From filmmakers and artists to sportswomen and designers, there’s no shortage of amazing women in Singapore. And this International Women’s month, we’re highlighting these women who have not stopped representing Singapore with their talent and contributions.
Jasmine Sokko, 24, electronic music singer-songwriter and producer
You know the face, well not entirely, but you definitely know her trademark masks and tunes like “1057”, “Hurt”, “Tired” and “Shh”. Far from a one hit wonder, Sokko’s chart-topping hits have helped her win fourth place in Chinese electronic music competition Rave Now and also the Best Southeast Asia Act at the 2019 MTV EMA.
Known for her sweet vocals and catchy riffs, Sokko’s unconventional stage persona adds layers to her allure. Often dressed in head-to-toe black outfits with stylish disguises – from visors, fans to elaborate masks – the killer combination only serves to enhance her enigmatic looks.
But what we love best is her dedication to the music she decribes as “inspired by human connection”. Using music tech like the Roli Seaboards – a musical keyboard-style MIDI controller that allows one to play more expressively than on a standard piano or synth keyboard – her determination to create something new is admirable.
In a press statement following her 2019 MTV EMA award, she said: “I always believe that it’s important to challenge the status quo. Just because nobody has done something before, doesn’t mean it’s not possible. The past year has made me foresee a future in the Singapore music scene that I want to be a part of building.”Just because nobody has done something before, doesn’t mean it’s not possible
” Just because nobody has done something before, doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”– Jasmine Sokko
Soph O, visual artist
If Soph O’s colourful works look familiar, it’s because you’ve seen them at music festivals like Neon Lights, decorating the alley ways of Kampong Glam or recently working with some 3M Post-Its at the Aliwal Arts Centre.
The New Zealand-trained visual artists’ work strikes a cord all around the world. Her colorful creations – sometimes just with spraypaint, other times employing materials like silicon and chain link, acrylics on plywood – have adored spaces in New Delhi, Ireland and Spain, not just with pops of colour but always with a humanising comment on popular culture.
“When I make art, I try to highlight small details that require the audience to touch, hear, and interact with the piece. That’s the thing I want to bring back. Said O in a recent interview with Time Out Singapore. And going by earlier works like “Unintentional Islander” that focused on her fascination with island psyche and fluidity of migranting and immigrating communities, she’ll be making impactful statements through her art for a long time to come.
Annabelle Kwok, 26, CEO NeuralBay
This young techopreneur needs little introduction. Her World’s 2019 Young Woman Achiever has amassed a number of accolades – CEO of an AI start-up, leading workshops to help the Obama Foundation design its future Leaders programme in the Asia-Pacific – and is not short on making good on a kick-ass bucket list: she’s a dedicated vipassana practitioner, holds a blackbelt in taekwondo, plays various instruments and has dabbled in circus performing as well.
While one can attribute some of her success to being young, female and involved in artificial intelligence, Kwok is the real deal. She speaks about technology and A.I. with a humanist passion inspired to “give non-techie people technology”.
A key project – aside from work done for Changi Airport and Ferrero Rocher – is NeuralBay Marketplace, an online A.I. software platform for SMEs to help them fast-track and deploy a tailored A.I. solution for their business.
“Tech has a very great impact – there’s a lot of potential to affect lives and businesses. It’s the reason Neuralbay was created to make technology accessible.”
Olivia Lee, 34, Industrial designer
Her World Young Woman Achiever 2018 _ This time last week, I had the distinct honour of becoming the first industrial designer to receive the title of Her World Young Woman Achiever 2018. The award recognises ‘the achievements of women who are inspirational role models to other women’. . When I received the award, the Her World team asked me how I felt. I told them: . ”Ever since I was little, I yearned to translate my curiosity and diverse interests into a meaningful career. Receiving this award is incredibly validating and will spur me to continue doing good work. I hope my story inspires other little girls and aspiring creatives everywhere to make their own game and play by their own rules. Hold on to your passions, as obscure and unconventional as they are. Use it to bring value to others. Boldly invent the job you want to do and live by your own definitions of success.” _ #OLIVIALEEstudio #OLIVIALEE #olivialeedesign #industrialdesign #multidisciplinary #youngwomanachiever2018 #youngwomanachiever #herworld #herworldsingapore # ♀️
Her World’s 2018 Young Woman Achiever award winner’s sleek designs haven’t just caught our attention but more importantly, the world’s design big wigs as one of the eight most promising designers at the Salone del Mobile Milano furniture exhibition in Italy.
