It’s 3.05pm. The tele-interview is due to start and she comes on. “I’m free… all yours now,” she enthuses, her voice genuine. That voice is Kim Lim’s, the 29-year-old daughter of self-made Singapore billionaire Peter Lim.
Part influencer, style icon and socialite, Kim has been acclimating to a new schedule that includes meeting clients as well as keeping appointments with her doctors and staff.
And, she’s candid about her old self: the carefree 20-something Kim. “Fun,” she says of being an influencer, “but it won’t last… there’ll always be younger, newer faces… it didn’t give me the fulfilment I have now.”
Indeed, a lot has changed for Kim personally in the past year. And she has rewritten her own narrative – a brand new path she carved out for herself. A day in the life of Kim is either spent overseeing matters at Papilla Hair at Ngee Ann City, a centre specialising in hair-loss and hair-thinning solutions, or Illumia Therapeutics, a 4,000 sq ft aesthetics clinic at Wheelock Place. Both opened earlier this year and make up her latest foray into the beauty business.
“I’ve always been interested in beauty and what it can do to women, how it can help women feel great about themselves, inside and outside,” Kim shares. “I wanted to expand that interest into something sustainable. It’s not something that I started on impulse.”
Kim, a mother of a three-year-old boy, spent six months discussing the ideas with her friend and business partner, Elizabeth Leong, 42, whom she met two years ago, before taking another half a year to execute everything.
“It was a long, thought-out process setting up the business,” recalls Kim, who’s also ambassador for the brands. “I was involved from the design, concept, well, just about everything, including testing treatments on myself first.” Kim concedes that the beauty business is highly competitive. Her first task was to evaluate the crowded landscape.
“I’ve researched and reviewed aesthetic treatments all over South-east Asia (SEA), as well as worked with our doctors on the treatments,” she says. “We’ve combined different techniques. For example, we have a unique Hybrid2 Face Design Protocol that gives our customers a three-dimensional look when they come in for fillers or faceshaping treatments.”
While Kim is familiar with beauty treatments, being an avid user herself, the process has also been a learning experience for her. “Elizabeth inspires me and she has the appropriate skill sets for the business,” she says. “She knows the industry and I learn a lot from her every day.”
Discussing the intricacies of the businesses, Kim speaks fervently about the treatments, ideas, and strategies. When the brands have established a strong foundation in Singapore (opening at a few more locations), she wants to expand in SEA. “That’s the goal… building something that I can call my own,” she adds, without revealing the investment sum of her businesses. She doesn’t rule out the possibility of tapping on her overseas network for the expansion.
“I spend more time at work every day now than being at home,” she admits, adding that she’s hands-on with the day-today running of her business. “I talk to my staff and clients for feedback, and explore new ideas.”
Kim comes into her own as an entrepreneur – a trait she candidly says “could’ve been in me all this while because of my father”. And she’s a clear-headed boss. “No work politics,” she asserts.
“I’d call myself a friend-boss,” says Kim who handpicked her team. “My staff and I… we’re like family. We get so hyped up as a team when we meet our targets. That energy… I’ve never felt anything like that before. I motivate and support them, and that also translates to Illumia’s concept of empowering women.”
She adds that she wants to “lead by example”. Still, being Kim Lim sometimes makes it all the harder for some to realise that she’s more than meets the eye. “Some think I sit around all day doing nothing. It’s quite the opposite,” quips Kim, an alumni of Singapore Chinese Girl School (primary), Anglo Chinese School (Independent), and Hwa Chong International School. She also attended all-girl boarding school Queenswood in Hertfordshire when she was 12.
As the world grapples with the spread of Covid-19, the pandemic put a halt to her newly-opened businesses, at least temporarily. “It affected me in many ways. I was concerned about my staff, how they were coping during the Circuit Breaker… their well-being, we called to check on one another frequently,” she recalls. “I had sleepless nights thinking about the businesses. We didn’t have much cash reserves, as we are a new company. We did not lay off any staff and continued to pay their basic pay.”
During the two-month closure, Papilla Haircare’s e-store was launched on www.papillahaircare.com. Illumia also offers a 30-minute online consultation with its experts at $35, via Zoom, Skype and Facetime on www.illumiatherapeutics.com.
But what was hurting Illumia’s business was the short shelf life of the costly Botox and fillers, plus overheads like rentals and instalments for the machines.
Kim, the elder of two siblings, adds: “People think that I can simply ask my dad for money, but our relationship isn’t like that. I don’t get lifelines from him because that’s how he taught me as a kid. I have to do this on my own.”
Keeping it real
Although she’s every bit the celebrity heiress, one with more than a quarter million followers on Instagram (@kimlimhl), Kim waltzes into the studio for the photoshoot without an army of minders. She chats animatedly with Her World’s creative director Windy Aulia, showing him the two machines – Venus Legacy for skin tightening and ONDA Coolwaves for fat busting.
Their conversation draws out another side of her – the do-gooder. “I was sad when I read the news about how Covid-19 affected people, how our healthcare and frontline workers are toiling so hard,” she tells Windy.
For more than 15 years, Kim has been volunteering with different organisations to distribute food hampers and other essentials every few months. A supporter of the Animal Lovers League charity, she also participates in Operation Red Shirts charity, which donates food and essentials to needy seniors.
In February, she secured some 1,000 hand sanitisers from Illumia’s suppliers and gathered her staff and friends to pack the hand sanitisers with wet wipes, Dettol soap bottles, and a pamphlet with information on the coronavirus and hygiene tips. They distributed the care packages to the elderly living in Telok Blangah, Redhill and Jalan Besar.
In April, they delivered lunch and bubble tea to the medical staff at Singapore General Hospital, and desserts to Ng Teng Fong hospital. The next month, they sent home-baked goodies to the National Dental Centre, and ice cream to the medical personnel stationed at the dormitories.
Kim also was part of the We Will Rise Again campaign. She was commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board to be part of the video series, where Singaporeans tell their stories of how they’ve helped others during the pandemic.
“I was really touched by how a simple gesture to show that we care can affect people positively,” she says. “Some asked me why I put myself at risk being at the hospitals. Well, if healthcare workers put themselves out there every day, I don’t see why I can’t step out (wearing a mask and practising safe distancing) to show my appreciation.”
These days, Kim is in a good place. “I’ve grown up in some ways, I’m really happier now,” she says. “A lot of petty things don’t matter to me. I’d rather put that energy into my work and get things done.”
While she speaks candidly about her life choices, she remains private about her family. Kim looks up to one woman: her godmother, who is also her father’s “right-hand woman”.
“I admire her tenacity and willingness to help others,” Kim says, with a sense of respect. “She’s been taking care of me since I was a kid, so I guess I’ve picked up good habits from her.” Kim’s sense of empathy extends to her attitude towards other women.
“I like to uplift women,” she says. “We’re allowed to make choices for ourselves, as women.” The mefirst mentality, she adds, isn’t a selfish concept. Through her conversations she has had with women, she feels that many don’t spend enough time to take care of their well-being.
“A lot of my clients tell me they’re thinking of having more kids because their husbands want them to, but they’re worried about the postpartum weight gain and health issues,” she shares. “I tell them to start thinking for themselves and their welfare. Because you should always care for yourself first. Otherwise, you won’t be happy.”
Photography Wee Khim, assisted by Chong
Creative Direction Windy Aulia, assisted by Sean Tham
Hair David Gan
Makeup Shaun Lee, using Nars
This story was first published in Her World’s August 2020 issue.