Photo: The Straits Times
When planning their future, most Singaporeans are thought to aim for the same ideals – good jobs, steady pay cheques and risk-free careers.
After all, even though working for a corporation might not always be the most fulfilling path, the promise of cash coming in every month is often motivation enough to keep one going. But these days, it seems that more people are less averse to taking risks and want more – a role that offers fulfilment. These are the sorts who are willing to juggle busy workloads or give up lucrative pay to pursue entrepreneurship dreams.
There have been early successful examples, such as former lawyer Priscilla Shunmugam, who changed careers to start Singapore-based contemporary womenswear label Ong Shunmugam in 2010.
More seem to be following in her footsteps.
According to a 2016 global survey by website host company GoDaddy, fuelled by the ease of technology and a desire for independence, 74 per cent of the 500 millennials surveyed in Singapore plan to create their own business or be self-employed in a decade, far exceeding the 50 per cent figure for millennials globally.
Entrepreneurship is never easy – more so if one’s professional career has little to do with the industry one is looking to venture into. For older professionals, there is also much to lose when deciding to dive into a new venture.
The founders behind three local businesses tell The Straits Times why it has been worth it to pursue their passion for fashion.
Finding meaning in motivational jewellery
A challenging environment at work – think daily deadlines and long hours – sparked the idea for The Mindful Company, a local firm that makes jewellery etched with motivational messages.
Its co-founders Lim Wen Ling, a former tax adviser, and Ciara Yeo, a former corporate lawyer, felt that simple jewellery pieces with such messages could serve as meaningful reminders to stay positive throughout the day.
The friends, who met six years ago, are both permanent residents who moved from Australia to Singapore to work. They now live here with their Singaporean husbands.
“At the time, our offices were in Raffles Place, so we would meet regularly to run in the evening,” says Ms Yeo, 31. “It was during this time, while bonding over our busy work environments, that we came up with the idea of our first product, the reminder cuff.”
The duo felt that a thin stainless-steel cuff, which could be glanced at while typing at a computer, would serve as encouragement for the wearer during a long day.
“We did not set out to leave our jobs or be entrepreneurs in any way – we don’t have any form of a fashion background at all,” says Ms Lim, 33, who is expecting her second child. “It was just a small side project… a fun thing to do outside of our jobs.”
Calculated move to leave well-paying jobs
Their first batch of 20 bracelets – which they designed and manufactured overseas – sold out fast by word of mouth, thanks to the support of friends and family, who not only bought the pieces, but also advertised them on social media.
The uplifting messages and affordable $48 price point meant that people who saw them wearing the pieces or saw the items on social media wanted to buy them for friends as well.
The organic growth led to the creation of a company, which resulted in Ms Lim and Ms Yeo setting up a website and spending their time after work packing orders and making runs to the post office.
By August 2015, with sales ranging in the thousands, Ms Yeo decided to leave her job to focus on The Mindful Company full time. Ms Lim, who was pregnant at the time, followed suit six months later.
The two say their decision to leave their well-paying and stable jobs was a calculated move. “Our backgrounds meant looking at a profit-and-loss statement was not foreign to us,” says Ms Yeo.
Still, there were teething problems. The duo recall cold sourcing for vendors, being unsatisfied with samples and pushing back launch dates as they were unhappy with the quality of their product.
They focused on tweaking theircuffs for a year before introducing their next product, reminder braids – braided bracelets featuring an engraved message – at end-2016.
Today, the brand has grown to a team of nine, has more than 55,000 followers on Instagram and has shipped orders to over 50 countries. The duo have expanded their line-up to include rings, earrings and tote bags. Items are priced between $39 and $120. Since 2016, the brand has also been stocked at Tangs department stores and yoga shop Touch The Toes in Singapore, as well as in multi-label boutiques in Australia, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.
The duo also frequently collaborate with non-profit organisations, such as the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH). Their newest collaboration, a collection of totes designed by SAMH’s YouthReach project – a programme for children and youth with emotional or psychological issues – will launch this week, with $10 from the sale of each tote going to SAMH.
For Ms Yeo and Ms Lim, seeing how far they have come continues to be a source of pride. “We’ve built a company with a mission that we believe in and have loyal customers who give us feedback,” Ms Yeo says. “That fuels our passion to keep doing the best we can.”
This article was first published at The Straits Times.