Its Lee’s touch of marrying form, function and style in products like the Sceptres (part of her whimsical, 10-piece Athena Collection), a set of interchangeable vanity table accessories (a mirror, smartphone holders and a “glorifier”) geared to fulfill all our selfie dreams that shows her prowess as a designer of our times.
What we love best about Lee though is her gentle yet firm approach towards breaking gender norms and stereotypes encouraging aspiring female industrial designers toward “speaking a little louder to make sure you are heard and you can’t be unapologetic or too considerate to the point that you get sidelined.”
Vanessa Paranjothy, 31, co-founder Freedom Cups
Any individual who makes a woman’s monthly cycle a more dignified affair gets our vote.
Enter Freedom Cups, co-founded by 30-year-old Vanessa Paranjothy and her sisters Rebecca and Joanne, a social start-up selling reusable silicon menstrual cups with a “Buy-1, Give-1” model, where every retail purchase gifts a Freedom Cup to a woman from an underprivileged community. Beyond its social impact, each cup lasts up to 10 years and is leak-free for 10-12 hours, and according to them, eradicates almost 5,000 disposable sanitary products in the same time span.
Started in 2015, over 3,000 bell-shaped cups has since been distributed in countries as far Nigeria, India and Nepal. Additionally, they’ve also generated awareness on menstrual health issues to over 5,000 women around South-East Asia. And get this, because they know one size doesn’t fit all, they’ve designed the cups to be slightly smaller than international standards and offer sizes to fit women both pre and post childbirth.
Oon Shu An, 33, Actress
This familiar face (@oonshuan) needs little introduction. Whether you’re a loyal subscriber of her Tried and Tested YouTube videos on Clicknetwork, or binged watched Netflix’s Marco Polo where she played Jing Fei (we loved her sword dance), this local talent has, well, a talent, for lighting up the screen.
Recently, she chalked up another accolade as the only Singaporean actress to be nominated at the inaugural Asian Academy Creative Awards (AAAs) playing Frances Lee in How To Be a Good Girl by HooQ, a role that deals with the very timely question of checking one’s privilege. But perhaps what we love most about Oon stems back a number of years to her one-woman play #UnicornMoment by Checkpoint Theatre – which she also wrote – a refreshing and honest exploration of finding happiness and meaning admist the ever-changing standards of society, elevating her to be so much more than just another pretty face.
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Amanda Lee Koe, 31, Writer
July 2019 was when Amanda Lee Koe dropped her much-anticipated debut novel Delayed Rays of a Star.
Set in cities like Berlin, Paris and Los Angeles, it follows the lives of three actresses across the 20th century, in a “viseral depiction of womanhood” according to Penguin Random House.
Hailed abroad as bold, new literary voice, we’ve been privileged to have a preview of her literary genius, thanks to Ministry of Moral Panic (2013), a collection of short stories about Singapore and Singaporeans in a familiar yet highly original voice, which netted her the Singapore Literary Prize in 2014. We’re glad the world is finally waking up to her blinding talent.
