WHO Elvina Cheong, founder
Yoga studios are a dime a dozen in Singapore, but that is not stopping Elvina Cheong, 27, from opening one. In fact, since July 2016, she has opened two branches of Freedom Yoga, the first at Cecil Street, and a second at Holland Village.
“I felt opening my own yoga studio would be the best way to spread what I believe in and my love for yoga,” says Cheong, who only picked up yoga seriously in 2015. That year, she took on yoga from a healing perspective after recovering from a shoulder surgery. She did her yoga training in Singapore.
“Yoga has helped me to become the best version of myself and I think that it is something that everyone should experience.,” she says. “Spreading the good vibes through teaching a class and interacting with my students is great, but being able to create something from scratch and to see it come to life is amazing.”
She says that Freedom Yoga differs from other studios as she tries to cultivate a community culture, among its members. For example, its Cecil Street studio has a lounge area where students can gather before or after class. At Holland Village, the studio is next to an acai bowl store, which Freedom Yoga has partnered with to offer discounts for students.
“I want a space for like-minded individuals, with the same intentions and beliefs to come together beyond the studio,” says Cheong.
The communications degree graduate opened her Cecil Street studio even before her graduation ceremony. Despite having no previous full-time working experience, Cheong took the plunge into becoming an entrepreneur. She declined to reveal how much she invested in starting Freedom Yoga.
“Being a young entrepreneur and the new kid on the block, it was hard for people to take me seriously,” she says. She received unsolicited advice, such as how she should only hire pretty girls as teachers and to work at the front desk to have a certain brand image.
“I took whatever advice that I felt was applicable. Some people think that Freedom Yoga would not succeed because of my age, but one of my mantras in life – show, not tell – really kept me going,” she says.
Before anyone thinks running two yoga studios is a all fun and games, Cheong says otherwise. Besides teaching five classes a week, she works the frontdesk, ferries towels between the two studios, and personally cleans the studios, on top of working on the branding, planning of classes and marketing and events.
But she isn’t complaining. “When students share how you have made a change in their lives, whether big or small, that is the most valuable thing about having Freedom Yoga. It gives me reassurance that the hard work and sweat are worth it,” she says.
WHO Jaslyn Koh, Founder
As an investment banker, Jaslyn Koh, did much socialising and networking, and about the only heavy lifting she did was with a cocktail glass. Now, in her new life, Koh, 29, is more likely to be making new friends and business contacts in her activewear, with a water bottle in her hand.
Together with two other partners who still keep their day jobs, the trio started Broccoli & Dumbbells, a social wellbeing startup that connects busy professionals and active travellers over healthy pursuits.
The idea came to Koh, when she left her banking job last year to travel the world. She cliff jumped in Mallorca, went volcano hiking in the Aeolian Islands of Sicily, and hunted for mushrooms in Finland.
“As I was travelling on my own at times, I realised how the most meaningful and productive social connections were often developed as a result of encouraging one another to finish an uphill climb despite the scorching sun, or enjoying that smoothie together after a tough workout,” she says.
She was drawn to fellow travellers and locals who like her, shared a common interest for fitness, adventure, wellbeing and experiences.
“However, the often tedious and dreary task of finding out where to go for good wholesome food or fitness classes when travelling left much to be desired,” she says.
Enter Broccoli & Dumbbells, symbols of healthy eats and fitness. The website offers several features, one of which is Find Your SweatBuddy. The free service is based on an in-house algorithm to match individuals based on criteria such as location, age, fitness, networking and lifestyle preferences. Since its launch in September, the website has matched about 200 pairs of buddies.
“It is easier to stay on the fitness bandwagon or to try out a new workout together, when you have a buddy,” says Koh.
She is confident that people will not mind networking while sweaty and sticky. “Finding a common ground that isn’t work related and getting through that workout or challenge together helps people form a real connection,” she says.
Besides finding a sweat buddy, users can also sign up for wellbeing experiences on the website. Koh works with fitness studios and eateries to create experiences that involve healthy dining, and working out, for a fee.
Broccoli & Dumbbells is targeted at both locals and travellers. For example, tapping the Discover Near You button, will reveal a list of healthy eats and fitness studios near the user. “Only quality businesses that have been tried and tested are included,” says Koh.
Corporate travellers who are in back-to-back meetings all day, can book a wellbeing experience to get their body moving. “We are working with a few hotel brands to integrate Broccoli & Dumbbells into their offerings,” adds Koh.
For travellers who are staying for a longer duration, Koh suggests using the website to find a sweat buddy, discover healthy options and work out like a local.
“We want our customers who are essentially busy individuals to make the most of their time while taking care of their social life and wellbeing,” she says.
WHO Wendee Lee, co-founder of Biconi
Wendee Lee has luscious black hair and clear skin. It’s the look of a carefully-coiffed beauty fanatic, but the 35-year-old insists she doesn’t care much about the latest fashion, nor is she crazy about makeup. Reading history books and planning her next hiking trip are what count as her idea of a good time.
