Charlz Ng (aka. Charlz Trevor) is always on the move, and rightly so, given the number of hats he wears. He is co-owner of House of Fitness in Sheung Wan and heads a company (Hybrid Group) that co-founded IRIS: Your Escape (Hong Kong’s largest wellness festival) as well as the massively popular Spartan events.
Since last year, he’s added the hat of director of the Gay Games 2022—a world-class sports and cultural festival organised by the LGBT community every four years whereby athletes of any sexual orientation, gender age, ability and other differences are invited to join. And in two years’ time, it’s coming to Hong Kong.
We caught up with the wellness and fitness polymath to find out how he went from planning DJ events at nightclubs to large-scale wellness festivals in just five years’ time.
Hello! How did you make the shift from club promoter to wellness event guru?
In 2012, I came back to Hong Kong but didn’t have any luck interviewing with financial groups, so I went back to doing what I knew best—DJ shows. However, the business model wasn’t very sustainable, not to mention very tiring, so something had to change.
In 2015, my partner Gianni Melwani [founder of Ikigai boutique yoga studio in Tsim Sha Tsui] became injured from football and started getting into yoga. At the time, I was quite annoyed with my addiction to devices, so we thought: let’s take our respective strengths—his in yoga and mine in logistics and ticketing—and turn it into a yoga event.
What resulted was an event called “Off Grid”, a two-day event in Lantau packed with fitness, yoga, meditation, ice-breaking activities, campfire and more with around 80 attendees.
IRIS: Your Escape has grown from one to six stages with a steady rise in attendees. What makes it so popular?
A lot of people think wellness is a luxury—that it’s expensive to go vegan, join a gym, do yoga, etc. Other’s say they just don’t have the time; it’s the opportunity cost that they can’t afford. However, wellness is just a matter of how you want yourself to change.
That’s why we have free entry, which means that if you have the slightest desire to be healthier but don’t know how or where to start, you can come to IRIS. From the get-go, we knew the event had to be accessible, and this is still the keyword I use when talking to partners: we make wellness accessible.
IRIS is now much more than yoga—what can we expect from the future editions of IRIS?
I don’t believe in wellness substrates: like how 2019 was about natural ingredients and 2018 was about the anti-plastic movement. Instead, wellness should be a comprehensive movement that needs continuous reinforcement. IRIS is a way of putting wellness under an “entertainment” umbrella, but outside of IRIS, we need to prolong that change.
Those who can help are mentors—people you look up to, can encourage you or check in on you. People come back time and time again to IRIS to make friends, to find out which teachers and/or the activities they like. They may even try something new and absolutely hate it—and that’s okay.
We’re thinking of extending the next IRIS into the evening, with sleep-oriented activities perhaps, or something in the dark.
How has the definition of wellness evolved in the last five years, and where do you think it will be in the next five?
Wellness was an alienating concept just five years ago. Gongs? What? Don’t they belong in the Wong Tai Sin temple? My family members went from being completely disinterested to wanting to become a singing bowl practitioner.
Today, wellness remains relatively “new” but it’s been discussed in many different ways, whether it’s in an email from HR, at a corporate event, at a sustainability conference or as part of the UN goals. Yet, a lot of these efforts are segregated. These organisations are doing their best to raise awareness and build a community, and IRIS is a place for these voices to be heard. I don’t think we’re doing anything overly influential, but every bit counts.
As we have easier access to information, I think wellness in the future would be people being more open-minded to different activities and more activities coming to light. The most important thing is community: when there’s community and mentorship, we are willing to keep our habits and push for good change within us.
What’s the biggest challenge for IRIS?
Securing a venue and localisation. There are countless people with gym memberships in Hong Kong so why aren’t we attracting more visitors to IRIS? Since 2018, we’ve included Chinese-speaking classes and a bilingual platform, and we’re looking to do even more.
What’s next for yourself and for IRIS?
For Hybrid, we will host the Spartan Trail Running event, another Off-Grid event and perhaps even an obstacle race for canines. IRIS may extend its opening hours to night time, and I’m busy working on the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong.
Follow Charlz Ng on Instagram @charlztrevor
Stay updated with IRIS’s latest festival updates at irishkg.com