Yip Pin Xiu, 28, Paralympian Swimmer and Gold Medallist
I came in to the Asian Para Games not expecting to medal (in the past two editions, I’ve never medalled because I swam in a combined class event). My goal every Asian Para Games is to do my best and race against my own timings. So this time, to still swim in a combined class event and to go home with 1 Gold and 2 Bronzes is beyond my expectations. (I was really in total disbelief!!!) I am so thankful for my dedicated coaches and support staff that have helped us, and for everyone who supported us. ❤️ Now, time for a break. : Dyan Tjhia/SportSG
To say that Yip Pin Xiu is a force to be reckoned with is putting it lightly. Not only is this 27-year-old a multiple Paralympian medallist (she won Singapore’s first gold medal at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 at 16 years old and has since won two other golds and a silver medal), she’s also Singapore’s youngest Nominated Member of Parliament and Her World’s Young Woman Achiever in 2008.
Born with muscular dystrophy, while she’s been in a wheelchair since the age of 11 years old, she’s turned her disability into a strength, shifting focus to backstroke from freestyle as her pet event when she could no longer kick – not that this has stopped her from making waves in the pool for both disciplines.
At the 2018 Asian Para Games, she brought home three medals, a Gold (50m backstroke) and two Bronze medals (50m and 100 m freestyle). Medals aside, her optimistic outlook though is what’s truly inspiring. In a recent interview with the Straits Times, she summed up her disability beautifully: “In the water, I can still walk.”
Cynthia Chua, 48, CEO Spa Esprit Group
Singaporean women (and men) have a lot to thank Cynthia Chua for: well-groomed brows (Browhaus), professionally waxed nether regions (Strip), knot-free shoulders (Spa Espirt and Qi Mantra), kick starting the third wave coffee scene (40 Hands and Common Man Coffee Roasters), delicious gluten-free dining (The Butcher’s Wife), and now luxury skincare for a female’s precious privates (TWO L(I)PS).
It’s clear, this #girlboss is and always will be way ahead of the trends. Not satisfied with just a Singapore-based empire, the 15 brands under the Spa Esprit Group extends to over 70+ retail outlets in cities like London, Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York, and she’s not looking to stop anytime soon. We look forward to her next fun, innovative concept such as this safari-themed cafe.
Janice Wong, 37, chef and owner 2amdessert bar
While we’ve coined Janice Wong, a Her World Young Woman Achiever 2011/2012, a “modern day Willy Wonka”, her work is far from just fantastical with no substance.
The talented pastry chef has made a name for turning out whimsical, interactive dessert creations, going so far as to hold a two-month edible art exhibit in Nagasaki, Japan and being part of The Met’s “Feast of Versailles with Yotam Ottolenghi” that brought together the world’s best pastry chefs, including famed pastry chef Dominique Ansel.
The pint-size two-time winner of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef shows no signs of slowing down. In 2017, she opened a 2,800 sq ft dessert restaurant in Macau’s MGM Cotai Resort, she also has a dessert café in Tokyo, and most recently set up a standalone concession stand at Harrod’s where she introduced her quirky Janice Wong’s Crayon Box to the world.
Priscilla Shunmugam, 39, Ong Shunmugam
Season after season, this 2015 Her World Young Woman Achiever continues to impress us with her endless interpretations of modern Asian dress.
With a focus on luxe traditional fabrics like batik and brocade in unique eye-catching combinations, the artisianal hand-sewn element to her pieces have made the brand much beloved, both at home and abroad.
Recently, it saw some serious red-carpet action, thanks to actress Janice Koh and Tan Kheng Hua who chose to wear an Ong Shunmugam creation for the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians and to the SAG Awards respectively. Not that the brand needs much help, it’s been carried by the likes of Colette and Net-A-Porter, and has entered the Hong Kong market, with plans to involve a partner studio in East London.
Kirsten Tan, 38, filmmaker
Not many debut feature films earn an invitation to represent one’s home country at the Oscars, or debuts (and wins an award) at the Sundance Film Festival. Therein lies the compelling narrative of Kristen Tan’s debut feature Pop Aye about a down-and-out architect and his elephant friend.
