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Unlikely Female Entrepreneurs Inspiring Inclusion for Other Women

This International Women's Day, learn about these five women who have changed their career trajectory to become female entrepreneurs, and how they're helping inspire inclusion for other women.
Learn about these female entrepreneurs' journeys as they pivoted from successful careers to setup their own businesses and platforms. Image credit: Karolina Grabowska
By Kimberly
March 8, 2024

Four unlikely female entrepreneurs – those who had successful careers and then pivoted to becoming entrepreneurs – share their journey and how to inspire inclusion for the women they work with, both in Singapore and beyond. Learn more about their journeys to commemorate International Women’s Day.

APRIPURE Cosmetics Founder and CEO Angeline Goh

Angeline Goh, founder of APRIPURE Cosmetics
Founding APRIPURE Cosmetics

After years of successfully managing various brands for other companies for more than 30 years, such as LVMH (Givenchy), Chanel, History of Whoo and SU:M37, Angeline Goh says, “I desire ownership of a brand”. She adds, “I found myself captivated by the Hunza Valley, renowned as the Valley of Longevity. Having read the book Hunza the Himalayan Shangri-La, where the Hunzakut people all lived to more than 100 years old, her fascination inspired her to integrate Hunza Apricot Oil into APRIPURE Cosmetics, aspiring to unveil the Hunza’s hidden secret to the world.

Benefits of Apricot Oil

Since apricot oil contains a potent blend of vitamins A,C, E, K and Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), these help reverse aging. Other benefits include repairing damaged skin cells, boosting skin luminosity and regenerating the skin’s natural collagen, as well as having excellent antioxidant properties. Targeting women 25 and over, she believes that this demographic is always on the lookout for new brands with something to say, and a rich heritage.

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APRIPURE Cosmetics Brand Awareness

Through strategically using social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and collaborating with influencers, APRIPURE Cosmetics has achieved significant brand awareness. Additionally, they also won two prestigious awards from Vanity Fair. APRIPURE Cosmetics has also been launched with SHILLA Duty Free at Changi Airport Terminals 2 and 4, and an upcoming launch in Terminal 1. Upcoming plans include launching APRIPURE Cosmetics with a major retailer this year.

Giving Back to the Hunzakut People
Hunza Valley, home to the Hunzakut people, all who live to 100 years old.

APRIPURE Cosmetics also believes in the power of nature, since they harnessed the Hunza Valley’s secrets to create a skincare range for users to achieve naturally radiant and resilient skin. They are committed to sourcing their precious Hunza apricots from responsible sources, to honour the Hunzakut culture and preserve the world’s natural resources for future generations. They are also working on ways to give back to the Hunzakut people. For instance, they allocate a percentage of their sales proceeds to supporting the local women to cultivate additional apricot trees, increase apricot harvest and expand their capacity to export apricots. Angeline says, “This initiative is designed to uplift their economic prospects and enhance their livelihoods.”

A percentage of their sales proceeds go back to the Hunzakut women to cultivate additional apricot trees, increase the harvest and expand their capacity to export apricots.

She advises female entrepreneurs to “believe in your dreams and embrace the courage to pursue them without hesitation. Embrace the journey of small and humble beginnings, as they often pave the path to remarkable success.”

Jacqueline Koay, Founder of Gratefood

Jacqueline Koay, founder of Gratefood Co.
Empowering Other Women Through Her Experience

In the Gratefood Co. team, all three are women, with female interns from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. She constantly shares with them about her career path, from her first employment to flying for Singapore Airlines as cabin crew, followed by seeking opportunities and starting her business while having a full-time job.

Starting A Hobby Business

For instance, she tasted the best-selling Trader Joes’ Speculoos Cookie Butter on her travels in the USA, and took a leap of faith to import it into Singapore under Poppy & Co in 2014, now rebranded to Gratefood Co, to be grateful for great food. After tirelessly knocking on the doors of bakeries, ice cream and milkshake companies, this industry newbie introduced them to the flavour. Together with her creation of Speculoos Cookie Butter ice cream, chocolate and cake retailing in Istetan supermarket, NTUC Finest and the now-defunct Naiise, this kickstarted the Speculoos Cookie Butter trend in Singapore, a key flavour in most bakes now.

