Starting a business is easy. Sustaining a business and ensuring that it thrives? Easier said than done. Which is why we are especially in awe when a person takes the plunge and rises up to the challenge.
In light of the upcoming International’s Women Day, we spotlight millennial female entrepreneurs who dared to make their dreams a reality and start their own fashion or beauty label. Learn more about the brand and design philosophy of these Singapore-founded labels and support local with their beautiful and contemporary designs and products.
Compiled by Debby Kwong, Smita DeSouza, Ho Guo Xiong
Toh Ziling: Shinji Yamasaki, who is the CEO and co-founder of Re:erth, got me intrigued about a skin-boosting plant called Japanese white turmeric grown in Kyushu, Japan. The plant had over 18 years of university-led research and had the power to renew skin’s bounce and suppleness. After trying a base formula on my hypersensitive skin, I was convinced and we launched an indie brand of our own. We wanted to shake up the skincare scene with nature-derived ingredients in transformative, surprising formulas that are scientifically-backed.
Ziling: We now serve customers in over 25 countries through our e-commerce website. And what was first seen as a skincare trend, known as “mochi-skin”, is now being identified as Re:erth’s signature benefit amongst the skin savvy.
Ziling: I think of all the women I’ve met through Re:erth and I truly want us to love everything on our vanity tables and not feel overwhelmed and bogged by inefficacious products. We hunger for simplicity and efficacy. Every product launched is a practical essential for someone who shops intentionally, appreciates quality and wants to streamline their lives. Design is not only visual, but it’s the seamless incorporation into a full lifestyle for Re:erth users, including the men who share the products too.
Chow Li Ying: I’ve been wearing bralettes all my life because I’m not one to sacrifice comfort for vanity. It started as a casual sharing of my lingerie preferences with a small group of girls on Dayre (a microblogging platform) and when I realised many didn’t know the existence of bralettes, I made it a goal to introduce comfortable lingerie to women everywhere. Many women have the misconception that you need a supermodel figure to wear bralettes. Consequently, our brand ethos was developed to provide comfy and cute intimates to women of all sizes. Size inclusivity and body positivity are huge parts of our brand and we take pride in that. Helping women feel good and gain confidence is truly the most rewarding part of the business.
Li Ying: We started out really small, as I’m pretty risk-averse. But since our conception, we’ve moved on to manufacturing our own designs and we even have a retail store now. I take pride in being original—we try to bring something new to the table with every launch. And I think we’re really doing that now. Compared to the beginning where we used to stock bralettes that were designed by others, now we mostly only sell designs of our own.
Li Ying: I think my gender has nothing to do with the business, even though there’s this stereotype that only women can sell lingerie to other women. Fun fact, my husband used to run the business with me for almost two years and he’s pretty good at coming up with certain design elements as well.
But being a woman makes it easier, of course. I understand first-hand what a comfortable bra feels like so I’m able to recreate the parts that work and throw out those that don’t.
Tay Yu Hui: When I was younger, I discovered the cruel exploitation of animals that had been farmed for their fur, and how their pelt was used to make the makeup brushes I had seen beauty YouTubers use. When I turned 21, I began to research ways to start my own cruelty-free label and a year later started 13rushes to provide quality yet affordable synthetic makeup brushes. I hope the brand convinces people to make a lifestyle change and opt for cruelty-free brushes.
Yu Hui: When I first started 13rushes, the focus was to create cruelty-free brushes for the everyday consumer. Our product range has since become more comprehensive and the designs have been re-invented to fit the needs of our professional users as well. We also had the chance to collaborate with big brands and celebrity makeup artists and had our 13rushes x Gudetama collection.
Apart from just product design, what started as a pet project of mine gradually became an indie local beauty brand that many makeup lovers can identify with. 13rushes now also supplies to beauty academies and I really appreciate the help and support I’ve received from this industry.
Yu Hui: Makeup is not only about science and techniques. A big part of the beauty industry also revolves around creating an experience for the user. Purchasing a particular makeup product is surprisingly a highly emotional decision. If I’m allowed to generalise, women tend to be better at emotional empathy than men and have a better ability to sense what the beauty users want. I’m guessing that, as a woman, it is natural for me to think beyond just the technicalities of the product and create a brand with an emotional appeal to my users.