Recipient of Her World’s Young Woman Achiever 2017, the prolific Tan built up over a decade of work before achieving global success with Pop Aye. In 2006, she won multiple prizes at film festivals in China, Austraia and the Czech Republic for her short 10 Minutes Later, made while she was still a film student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. We look forward to her next feature film.
Deborah Emmanuel, 31, Performance artist and poet
Going to prison for a year didn’t stop this performance artist and poet’s artistic journey, it only made her stronger. Her experience spawned her novel Rebel Rites (2016), a powerful account of her year spent in the Singapore prison system.
She’s also written When I Giggle in My Sleep (2015) a collection of written and spoken word poems, has spoken at TedX four times, been involved with numerous projects including making music with Mantravine and Wobology, and recently staged her second one-woman show Alien Flower In Fundamentalist Fields using poetry, film art and dramatic dialogue, at the World’s Travel Story-Fest 2018 in Sydney.
Ashley Yeo, 29, Artist
Being the first in anything can be a double-edge sword. For artist Ashley Yeo, her selection as the first Singaporean finalist for the Loewe Craft Prize 2018 is an accolade that’s long overdue. Shortlisted from 1,900 submissions from over 86 countries, her delicate and intricate pieces are well known to craft connoisseurs.
Petit palm-sized creations that take weeks to accomplish, they’re crafted out of paper and fashioned using a small scalpel blade. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, something this local artist has in spades.
Sandi Tan, 47, Filmmaker
Some stories are so incredible you can’t make it up.
For Shirkers, winner of the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, the storyline of its 26-year disappearance, spliced with original 1992 footage starring Tan as a 16-year-old serial killer named “S”, mashed with interviews with many of the original crew, resulted in Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com raving that “Tan presents her multifaceted life story—vibrant, unbelievable, and full of such incredible women—as a dazzling tapestry that’s unlike many narrative or documentary films.”
For Tan, now that the drama surrounding Shirkers has been put to rest, we look forward to her next creative work, hopefully sooner than later.
Ethel Hoon, 29, Chef
The Singapore-born former sous chef of Faviken has long been on our radar.
Part of the exclusive Northern-Sweden 16-seater restaurant since 2015, she’s since been integral to the restaurant’s innovative farm-to-table concept that’s made it a hit with global foodies.
In 2017, Hoon helmed Faviken’s summer pop-up themed Hoon’s Chinese, serving Chinese family-style cuisine with locally-sourced ingredients like salted egg king crab and steam mutton dumplings. The pop-up has since turned into Hoon’s full-time, albeit, wandering gig, traveling to cities like Berlin (where it sold out) and served, you guessed it, chicken rice alongside dishes like salted egg buns and steamed dumplings.
Ai-Ling Lee, 40, Sound Editor
Her name may not be immediately familiar but her work certainly is. If you’ve loved the immersive aural world created by Hollywood blockbusters like La La Land (2016) and First Man (2018), you’ve inadvertedly loved the work of Singaporean Ai-Ling Lee who picked up a total of four Oscar nominations for her work on both films.
The first Asian woman to be nominated in the category of Best Sound Mixing, an industry traditionally dominated by male engineers, Lee has been working in Los Angeles since 1998, chalking up credits on movies like Spider-Man 2 (2004), Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011), The Maze Runner (2014), amongst others.
Angelene Chan, 55, CEO of DP Architects
Her World’s Woman of the Year winner 2017 has literally broken through the glass ceiling during her career of over two decades. The only woman heading up one of the five main architectural firms in Singapore, her work has transformed many city scapes, both locally and globally. Key projects include Suntec City – incidentally her first project for DP Architects – the re-design of Orchard Road landmark Wisma Atria twice, once in 2004 and again in 2012 into its current modern structure.
She’s also been behind the construction of 1,000 retail strong Dubai Ball and Sunray Woodcraft Construction Headquarters in Sungei Kadut, which won the Presidents Design Award Design of the Year in 2015, her second time picking up the prestigious accolade. In 2018, Chan also became the first female to be awarded as the Designer of the Year by the President’s Design Awards.