Wellness Industry - Organic Açaí and PRIME Sports Drink
She created and sold the immensely popular Halloween acai smoothie bowls, which were picked up by bloggers and turned a loss-making business into a profitable one. Image credit: Gratefood

Next, she focused on the wellness market, anticipating that Singaporeans would start demanding healthier options. First, she distributed organic açaí which she discovered during her travels in Brazil, a business that boomed even through COVID. In 2021, she quit flying to focus on her business and motherhood. During this time she turned a loss-making cafe business into a profitable one in just two months by creating and selling Singapore’s first smoothie art bowl. Currently, through her trading company she has also started distributing PRIME, a sports drink developed by YouTuber and wrestler Logan Paul and KSI. The drink is formulated with electrolytes, vitamins and amino acids for quicker muscle recovery. 

The Adaptogen Movement in Singapore

Having discovered adaptogens from Whole Foods in the USA in 2018, she was determined to distribute that next. Currently, she intends to launch a new conscious, functional food and beverage movement in Singapore, by adding the liquid adaptogens that she developed. Jacqueline would like to have adaptogens as a staple category in coffeehouses, cafes and restaurants, while consumers can purchase convenient liquid adaptogen pumps to supplement in their coffee, juices, bakes and tea.

Advice for Female Entrepreneurs

With her interns, who are small business owners themselves, Jacqueline also helps them through their intended career choices or entrepreneurial path. She also shares life lessons like every journey having its lessons and takeaways. Additionally, she advises, “always be resourceful and ask for help and advice. Humans are innately helpful. But you have to be a self starter and driven to better your business in the first place.”

Prioritising Time with Her Daughter
In her spare time, the avid traveller also enjoys travelling with her 3 year old daughter. Image credit: Jacqueline Koay

In her spare time, she enjoys travelling and spending time with her three-year-old daughter. One important life skill she has imparted to her daughter is how to overcome problems on her own. Rather than throwing tantrums or crying, her daughter will ask her for help. Jacqueline says, “I want her to know that when she’s exhausted her resources, help will always be around as long as she knows how to ask for it (guidance and advice included).” 

 

Currently, her well-travelled daughter has already been to Osaka, Danang, Melbourne, Busan and Hokkaido – these travels are part of Jacqueline’s memories of her daughter’s growing up years. Her daughter also expresses her love for travelling, sitting on aeroplanes and going snowboarding. Hence, Jacqueline believes that “travelling and experiencing things beyond Singapore is in her core memory.”

 

While in Singapore, she drops and picks her daughter from school, have dinner together, and Jacqueline tucks her daughter into bed before continuing with her work. She also spends Sundays with her parents and daughter. While she often feels torn about choosing between networking, travelling, learning and staying home with her daughter, she says, “I know this time will pass and so, more often than not, I choose this girl.”

Challenges being a Female Entrepreneur

Jacqueline says, “Being a Singaporean is a blessing for we are brought up with meritocracy. Starting and running a business here is simple and fair as well and I have not had any discrimination locally.” Overseas, when speaking to men in managerial positions, most take her lightly until they realise that she knows what she’s talking about. She also attributes this to factors like her age and experience.

Santhi and Sari Tunas, founders of Binary Style

Sari (left) and Santhi Tunas, founders of Binary Style

Viewing themselves essentially as storytellers, twins Santhi and Sari Tunas decided to change their platform to showcase their creativity. They shared, “It is not a discontinuation but an extension of our creativity and an expression of our passion for nature and architecture, as you can see in many of these two elements in our works.”

Their Lives Before Binary Style

Working together in art was something they had always envisioned, but the idea was placed on the backburner after they obtained their degrees. Santhi became a practising architect working on several hospitality projects and lived in Bali for a while. Meanwhile, Sari was a junior lecturer in an architecture school in Indonesia. Later, they pursued further studies in Belgium, and Santhi met her future husband, a fellow Indonesian student there. After he found a job as a university lecturer in Singapore, Santhi joined him in Singapore as well. 

 

At this time, Sari lived in Barcelona, Denhaag and Delft to pursue her PhD and work, and came to Singapore after securing a job in a think-thank group under NUS. When she was in-between jobs, she started making a series of artworks based on her life here. Some prominent features in her artwork included Singapore’s forested areas and nature parks. After showing her twin the artwork, they remembered their long-delayed dream, and turned the artworks into scarves.

About Binary Style
Binary Style's Jangala collection, inspired by Singapore's forests and their dwellers.

Having started Binary Style at 42 years old, marking a second chapter in their lives, they feel that starting it itself was an achievement. They share, “We have proven to ourselves and others that it is never too late to start something new, while learning so many new things through trial and error) and be successful in doing so.”