Yet the former advertising executive has spun a money-making business out of Biconi, a range of skin and hair-care products, which she started with her mum, Blan. The products, which include shampoo bars, a skin cleanser bar, facial serum and pure oils are sold online, as well as in shops in Singapore and Malaysia.
Biconi is a fusion of words with the BI honouring Blan, CO for coconut and NI for noni. Coconut and noni are the main ingredients used in their products.
“Biconi goes against the grain. Instead of advertising, we focus on getting the products into our customers’ hands so that they can see the product effectiveness and generate word of mouth.”
– Wendee Lee
Lee and her mother started out making a small batch of soap blended with their homemade noni enzyme to help her father with his chemotherapy treatments. “The noni enzyme helped ward off Dad’s skin infections and hair loss,” says Lee. Sharing their surplus of soap bars with friends and families, they were soon getting calls for more.
Fuelled by demand, Lee realised the potential of Biconi. She quit her advertising job, took soap-making classes, and also obtained an Advanced Diploma in Organic Cosmetic Science, from Formula Botanica, a leading UK online school specialising in natural cosmetics.
The family have their own noni plantation, with over a thousand trees, about an hour’s drive outside of Kuala Lumpur.
Apart from the initial investment in the noni farm, they have invested about S$100,000 in the business. Biconi’s soaps and hair care products are made in Malaysia, while the oil-based products, such as the facial serum and baby massage oil are made in small batches by Lee in Singapore.
Lee’s journey as a beauty entrepreneur hasn’t been an easy one. She used to depend on manufacturers to produce Biconi’s products, but was never sure if the ingredients were genuinely natural or safe. But armed with her diploma, she is now able to formulate Biconi products while ensuring that no harsh chemicals are used.
Then there was also the need to get the word out. “Starting a new business in this hyper competitive industry is an uphill struggle, especially in Asia, where conglomerate beauty brands can afford to pay top dollar for maximum exposure,” she says. “Biconi goes against the grain. Instead of advertising, we focus on getting the products into our customers’ hands” so that they can experience the product’s effectiveness and generate interest through word of mouth.
Another problem she faced – the Singaporean consumer’s perception that imported goods are of superior quality over local brands.
“We challenge such assumptions by focusing on the benefits of our star ingredients, namely noni and virgin coconut oil; using local ingredients that have a long proven history and ensuring that our products are manufactured using high quality ingredients without any harsh chemicals,” says Lee.
Next up for Lee – new product development, and getting Biconi stocked in more stores across Singapore and Malaysia. She will also be shuttling between Beijing and Singapore as her husband is moving to the Chinese capital for work. “I definitely want to set up Biconi in China,” she says.
WHO Dawn Sim, founder
Even as a child, Dawn Sim knew the value of health and wellness. Growing up, she played basketball with her father, and joined his cycling trips to Malaysia. When her grandparents found themselves in and out of hospitals because of cancer and mobility issues, the fact that quality of life depends on overall wellness was deeply ingrained into her.
“I fully understood how being fit and healthy is important in letting us do the activities that we enjoy,” says Sim, 37.
She held corporate marketing jobs but also found time to teach yoga, which she has been doing for the last 16 years.
In 2016, she decided to start her own studio, Trium Fitness, with encouragement and support from her students. The studio offers a variety of yoga classes, such as aerial and Hatha yoga.
“Negative health issues are becoming more rampant, and more people are seeking help with improving their level of wellness.”
– Dawn Sim
Sim says while her love for teaching and making a positive difference in others has grown stronger over the years, having her own studio allowed her to build a community that can help to benefit others.
For example, Trium Fitness has collected pre-loved clothes from members to donate to needy children in Batam; raised funds to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore (MDAS); given free classes to the caregivers of the beneficiaries from MDAS, and taught the beneficiaries breathing exercises and simple movements. “It is in growing a tight knit and closer community that makes these initiatives possible and successful,” says Sim.
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On top of teaching classes and doing charity work, Sim manages to still find time to be with her four daughters. Her husband works overseas.
“Time management and multi-tasking are two skills I greatly depend on in order to do what I do,” she says. Wellness is constantly on her mind.
Wellness, she says, is a lucrative business, especially now, when people are leading more sedentary lives and there is easy access to processed foods and other conveniences. “Negative health issues are becoming more rampant, and more people are seeking help to improve their level of wellness,” she says.
Sim has also noticed that it is not just the young who are coming through the Trium Fitness doors. She has a steady stream of seniors coming in looking to improve their mobility and quality of life.
“Without wellness, our quality of life is negatively affected,” she says. Besides spreading the wellness message through Trium Fitness, Sim also shares her fitness activities on social media. She is a firm believer that being a role model is more powerful than just telling people what they should do.
“I hope to inspire others by sharing my personal experience of eating healthy, running endurance races, and also give wellness talks to organisations,” she says. “The key message I try to put across is personal responsibility.”
Story first appeared on The Business Times.
HEADER PHOTO TRIUM FITNESS