From The Straits Times    |

Sometimes, the best career guidance comes from those closest to us. In this three-part series for Mother’s Day, we follow three business owners who followed in their mum’s footsteps when it came to their careers. Whether its working side-by-side with mum or learning from her wisdom, there’s no denying that their mothers have made a powerful impact on their lives.

Growing up, Ashley Yong had always been intrigued by the beauty industry. The 30-year-old vividly recalls a memory when she was 12: Her mother, Jo, former general manager for Estee Lauder and Tom Ford Beauty at Estee Lauder Companies, was organising a beauty makeover event held at Takashimaya. Seeing the women who left the event brimming with confidence inspired her.

“I realised that having the ability to help others feel empowered was inspiring and positive – which was exactly what my mum was doing. It was that moment on that I looked up to her as someone I wanted to be when I grew up,” she says.

Not giving up her dream

Ashley spent summer internships with her mother, shadowing her at work and accompanying her to events. In 2019, she took the plunge to launch Two Halves, a vegan-friendly and cruelty-free skincare brand designed for sensitive skin.

She had already harboured the desire to launch her own beauty brand since her university days, but was initially dissuaded by her parents who were wary of the competitive beauty industry, as well as the challenges that came with being an entrepreneur. After university, she pursued a career as a wealth manager at a local bank.

But her ambition and desire to work in the beauty industry never went away, and thus she left after a year to pursue her dream. Over a period of three months, she drew up a business plan, and relentlessly refined and tweaked it after each feedback session with her mum. “It came to a point whereby I thought it was a perfect piece of work,” Jo recalls with a fond smile. “It was then that I realised she was genuinely serious about her idea, and that was when I relented and gave her my blessing.”

Jo and Ashley Yong of Two Halves

Bridging the gap

Jo provided capital for Ashley by matching her investment. Today, she’s an adviser to Two Halves as well as a freelance consultant to other small medium enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore. Having worked in the industry for more than 25 years, Jo is a sounding board for Ashley, especially when it comes to forecasting trends or business insights. Ashley runs the business and operations, while her husband handles the financial side of the business.

With differing personalities and communication styles (“My mum is more excitable and direct with her words, while I’m more calm and non-confrontational,” says Ashley), it’s understandable that there may be some conflicts from time to time. But Ashley finds that their disagreements have helped them understand each other better and see new perspectives.

“[My mother] will always share her stance [with me], and we’ll just try to look at things objectively, knowing that it’s not personal. To be honest, I think my mother has learnt how to deal with me ever since I was a teenager,” Ashley says with a laugh.

[My mother] will always share her stance [with me], and we’ll just try to look at things objectively, knowing that it’s not personal.

Ashley Yong

This comfort with each other is one of the main reasons why the young entrepreneur enjoys working with her mother. “Since I was young, she has always been very willing to hear my thoughts. I think the fact that my mum has never used the ‘I’m your mother, listen to me’ line means a lot to me. She often ends a [business] conversation with me by saying that she’ll leave it to me to make the ultimate decision,” she shares.

An example, highlights Ashley, is her choice to enter the conscious skincare market with a vegan brand. Jo was initially hesitant about limiting the brand to a niche market, but Ashley stuck to her guns. “I explained to her that as a small brand, I’m unable to compete with the big [beauty] brands in terms of R&D or formulation, but what I can do is to be transparent and honest as a brand. And so we really enforce the idea of transparency [with Two Halves], where we are honest with whatever we are putting out, and whatever ingredients we’re using,” she says.

Two Halves is a vegan-friendly skincare brand designed for sensitive skin

Growing together

The idea for the skincare brand was inspired by her husband, who had sensitive skin and rosacea, a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes blushing or flushing and visible blood vessels in one’s face. He was seeking a no-frills product that he could use without reactivity, but was unable to find a suitable product in the market then.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons why Jo was surprised when she found out that Ashley coined the brand’s name, Two Halves, to represent her and her mother. She had initially thought that it represented Ashley and her husband.

“It portrays me and my mother coming together,” affirms Ashley, who shares that the name also represents balance. “For me, great skin is a balance between skincare and self-care. And so the name Two Halves reflects the idea of a balance between everything.”

Reflecting on their journey together thus far, Jo shares that she has learnt a lot from her daughter: “You know, I have never seen this part of her – now I can see first-hand how she is able to position the brand in her way,” she shares with pride. “The business is young and still has a long way to go, but I think she has matured a lot over the years. If I compare her then [when she first presented the business idea] and now, she now comes across as someone who is confident; she knows what she’s doing – she understands the business, the market and the trends. She has taught me a lot through this business journey together.”

She has taught me a lot through this business journey together.

Jo Yong

For Ashley, some of the most valuable lessons she has learnt from her mother include the spirit of independence. “She threw me into the deep end so I could learn to survive on my own,” she says with a laugh. “She doesn’t hand me the answers [freely], but this way, she ensures that I really learn on my own.” And as she looks to expand the business with the possibility of a new skincare line for different skin types, she feels grateful to have her mother by her side through it all.

Photography PHYLLICIA WANG
Art Direction ADELINE ENG & RAY TICSAY
Hair AUNG APICHAI, USING KEVIN MURPHY
Makeup LASELLE LEE, USING TOM FORD BEAUTY & AUNG APICHAI, USING GUCCI BEAUTY