Entrepreneur Shireena Manchharam is one busy lady. While managing her image consulting business, Sheens Image Consulting (which she launched in 2008), the mother-of-two even found time to launch a second business, House of Sheens in 2012.
Born out of her love of bags, House of Sheens is a Singapore-based luxury fashion brand that not only crafts high quality products but also supports local talent and charities as well. In this interview, she shares with us what inspires her and how she manages to balance work and family life.
Melissa Lwee-Ramsay: Perhaps you can tell me more about why you decided to start House of Sheens?
Shireen Manchharam: I started House of Sheens because I’ve always had a passion for handbags. I found a great supplier of python leather and started making small quantities of bags and selling to friends. Soon our customer base increased and now we have our own showroom in Amoy Street. I have an executive coaching and image consulting businesses and felt I needed a creative outlet. Creating and designing bags filled that role.
How do you manage to balance your work as an image consultant and House of Sheens?
I keep both businesses very separate and do them at different times of the day. Sheens Image Consulting is my serious, corporate clients, wear a suit and heels role, while House of Sheens is where I let my creativity flow. Coaching comes naturally to me but for House of Sheens, it has been a journey with lots of trial and error and learning from mistakes.
I understand that House of Sheens tries to support young talent through its initiatives. Can you share with us some examples of how you’ve done so and why you think it’s important to do so?
I believe that my businesses have to have a component of working with young people. To me it’s extremely personal — I wasn’t always confident and didn’t believe in my abilities. Looking back, there were certain mentors and opportunities that I really believe helped me get to where I am today. So if I can provide the same opportunities to students to help them their goals, that is something that’s extremely satisfying for me.
For House of Sheens, we work with MDIS School of Fashion & Design to provide competitions and programmes where students can design products for us. We then bring their designs to life. We also teach them how to be effective communicators and marketeers.
At Sheens Image Consulting, we coach students at universities in Singapore and Hong Kong. We help them work on skills to ace interviews, realise their potential and grow as individuals.
A percentage of proceeds from the sale of House of Sheens’ new Larian Collection will go to the Malala Fund, what made you decide to do this and why?
A percentage of proceeds from our limited edition Larian Collection (launching 19 October 2016) will go to the Malala Fund. It is a collection of sling bags for girls, and sling backpacks for boys. They were co-designed by my children, Lara and Arian, as well as two students from the MDIS School of Fashion & Design. My daughter Lara, who is six, has been inspired by Malala and her fight for education and was trying to find a way to raise money for her.
Why did you decide to get your children involved in design work?
I got my daughter involved because wanted to try her hand at designing! She accompanies me to the showroom and even helps out on photoshoots. This past Summer, I bought her a sketchbook while we were on holiday and she would draw away with such passion that I knew I had to find a way to give her the opportunity to showcase her creativity.
She co-designed a sling bag and decided on a shooting star attachment on the zipper of the bag which symbolises reaching for the stars, never giving up and conquering your dreams. My son decided on a rocket ship attachment for his bag to symbolise flying to the moon and realising your dreams. I am so proud that they got to learn about the importance of giving back and making a difference in the world through this project.
Can you please share with us the unique selling point of House of Sheens?
House of Sheens is really a collectors’ product. We hardly ever produce more than one or two pieces per colour in a style, and that really differentiates us from our competitors. Our exotic skin bags are handmade with attention to detail. Each bag is completely unique as the python skins are all different. I also believe that so many people want to buy a product with a good message behind it, and we do give a percentage of proceeds from certain collections to the UN Committee for Women and Children. Also, many bags were designed by students, and I love the fact that we are indirectly helping to promote young talent in Singapore as well.
What are some tips you can share with other mums who, like you, wish to embark on the path of entrepreneurship?
The biggest tip I would share is that if you really want to start a business, don’t wait for the perfect time, the perfect idea or the perfect start. I believe in just doing. I see so many women who put so many barriers between them and what they want to achieve. Any step you take towards your goal is a step, be it big or small. So start and you will learn along the way.
How do you maintain work-family life balance?
This can be a challenge, but I am very organised and work a lot in the evenings so I can be with my kids once they are back from school. There are, of course, moments when I have to sacrifice time with my kids for work, and vice versa. Being okay with this and not feeling guilty helps. Also, I have a very supportive husband and help at home which makes it easier on me too.
House of Sheens will be launching their new Younique Collection on 19 October. Watch this space for more news on the collection.