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The Originators Series: Joanne Lin-Teo of OETEO

By Dolores Au
February 27, 2019

Mummyfique’s latest column, The Originators Series, is a bi-weekly tribute to women-led innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.  We handpick the brands, personalities, inventions, businesses and services that not only delight and surprise with their unique propositions, but also contribute positively to the areas of motherhood and parenting. We uncover the below-the-radar female thinkers, doers and brave hearts who walked the talk, and took that step to making a difference with their spark of genius.

The first Originator to make the cut is home-grown kids’ apparel brand, Oeteo (Ee-Teh-Yoh), the brainchild and passion project of 37-year-old mother of four, Joanne Lin-Teo.  She is equally as comfortable managing the busy school-and-play schedules of her 4 children – 3 girls aged 9, 8, 5 years old and a 4 year old boy – as much as the work demands of her other baby, Oeteo.

Launched in 2017, Oeteo’s claim to fame is its zipperless, no-snaps baby rompers – Easyo. Awaiting patent for its revolutionary design, the brand is quietly making its way into the must-have list of new mums and on the shelves of major retailers in Singapore.

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1. You chose to be a stay-home mum when the kids came along. Why the decision to eb a working mum, especially since your children are still young?

I started staying home full time when my gynaecologist instructed me to be on bed rest during the first trimester of my pregnancy. So I left my previous job as an interest rates swap broker, leaving the finance industry and only joined my husband’s family business in garment manufacturing after my first child was born.

The good thing about being in a family-based business is that it affords me the flexibility of working from home so I can still be close to the children.   After so many years of taking it easy at work, with most of my focus on the children, I felt the time was ripe to pick up the pace a little after number 4 came along. I wasn’t a new mum by then, and I had a great support system in place, so when the opportunity presented itself to start Oeteo, I grabbed it.

2. How was Oeteo conceived?

In one random occasion, my husband suddenly commented that there should be an easier way to dress wriggling babies in their onesies. This sparked an exciting discussion between us where we realised that a simple, innovative onesie design can truly ease a caregiver’s load when dressing babies.

Months of brainstorming and trials on prototypes with fellow colleagues from parent company, Teo Garments ensued.  It helped that I could also test the prototype on my 4th baby then who was the perfect age for the trials.

3. What do you find most rewarding and most difficult about being a mum and an entrepreneur at the same time?

The most rewarding moments of being a mum includes seeing your little ones’ happy faces, charging towards you after a long day at work or from a work trip. The shows of affection that they give, the little cards that they make and the kisses that they shower upon you – absolutely priceless.

The difficult moments are many too, such as when your little ones are unwell, and you have to attend a business related event or an event setup for a road show, which has happened a couple of times. It’s heart-breaking when the younger ones cry just when you are about to leave the house. Its tough trying to focus on work then, knowing the how much you are missed by the kids at home. 

But some of these difficult moments do get mitigated by knowing that what I do will help improve the lives of baby caregivers and ease their load.  And the sense of pride when I see babies wearing an Oeteo outfit in public or on social media is irreplaceable.

4. What’s a typical day like with work and kids?

A typical day involves a lot of driving, starting with chauffeuring all 4 to their respective schools in the morning before heading to work. Work in the office can be unpredictable, and can get quite intense but it’s always exciting working with our team or external parties. Time in office is limited as by mid-day, I have to pick up my primary school girls and spend time with them on schoolwork or bringing them for enrichment classes or sports. 

By late afternoon, it’s off to pick up the younger ones from pre-school and prep them back for dinner with the family.  Dinner time with the family is the best part of the day for me. After precious time bonding with the kids, recounting their days in school, reading to them and tucking them in bed, I then check my emails and finish off what I need to for work before hitting the bed.

5. What was the one resource you’ve found to be extremely useful?

Family support – I cannot do what I am doing now without my supportive husband and the family I have. Especially when it comes to helping out with the kids when I’m engaged as well as grateful for life advice in general during unsure moments. 

The biggest challenge I’ve encountered at home and within the family was to balance the roles of being a mother, wife and daughter all at the same time while driving the business at this demanding stage.

6. Working mum’s guilt – one of the debilitating emotions that affects working mums at some point in their career. Have you had to deal with that and how do you manage? Any tip?

Once, I pulled myself away from 2 sick babies at home to be at an overnight set-up for Oeteo at a retail store because it was a rare branding opportunity and I did not want to leave such an important job to the rest of the team.  When I finally got home, their fever had gone up to about 40 degrees Celsius. I stayed up through the night, laden with guilt, sponging them down and managed to keep the fever under control. Thankfully, they did eventually get better, but this incident will always remain with me as a lesson in prioritising right. To leave work to others, trust the team and not compromise on my family’s wellbeing.  

As a working mum of four young children, the struggle is real; I have cried and fought hard to ensure that I have enough time for everyone and everything I’ve had to do. Many times, I stayed up till the wee hours to ensure that I have replied all my work emails, prepare for presentations and find business opportunities, all while the kids are fast asleep. When I was finally ready to turn in, I realised it’s dawn and it’s time to prepare breakfast for the children before sending them off to school.  It’s inevitable that with the toil, I have taken out my tiredness and frustration on the kids and husband.

Over time, I have learnt that the key to maintaining a balance in work-life existence is prioritising and managing expectations realistically, as no one is perfect, not even me. Alss, it’s important to accept your failings as much as your success and love yourself; love yourself so that you can love others.  

What’s your vision for Oeteo?

My vision for Oeteo is to grow it internationally; to introduce Oeteo to parents, caregivers and their little ones to our thoughtfully designed patent-pending rompers.

Well, I don’t really have a life-changing plan at this moment, but I hope we don’t stop innovating for our next generation. Comfort, quality apparel is being compromised with mass production for the past years. The retail business has been disrupted and many bigger USA brands had been badly affected. In time to come, there wouldn’t be quality products if we keep encouraging inferior production with low safety consideration in some countries.

7. What’s the one advice you would give to a mother looking to start her own business?

It is not easy finding an equilibrium between work and family life but it is possible to make that happen by consciously prioritising your focus on work when in work mode and family during family time. Always have faith in your choices and lastly, enjoy the journey together as a family.