Here’s How These Successful Women Run Their Local Businesses!

I’ll admit this much: I had a semi-successful online clothing store when I was younger. You know, those blogshops where we hired OG influencers as models (you remember them, they’re all engaged, married or now an air stewardess), incessantly promoted on Livejournal or those physical stores at Far East Plaza that housed multiple blogshop brands.

Where is my business today? As dead and gone like my bulk of mascaras once I discovered eyelash extensions. What can I say? My expenses ran too high and the exposure plus success concept stores like MIYOC promised were short-lived.

Did I give up too soon, suffer from stage fright, or simply lack the focus to strive on? I decided to speak to 10 successful women entrepreneurs — within different industries from bridal to fitness and food — about their tips, strifes, and what it means to be a business owner. Here’s what they had to say.

Leanne Low, Queen Of Hearts

successful women

Boss: Leanne Low Pei Ling, 28 (@Leannelow)
Shop: Instagram.com/Queenofheartssg

Many may know Leanne as an influencer, but the content creator also has another hyphen to her name: a bridal dress shop owner with her own label, Queen Of Hearts. She curates wedding gowns juxtaposed upon her love for tulle, sparkle, and romantic palette.

Did you face any difficulties when setting foot into the wedding dress scene?
The wedding industry is a competitive one, especially when having to compete with social media and brick and mortar stores. We wanted a fresh take on the ever-evolving bridal scene — to define a new era of brides; the free-spirited, the wild at heart brides who are unbound by traditions and monotony.

Any tips on building a clientele within this popular industry?
Being a content creator myself, the initial spike of customers came from my own followers! I’m so thankful for their support, but I understand that this method is not long term and I wouldn’t bank on it either. My QOH brides are my best salespeople as I often get referrals from them.

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
Perhaps the biggest misconception about creating my own brand is that it is more than just chasing my passion. It took us one year to research, curate and come up with a decent business plan. The bulk of my time is also spent on marketing and interacting with my customers. 

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word.
Resilience.

Monica Anne Lie, The Ordinary Co

successful women

Boss: Monica Anne Lie, 28 (@Luxmondi)
Shop: Theordinary.co

Jewellery is particularly powerful, as they can mirror your most authentic selves. From clean-cut geometric rings to uncomplicated layered chain necklaces, The Ordinary Co brings it — a chic, walking repository of minimalistic accessories with a surprisingly affordable price tag.

How did you discover your passion for jewellery and the brand’s aesthetic?
I, like many Singaporean women, never accessorised enough or simply treated jewellery as an afterthought. I wanted to create a brand that made wearing jewellery very accessible to women and inspire them to start small without breaking the bank. Do stay tuned for our demi-fine jewellery collection!

What do you do when faced with a creative rut?
I look for inspiration online; sites like Pinterest or Instagram.

What do you wish you had known when before creating your brand?
I think you have to constantly push yourself and keep evolving to keep up with the market. Some business owners say they started theirs in the hopes of it becoming a passive income, but running a business is never passive it’s easy to fade into irrelevancy as we’ve been seeing with many fast fashion brands. Five years in, I still constantly remind myself that nothing is ever set in stone and that The Ordinary Co is barely just beginning.

Describe being an entrepeneur in one word.
Jack-of-all-trades!

Christabel Chua, kāi

successful woman

Boss: Christabel Chua Hui Ying, 28 (@Bellywellyjelly)
Shop: Iamkai.co

Founded by fashion and beauty influencer Christabel Chua, kāi prides itself in offering novelty bags and dainty stationery that are inspired by the snapshots of happiness in our lives. Think adorable staples like a rainbow pouch and a whimsical sticker pack.

At what point did you realise kāi was taking off?
This is tough because we are still in the midst of getting started! I guess I realised kāi had a good thing going when we were able to meet some of our customers; learn more about their favourite products and how kāi made them feel.

How do you determine if a brand collaboration benefits your company?
When both brands are aligned on the goals of the collaboration and are just as excited to come together and create something a little different from our usual product offerings.

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
How to manage the product supply chain and inventory.

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word. 
Adventure.

Jasmine Chong, Barre Lab and Yoga Lab

Boss: Jasmine Chong, 30 (@Jasmine_yoga)
Shop: Barrelab.sg

Workout classes and techniques are abundant but what really stood out for us at Barre Lab was the perfect harmony of yoga, dance and pilates. We’re also partial to their studio’s gorgeous aesthetic, the promise of a total body workout, and that we can connect no matter what fitness background we come from.

With barre being a niche market, how did you get people to try it?
Before trying barre, I gave myself space to experiment. I went in with that mindset that it would be like a yoga class but it was completely new to me; I learned that you could build on muscles you never knew existed. I shared my experience online and with my own yoga students at Yoga Lab. We did market research and found out that people were more willing to try out new workouts than we expected, so we also created a package that allows our customers to try both yoga and barre with no additional costs yoga today, barre tomorrow. Having our current database was also a big help in getting them to crossover.

