Kollar, Fashion Director & Partner, #legend & Mayer Brown - Incredible Two

Kim Bui Kollar & Thomas Kollar, Fashion Director & Partner, #legend & Mayer Brown - Incredible Two


Kim Bui Kollar: Is that a question for me? I’ll speak. (Laughs) 

Thomas: I think getting rid of half of her closet was pretty major. It was very funny.

Kim: I was designing for a brand, right? So, there were clothes that you bought, there were things that you collected, and then there were things that were for references. I literally have tubs of knitwear references, tubs of denim for washes and finishes, tubs of vintage embroidery details. But what it means to him is that these are all only clothes. And I’m like ‘No, this is about more than clothes.’

Thomas: We used to have a storage unit for her clothes in New York and we just emptied it two weekends ago. It was full top to bottom, nine years of clothes. So, I think that was a big moment for her.

Kim: Yeah. And Tom doesn’t like clutter.  

Thomas: The truth is, dating was a bit of a challenge for us because we’re both pretty professionally driven. So, literally, when we first met, we would see each other only after midnight. Luckily, New York is a place you can grab dinner at midnight. I would leave the office at 11- 12 and she would be finished around that time as well. We’d have dinner and collapse afterward. Making the time for each other was a real challenge for us.

Kim: But we still managed to see each other pretty often.

Thomas: After I met you, I saw you every other day.

Kim: Personally, the hardest thing to overcome was just not to be completely consumed by my job.

I love fashion in a way but it’s not just about clothes that I want to look cute in. It’s really about how I see clothes and design. I even appreciate styles on other people that I wouldn’t wear myself. All you have is your conviction in your heart to say like, this is how I see the world in this dress or in these pants or all of this together. All you have is this feeling in your heart and in your head. You have to convince everybody too, with just the presentation of it.

After a while, I was like, ‘I don’t want to be a one-side dimensional person anymore.’ So then, I really made an effort to make friends and bring other people in my life that were passionate about other things. They helped me just to get a different perspective in life, and sometimes, I could bring that into my creative process as well. At some point, it was really long, long working hours and it was like living and breathing it. I love this, but there has to be more to life than this.

That’s why I was so attracted to Tom.


Thomas: Do I understand fashion? I think I do! I’d give myself for a score of 7.5.

Kim Bui Kollar: I feel like he definitely appreciates design and fashion. I mean, when I first met him, we were talking about Chloé. I was like, ‘Hmm, what does this finance lawyer guy know about Chloé?’

Thomas: Well, what did I say to you?

Kim: You said, ‘I used to walk by this store when I worked in Paris, I really like it and I thought to myself, my wife is going to wear Chloé.’ I was like, ‘Okay. This guy appreciates fashion, we can go on a date.’

I understand what he does, generally. Not necessarily all the technical stuff. It’s just very funny because the pay was very different back then. He was like, ‘Wow, that’s such a different way to live. I don’t understand how you live!’

Thomas: Yeah, how? She had roommates and lived in a very small flat.

Kim: We create beautiful things and make all the creative parts coming together. I really love this. Since we have dated, I’ve been learning a lot about the financial markets and the implications of what happens. Before I dated him, I didn’t think of any of this in my insular world of fashion. I just think of the five deliveries for women’s and men’s collection. So, I guess I’d give myself for a score of 5?

“He will see things from a perspective that is not as emotional, which helps me funnel that into my thinking process to make a better decision.”

We’re are both incredibly ambitious, so work is a very common topic to talk about. But it doesn’t mean like, ‘Which hemline is better, Tom?’ or ‘Are you feeling pink or is it whiter this season?’ It’s not that kind of conversation.

We have our own personalities, insecurities, stress, things that are going on in our daily lives. We bring that into our work and the ecosystem of work is based on all these other people with their own situations that come in. But sometimes, not everyone is always present and confident all the time.

What we talk about is how to navigate certain emotional or relationship situations at work. So, it’s not necessarily technical discussions about work. He will see things from a perspective that is not as emotional, which helps me funnel that into my thinking process to make a better decision.

So, Tom, do you find that I give you good advice for work?

Thomas: For sure! You’ve been there for most of it and we talk about goals, success, and failure. I think you’re very good at helping me get a better respective on those kinds of things.

As far as my actual job, it’s pretty technical, so she’s not going to be able to help with that so much, but I think from just supporting me in my career and my goals are what I need. She’s been pretty amazing.

Kim: And we check in all the time. (Smiles)

Thomas: Well, I call her like six times a day but she never calls me. And yes, I’ve called her at least six times a day, every day, since I met her. Even yesterday, she was like, ‘I’m busy, how are you not busy?’ I was like, ‘Okay! Fine.’

Kim: In some ways, it’s like being a consultant.

Thomas: And a therapist.

Kim: We’re always ready to listen and talk about what these feelings are and the root of these feelings. I don’t know any technical aspects of his work but I will listen to how he is feeling. Then we can address and understand where he’s going with his feeling and what would make him happy ultimately?

Those are the kinds of conversions we have all the time.

Stay tuned for Part 2 that talks about how their work-life balance has shifted and the habits that have made them become happy and successful.

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