Sarah Lai: I started Playhood as a service to provide custom hand-painted designs on denim jackets. We still do that but we focus more on ready-to-wear now. One reason why I had decided to mix floral illustrations with streetwear was due to me being fed up with the lack of cool floral prints and clothing in the market. I felt most were either too girly or tacky and I wanted something more unique and less gender-specific.
When I was a student, I was taught that fashion and art do not mix together and that idea never sat well with me. Hence I decided, in quite a rebellious spirit, to combine both and actually create a wearable work of art on my denim jacket thus bringing together my love for vintage denim and botanical floral illustrations.
Sarah: It has grown in the variety of designs we have and in the number of regular customers and fans. We now offer a wider range of clothing and accessories to reach our expanding customers across South East Asia, as we have stockists in Singapore and Indonesia.
We have grown on social media too. I’m very grateful to all our followers and customers who are very kind to always post about what they bought and it’s always nice to meet my regulars in person at pop-ups as they have become my friends.
Sarah: It definitely shapes the way I see what my customers want and it gives me a better understanding of what my female customers want to wear. It’s so easy to think, oh I want to design feminine and girly clothes. But as a modern female, [I know] women these days want to have the freedom to wear comfortable clothing that is less gendered. It’s that thought that made me want to design clothing that is both floral as well as streetwear in shape and style so both men and women can wear our designs.
Alicia Tsi: I learnt that the fashion industry had a negative impact on the environment and wanted to shop more consciously. As there weren’t many options locally, I was inspired to create a fashion label that approached the fashion supply chain in a more sustainable and ethical way.
Alicia: Our community has become more conscious in their fashion choices, I get more customers asking where their garments are made and what they are made of. A lot of them have become more interested in the social and environmental issues surrounding the fashion industry and have taken a more proactive approach i.e., adopting a capsule wardrobe or finding out how they can better care for their garments.
I think the response has been more encouraging than I’ve expected so I’m really heartened. I’m really excited to know that Esse is part of a movement that’s redefining the industry. Ultimately, I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see the pieces on my customers, and watch them develop a relationship with each garment over time.
Kate Low: Seven years ago, I always found the departmental store didn’t provide solutions for me as I’m a AA cup. Every time I went for a fitting, they’d tell me I’m a 34A or 34B, and there’ll be gapes in my bra. I’d been in the corporate world for 10 years by then and I thought, why not experiment with something different. I like lingerie, so why not? See if I can help other ladies who face the same problems that I have.
Kate: Manufacturing wasn’t an option then as I couldn’t afford the minimum order quantities and I didn’t know how to design lingerie. So I started bringing in brands and that was a good way for me to learn what worked well, what fit well and get inspiration for our own in-house collection. I’m glad I had those three years, and without that, I would never have discovered this concept of the padded bralettes.
Now we’ve expanded the collection to include underwear, camisoles, bodysuits and different bralettes. In the middle of last year, we launched a push-up bralette which replicates the cut of an underwire bra and comes with push-up pads, and it’s been a hit with customers. Last year, we have a physical multi-label store at Telok Ayer and launched a strapless bra. With the lingerie studio, we’re able to do fittings with customers who want to customise a style based on their measurements to help you achieve the perfect fit.
Kate: I always recommend a lady to have a good wired T-shirt bra, a bralette for everyday wear and strapless bra. As a woman, my customers are more comfortable sharing their problems and seeing how they look in their lingerie when they try styles in the store. I understand the pains women experience shopping for lingerie, that’s one reason why I don’t want to limit myself to padded bralettes.
Silvia Teh: I always wanted to have my own fashion label since I was 14. I learned how to sew and do patterns around that age, did research and slowly planned my way to become a designer. But I would say that the real kick for me to start my label was after winning Harper’s BAZAAR NewGen competition.
Silvia: It has evolved to a more mature and poised look comparatively to when I first started it. Mainly because I started my label when I was very young, at the age of 22 and I was still trying to find my voice. As I grew up, I experienced and interpreted things differently which effectively changed the way I design clothes. The state of my label now is as exactly as what I envisioned, even after going through phases of style changes because the main idea is still the same: the brand represents allows for self-expression.
Silvia: I always think about how the woman is going to sit, walk, and most importantly how she is going to feel wearing my clothes. I think women suffer more emotional ups and downs because we are emotional creatures. Therefore, I design with the mindset that these clothes will feel like an armor to them, once put on, they feel confident, comfortable and have a sense of security that they can fight whatever comes their way.