What was the push for you to change from the finance industry to fitness?
It was definitely more of a push than a pull. When I was in banking, I was damn tired of it from a) the lifestyle, b) talking to people you don’t really want to, and c) hitting that invisible expectation for work rather than building genuine connections with people. I had to be real with myself… I couldn’t do this anymore. I had been pushed too far emotionally and I needed to just leave the industry immediately. I did have a yoga teaching certification so I began teaching my friends on the side. I did side jobs that kept me going while I had nothing stable: unpacking boxes for Lululemon, hanging clothes, etc. Down the road, I began teaching full time and I asked myself if I was actually happy. And, yes, I was. I knew then that this was the life I wanted to create for myself.

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
That it was okay when things aren’t going exactly your way. In my previous industry, there were no chances for setbacks and that worked against me. In this entrepreneurial journey, the expectation for yourself is very high. I’ve come to realise that once I softened and allowed things to flow naturally, it turned out for the better. I wish I had known this from the start, it would have been less stressful to just drop the fight and see where the path takes you.

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word.
Resilience.

Mel Chen, Caramel & Co.

successful women

Boss: Mel Chen Siying, 35
Shop: Caramel.com.sg

At Caramel & Co., they wave their magic wands, conceptualise and then execute a unique, and possibly the most hopelessly romantic wedding dress. Instead of the traditional cookie-cutter silhouettes, they design according to your own signature aesthetic.

Your brand turned 10 last year. What industry tips have you learned from this journey?
Firstly, always be true to yourself, do what makes you happy and never compromise on that. While working as a designer, I experienced burnout at my previous company; I needed to clinch as many deals as possible and design dresses that were not aligned with my style. I eventually quit and joined the airline industry. When I was ready to start my own brand, I promised to be kind to myself and take upon jobs that speak to me to only design dresses that aligned with my design philosophy.

Secondly, having integrity and honesty is also super important. Always be responsible for your work and deliver what has been promised. The bridal industry has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to hard-selling and up-selling, so I make sure that I am upfront and transparent throughout the whole process with my brides; they can feel comfortable with what they are signing up for.

Last but not least, “quality over quantity” goes a long way. Never stinge on materials. Many people have said this to me “you should cut down on your material costs and just use cheaper materials”. I am glad I didn’t heed that advice. Using premium quality materials is key to why my dresses look good and why my brides choose me.

You repurpose your bespoke wedding gowns for free. How did that come about?
I believe in doing my part for the environment and promoting sustainability and lesser textile waste in the bridal industry. At Caramel & Co., we repurpose our bespoke dresses for free so that they are able to wear their wedding outfits in the future and keep these precious pieces as heirlooms. Doing a little something for free doesn’t hurt, does it?

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
Anyone can start a business, but not everyone can sustain it. I wish I knew that creating a brand is a life long commitment (sort of like a black hole), and not for the faint-hearted who wants quick results. I only started to break even in my tenth year.  I hate to say this, but being a female entrepreneur in Singapore does have its disadvantages; I wish someone sat me down and told me straight in the face. It was especially hard when I got pregnant twice. I couldn’t work and we literally had no new business in those few months. Not only did I have another newborn to feed, but I also had an entire team to look after.

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word.
Faith.

Stephanie Colhag Yeo, Outfyt

successful women

Boss: Stephanie Colhag Yeo, 28 (@Stepyeo)
Shop: Shopoutfyt.com

Doing a world of good on the sustainably-minded bandwagon, Outfyt is more conscious about their sartorial choices. Their sports bras first caught our attention and we soon found out that their pieces were actually made from fishing nets and other nylon waste. The best part is? It even provides UV protection, chlorine resistance and muscle compression.

What challenges do you face as an eco-conscious brand?
It is that eco-conscious brands are more expensive. Due to the high-quality fabrics we use, one Outfyt would last much longer than cheaper fast-fashion alternatives. This means decreasing your carbon footprint by buying less. Therefore, as an eco-conscious brand, we also have the challenge of educating people on why sustainability is a necessity and not a luxury.

How do you commit to sustainable packaging and why should other brands follow suit?
All our items are packed in individual compostable cassava starch bags from the factory. We also encourage our customers to use their own bags for their purchases from our boutique. Other brands, albeit small or large companies, should take upon social responsibility and make changes to save the environment. We only have one earth and we need to take care of it.

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
We wish we would have been better informed in regards to how much of a negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment. Our first collection was not eco-friendly we were immediately shocked to realise just how much waste we contributed. We then decided to be a part of the solution and not the problem.

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word.
Empowering.

Zoey Wong, Naked Works

Boss: Zoey Wong, 26 (@Nakedparade)
Shop: Instagram.com/naked.works

Like the rich, hand embroidery work we see on her Instagram account, we think this young creative is well on her way to leaving her own unconventional mark. Upon closer inspection, she even paints onto a few of her embroidered pieces.

