From Italy, via China, and finally to Vietnam, businesswoman Chiara Squinzi discusses how fearlessness and food fuelled her success
Upon meeting Chiara Squinzi, it’s clear to see she’s an intelligent, empowered and determined woman who isn’t fazed by anything. She went from eating a €1 pizza in a hostel on Christmas Day in Shanghai to building a successful healthy living brand in Vietnam. It’s no doubt that her Italian heritage of good food and strong work ethic has influenced her along the way.
Before moving to HCMC in 2014, Chiara spent seven years in Shanghai where she developed her passion for healthy living, “I would spend my lunchtime looking at recipes for gluten-free cookies,” she says. Chiara quit her job to worked in a store with a demo kitchen, “I was initially hired as an event manager and then we developed a café and I was in charge of the sweets and snacks of the café and then towards the end of my stay in Shanghai I wanted to create my own brand while I was still there.” Plans for a healthy living business were developed and La Holista (www.laholista.com) was created before the move to HCMC.
“I felt HCMC could be the Shanghai I loved when I first moved there,” says Chiara. HCMC is a city she clearly loves, especially when comparing the work opportunities available to those in Italy. “It’s a great opportunity city, the people are amazing, the Italian community has been amazing to me from the first week I arrived. It truly is a fantastic city—it’s messy, it’s energetic and full of possibilities—and if you work hard you get rewarded and that doesn’t happen in Italy. That doesn’t happen at 30, to have your own company and to have people working under you.”
Living in Vietnam has obviously enabled Chiara to take advantage of those opportunities, ones that aren’t as easily available in her native country. “In Italy businesses are really hard to start, there are big taxes, everything is extremely expensive and you have to have everything notified and notarized and all these procedures take so, so long and especially for food, it’s much more difficult than Vietnam. Not that it was easy here, but it is way more difficult.”
She adds that women in Italy face additional challenges, “I always felt in Italy as a young woman you don’t get much respect, but in Shanghai I could be a manager at 25 and I was earning more than my dad, not that every woman at 25 will become manager but if you do work hard and if you are willing to put the hours in you will get rewarded and in Italy you will only get unpaid internships or fake opportunities.”
As with most Italians, Chiara has a passion for food and she channelled that into La Holista. “I grew up cooking, my mother taught me a lot and grandmother taught me even more, it’s the little things in food that makes it special, but it’s the quality of ingredients that makes it delicious,” she says. And despite following a plant-based diet she doesn’t like eating salad and instead enjoys the challenge of creating complex dishes that are delicious yet healthy.
As a certified and qualified Health Coach, Chiara has worked with multiple clients but “when you’re a good health coach you lose clients very quickly.” So she decided to expand La Holista’s services and reach with her own plant-based, cheap and easyto- find ingredient snack recipe book (published by an Italian company). The popularity of the snacks amongst friends and local retailers grew and Chiara officially became a foreign business owner in Vietnam. La Holista is now run by Chiara and her business partner, Pascale, who are further growing the business by incorporating functional medicinal methods and positive environmental changes into their operations.
Chiara comes from Venice province, in northeast Italy, home to global brands such as Gucci and Ferrari, and credits her hometown for her strong work ethic, “There is a big, strong inner feeling of having to give your best in your work and taking pride in your work and create something that stays with you rather than work for somebody else.”
Having spent time with Chiara it’s easy to understand how she has become a successful businesswoman. “My family and friends know I have no fear, I moved to China at 22, I have no fear. I go for things and you know I’m not scared of a challenge,” she says. And, according to Chiara, her parents clearly agree, often telling people “she’ll be fine, she knows what she’s doing.”
Images by Vy Lam