 

The lifestyle brand specialises in conversational prints, showcasing the intersection of architecture and nature with an unmistakably tropical hint. Starting in 2015, Singapore’s Jubilee Celebration, the initial collection of square scarves inspired by the nation’s unique history and diverse cultural mix. As such, the scarves depicted heritage districts, cultural diversity, local anecdotes and nature. This immensely popular line showcases the brand’s signature bold colours and unique prints.

Brand Collaborations
One of Binary Style's latest collaborations is with Embrace Jewellery, with drop earrings, bracelets and matching silk scarf. Image credit: Binary Style

Additionally, Binary Style has also collaborated with the private and public sectors in Singapore, creating various prints, not just on fabric but also other mediums. Some highlights include designing a scarf for Singapore Airlines’ 75th anniversary, and a collection of scarves for the National Heritage Board. Other brands they have worked with include Epson, Lenovo and Andaz by Hyatt. Currently, they have around 200 designs under its belt, and Binary Style has the largest scarf and print designs collection in Singapore.

Championing Women

Binary Style also partners with a small-sized, women-led silk factory in Suzhou to produce their scarves. The silk capital of China, Suzhou has been producing silk for more than 4,000 years. Over the course of working with the ladies in Suzhou, Binary Style acknowledges that “many women, especially those with families, feel limited by domestic responsibilities. As a brand, we aim to break these barriers by offering flexible working hours.” For female entrepreneurs, they advise, “Step out of your comfort zone. New heights are reached by embracing new surroundings and facing fears.” Santhi adds, “Female entrepreneurs often undersell themselves and hesitate to discuss achievements. We need to change this mindset to be our own champions. Self-belief starts from within.

Susannah Jaffer, Founder of ZERRIN

Susannah Jaffer at ZERRIN pop up store
Shifting from Fast Fashion to Independent Designers
Showcasing the various brands under ZERRIN's platform, which are all independent, conscious and sustainable.

Previously a fashion editor, Susannah says, “I found myself immersed in industry events and the whirlwind of seasonal collections”. She was deeply entrenched in the allure of mainstream brands like Topshop, Zara and ASOS, having moved from the UK to Singapore in 2012. By 2016, however, she says, “a sense of dissonance began to creep in. I became increasingly aware of the disposable nature of fast fashion and gradually shifted my support towards independent designers, drawn to their unique stories and commitment to transparency.” At the same time, exploring the narratives behind local brands opened her eyes to the broader implications of the fashion industry, from its environmental footprint to the need for greater inclusivity.


Hence, Susannah responded to the challenges that she observed within the industry, including overconsumption, lack of diversity and a saturation of homogeneous designs. She created a platform, ZERRIN, to “create a platform that inspired people to have a healthier, more meaningful relationship with fashion”, she says. Additionally, this platform should also celebrate individuality and ethical consumption.

Greatest Accomplishments for ZERRIN

Susannah shares that they have helped more than 60 brands increase sales and brand awareness since 2018. Indeed, Susannah says, “We’re continually told that despite our size, we’ve performed better for brands than stockists/partners that are much larger and well-funded.” In addition, the conversations that they’ve had with customers about how their work at ZERRIN have reframed their thinking about consumption. Hence, the customers became more conscious about how and why they shop.

Supporting and Inspiring Inclusion for Women
Dorsu pays their largely female-led team in Cambodia living wages that exceed the minimum by 30 per cent. Image credit: Dorsu

Through ZERRIN, Susannah aspires to “move the needle on creating a more sustainable, equitable retail industry, by increasing the global GDP of the independent brand economy.” Additionally, the majority of these brands are female-founded and/or owned by women. Even better, many of the brands they work with, Susannah adds, “directly impact the lives of female garment workers in rural communities or developing economies.” 

One such example is their partner Dorsu, which Susannah says, “pays their largely women-led production teams in Cambodia living wages which exceed the national minimum by 30 per cent.”

Championing Female Entrepreneurs and Challenges She's Faced

For female entrepreneurs starting out, she advises doing your research, making a plan and going for it. Next, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help and support, and take rejection in your stride. Often, a ‘no’ can just mean a ‘not right now’. Finally, she says that everyone will have an opinion, but you have to follow your gut instinct, and will set you on the right path. 

On challenges, she feels that access to funding is a challenge, as there’s a huge gender funding gap. Women-led startups receive less than 3 per cent of VC investment. Also, she’s faced stereotyping about her capability or how much responsibility she can handle, both in her past career and business. She adds that sometimes these comments can get to you and cause you to doubt yourself. 

Relevant Reads: International Women’s Day: Prolific Women and Activities