Roseanne Tang: I noticed my students at my personal make-up school Bloom by Roseanne—where I teach personal make-up lessons and classes to everyday people who want to learn make-up but have difficulty doing so from online tutorials—were also confused when it came to brush sets and make-up brushes in general. The brush sets out there were often too large or too small, often replicating the same shape. They were also expensive to purchase, or affordable but repetitive and low quality. I needed to create a brush set that would be all they needed—just four brushes for the eyes, and four brushes for the face. It’s called our Ultimate Kit. That’s all you need to create any look and it made learning make-up a lot easier for them. The brushes also pair well with the make-up lessons they learn at Bloom by Roseanne.
Roseanne: I never knew I’d have people using my brushes not only in Singapore, but in countries like Canada, Australia, and the United States. It’s a blessing just enough to know that what I’ve created has become part of their everyday routine.
Roseanne: I understand how busy a woman can get, balancing everything in their daily lives. I’ve designed products for the everyday woman, bristles that collect and transfer make-up faster due to their waved but soft bristles and making sure there’s only what’s necessary in the kits and trios so they don’t get confused. It totally affects how I create my products.
Lynsey Lim: I first started out making skin care products out of interest and for personal use. This was mainly driven by the consciousness of what goes on my skin and wariness of the ingredients that go into mass market products. I could not find a brand that was truly 100 per cent natural and it drove me to create my own products. This expanded to small scale production for sharing with friends and family. Eventually, I left my banking job to start Handmade Heroes in hopes of turning this passion project into a trusted natural skincare brand.
Lynsey: When I first started Handmade Heroes in 2015, I would spend every weekend selling my products at pop-up markets to get the brand out there and the weekdays were spent making the products in a 50 square foot office. The efforts paid off as we were noticed and approached by Isetan to retail with them. Fast forward to 2019, our products are shipped all over the world and our lip scrub is the best-selling lip scrub on Amazon in the United States. We also moved our production from the cramped 50 square foot space to a 5000 square foot facility.
Lynsey: Being a woman makes me more in tune and real with the products I create. There are no false ideals attached to the products. The products are born out of my own needs and expectations, for example, the Drop Dead Gorgeous Dry Shampoo is a personal must-have and was created so I could skip a few hair washes and still get away with looking fresh. I am always the first test subject, if they do not meet my standards, they do not meet the market. Our product range evolves and grows with me as I experience both womanhood and the whirlwinds of motherhood (my little one turns one month in a couple of days!).
Xenia Wong: It began with my love of makeup and I found myself obsessed with the flawless beauty I saw gracing the pages of fashion magazines and lighting up the silver screen. It was only after I’d enrolled into a celebrity makeup course in Seoul, Korea, that I learnt that makeup looks best when you start with good skin. I have highly sensitive skin and get sun-kissed easily, which makes it a difficult process finding the appropriate, effective skincare for myself. As it turns out from speaking with my friends, this is actually a very common issue for a lot of women out there. With that in mind, I set out to create products that are effective, fun and easy to incorporate into everyone’s current skincare routine.
Xenia: As a homegrown brand that strives to understand the needs of the woman today, we have been lucky and grateful to have the support of our family, friends, media and importantly, our customers. They are our biggest cheerleaders and our toughest critics and they took time out to write us emails or drop us messages expressing their support and love for Sigi Skin. This outpouring of support spurs me on further, and we definitely have a long way to go and have so much more to achieve.
Xenia: Being a modern working woman of today, I empathise and know that most of us are time-strapped and prefer skincare to be less time consuming and effective. The “Skipcare” trend where young Korean women are eschew multiple skincare steps in favour of minimalist yet effective skincare routine was also on my mind while creating Sigi Skin. Hence, our Sigi Skin products have dual functions. The Sigi Skin Morning Glow is sufficient as both a moisturiser and sunscreen; the Sigi Skin Kaleanser works as a make-up remover when applied on dry skin, and as a face-wash when used with water, while the Sigi Skin Pink Nectar is both an eye serum and is as nourishing for a lip balm.
And they all help to achieve optimal results with minimum time spent. After all, the women of today wear many hats and have so much to accomplish every single day! In addition, we have designed and created additional packaging to ensure that our products are travel-friendly. In this way, Sigi Skin can be brought on a plane to help ensure that dry skin stays hydrated and protected, especially for the busy women who are always on the road!