Interview with Lisa Chong, Founder of Stillen Maternity
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career background?
Growing up, I have loved doodling on my toy, a whiteboard with a backlight which allowed me to trace the outline of the outfit from a stack of models in different fashion wear. I would mix and match them and accessorized them to my liking. Some relatives thought I would make a great salesperson someday because of my outgoing personality. Having a career in finance for the past decade or so was a rather different outcome than they would have imagined for me, even myself. I pursued a Business degree in Marketing major well into my second year, before adding on a second major in Finance. The banking industry was at its peak when I joined, and I have seen the Great Financial Crisis from the fall of Lehman Brothers along with the slew of changes in the financial regulations. It was all very exhilarating, but I suppose in some ways you can't fight nature. It seems I have come full circle back to rediscover and connect with my creative side.
Tell us about your business?
Stillen Maternity started as an apparel line designed for moms and moms-to-be in the corporate sectors. I saw a gap for the moms who needed to dress professionally while pregnant and pumping in the office but have difficulty finding these styles in the market. But more than just this, my long term vision is for Stillen to be a source of support for these working moms to ease into motherhood and breastfeeding as gently as possible and getting them to be aware of the importance of self-care and how they can achieve that even as they care for their little ones and family. Hence with the opportunity provided by Covid, we have also introduced other products like Milkymumma Lactation and Hydration drinks and Silverette Silver Nursing cups that supported this vision.
Despite being barely a year into the business when Covid hit Singapore, I am thankful for the growth I have seen in the business as we pivoted and the various opportunities that have come up to partner with various platforms to create more exposure for Stillen. It's also very exciting for us that we have also launched our latest Stella Nursing Bra this year which is made from micro-modal fabric, is seamless and wireless. Being micro-modal it is environmentally friendly and brings superior comfort with its softness. We hope to bring premium products to the consumers and are always looking for constructive feedback as to how we can make Stillen a better brand for all the moms out there.
What inspired you to start your business?
It was on a recovery journey from a postnatal depression, where a part-time sewing course sparked a renewed interest in fashion. One of the modules involved conceptualizing a fashion label and that's where I began to work on closing the gap I saw in professional-looking maternity fashion. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding journey for me was steep learning curves and maturing experiences. Those experiences have left a deep impression on me and I wanted to give back to the mom's community from what I have learned. That pushed me to start Stillen Maternity.
Stillen provided me with a great starting point to do so as I realized there was a gap for stylish maternity workwear in the corporate sector. Stillen is also my platform to reach out to more moms to raise awareness on the importance of self-care for mental health and hopefully flatten the steep learning curve that comes with motherhood as we share tips and information within the community.
Tell us about your family?
Well, we have 2 boys, 8 and 5, and my husband and I are both very hands-on with our kids even though we have a helper. And boys being boys, the kids are very active so I am glad they have each other to play with as work can be quite intensive for my day job. It seems both have matured a lot over the past year as my elder moved onto primary 2 and the younger into K1 so I am treasuring the last babyish days of my younger son.
What do you find the most rewarding about being a Mumpreneur?
Watching Stillen grow to me is much like watching how a baby grows and progresses. It brings great satisfaction when you see your baby achieving his milestones, like when Stillen was first launched after months of laboring, having our first pop-up to being featured in Expat Living and CNA Lifestyle. It gives me a sense of pride when I see how far we have come, and we tried to celebrate the little wins as well as the big wins. I also get to put my ideas into actuality and seeing ladies on the street wearing our clothing is such a great feeling!
How do you manage running your business and family life? Is there any hints and tips you can offer?
Time blocking is what I do to balance my work, business, and family. In the day, I am focused on my finance job but mealtimes are important for me and my family so we will make it a point to always have dinner together. We do set aside 30mins daily or so to spend some family time together, watching tv and playing card games, etc. Then once the boys are in bed, I will get started on Stillen's work.
Pretty much like filling a jar with rocks, stones, and pebbles. The way to fit them all in is if you put the most important or biggest items first working them in order of priority, ie the rocks then stones, and pebbles. In this case, my family and church are the bigger rocks, followed by work and time for myself as stones, then the miscellaneous that comes my way as pebbles.
A supportive spouse and family are very important. My husband helps me with logistics and transports sometimes and I get the boys in to help me as well with simple tasks. They would help me with sticking the labels, counting stocks, etc and they seemed to like that. I guess it's good training grounds for the boys so they see and understand why I am busy and they are helping to alleviate my workload.
What is the biggest business challenge you encountered in your business and how did you overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge thus far was Covid and business took a huge dip as people were working from home and fashion was probably not at the top of people's minds then. I began to relook into the vision of Stillen, which was to help moms transit with ease into motherhood and breastfeeding and also to share about the importance of self-care and mental wellness. Hence we began to look into more products that would help moms do just that and so we brought on Milkymumma's superfood for lactation and overall health improvement and Silverette the silver nursing cups to soothe the sore nipples that most, if not all moms struggle within the early days of breastfeeding.
What three bits of advice would you give to a mum wanting to start her own business?
- Drill down to the real reason why you want to start this business, this will help you push on when the going gets tough.
- Know what is your bottom line.
- Start sharing your journey as you start this business via a blog, social media so people who are interested in what you are doing can stay updated with your progress! Everyone loves to know the story behind the brand.
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