Do you find the term “starving artist” rings true of the creative industry?
I personally think that the term is just a process or phase that everyone will have to go through. There are definitely many obstacles within the creative industry, but it is not sustainable to be a “starving artist” in Singapore. Finding the right balance while sustaining your art-making is very important and even if it’s a challenge, it will be worth it in the end.

What gave you the push to start up your embroidery workshops?
I was very inspired to share my craft and show people creating something doesn’t always warrant an art background. All my workshops are designed to be as accessible as possible for the general public, with simple yet important techniques that anyone can learn in a matter of hours! It is always satisfying to know that people learn a new hobby/skill through my workshops!

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
As all my failures were major learning opportunities for me to grow from, I do believe that it was due to my lack of knowledge and insight that helped me see things from a different point of view. If I had to give my younger self any advice, it would be to work smart, hard and never be afraid to ask for help.

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word.
Empowering.

Sabrina Marican, Sabrina Marican Shoes

Boss: Sabrina Marican, 25 (@Sabrinamarican)
Shop: Instagram.com/sabrinamaricanshoes

With their ’90s-esque, dainty heels and bedazzled buckles, it’s easy to imagine Sabrina Marican shoes on the feet of Carrie Bradshaw. Handpicked and rebranded by Sabrina herself, these heels are resolutely dressy, with a satin-like finish to keep customers on their toes.

What’s unique about your shoe business?
I actually don’t design shoes but instead resell them. I receive samples and then I decide which pairs work best for me to resell and rebrand. With my brand, I only sell heels because that’s the type of shoe I love; it’s like I am selling a piece of my personal style. I’m also Indian-Muslim, so when someone from my community gets married, many of them look to my brand as there are glamourous and affordable options.

Do you find that doing event pop-ups are profitable or simply works better for brand exposure?
I find it very profitable. At event pop-ups, business owners can set up their stalls, interact with their customers and introduce their product. It is a good experience for me because I get to build a relationship with my customers and choose the best ones for them. It becomes like a personal shopping activity for them and they seem to really enjoy that 1-on-1 experience. After the pop-ups, I get to continue to build rapport through word of mouth. I am even going to Malaysia next week to expand my brand exposure.

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
I wish I knew more about the industry and had a mentor to guide me through prior.

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word.
Fulfilling.

Crystle Tan, Feed My Paws

Boss: Crystle Tan, 33 (@Feedmypaws)
Shop: Feedmypaws.com

The handmade pet food market has grown tremendously over the years with many stores coming up with more unique gourmet variations. Through it all, Feed My Paws’ central premise has remained consistent; serving up a balanced diet and seeking to provide fresh and nutritious treats for dogs, cats, and small animals.

How was the market response like in the beginning phase?
It was pretty quiet. I started in 2013 when there weren’t that many pet parents on Instagram. It was also the beginning of the “handmade pet treats” industry and it was something pet parents weren’t yet used to seeing. Back then, it was more common to purchase treats from pet stores and supermarkets. The business picked up around mid-2014.

What were the challenges of moving your online store to a physical store?
Lots of paperwork for official licensing! It was (and still is) a challenge finding good team members to join us. I am really grateful for our existing team members. It was also quite a hurdle getting customers used to the new collection timings and venue, as they could previously drop by my place any time. In terms of renovation and putting the actual store together, Clarissa (my business partner who joined me in 2018) and I had the best time!

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
As odd as it sounds, I don’t feel like the information and experience I picked up along the years would have added much value to me years ago. I would have been too overwhelmed to process any of it, and I’m glad I learned gradually along the way; all the challenges made me a better business owner.

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word.
Exciting!

Eugenia Ye-Yeo, Nodspark 

Boss: Eugenia Ye-Yeo, 33 (@Mrsytooge)
Shop: Nodspark.com

We’re no strangers to trawling Instagram for nail art inspiration: marble prints, mermaid-inspired patterns, holiday-related symbols. Fuss-free nail wraps and seriously quirky nail art designs seem to be a signature for Nodspark. One of our favourite picks? Their Pantone nail art!

What lead you to enter this nail art market?
When I chanced upon this product and realised that it wasn’t yet available in Singapore, I was determined to start my own brand. In a society where time is a valuable commodity, I saw the potential market for nail wraps for women with many hats to wear. Think: mothers with young children, working professionals, or even stay-at-home moms. A product like this fits right in as we can get our nails done up with nail art under 10 minutes.

How does your passion fuel you even when times get tough?
Knowing that there are many customers and partners who appreciate our product and support our brand. I go to work each day and focus on the positive parts of our work and business. When times get rough, we try our best to learn from our lessons quickly and move on.

What do you wish you had known before creating your brand?
That your business can be done in more ways than one, especially in today’s digital age.

Describe being an entrepreneur in one word.
Rewarding.

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