At PrestigeOnline, we celebrate people who are bold in spearheading movements, particularly women who effect change by being true to themselves and sticking to their principles. Beauty entrepreneur Lily Kew is one of them. The first word that comes to mind to describe her would be ‘real’. She’s a beauty boss who wears barely a touch of makeup, and is open about her marriage and her journey to motherhood. It’s what you’d expect from someone so gratifyingly down-to-earth.
As this is the second time we’re meeting Lily, we’re familiar with her request to have no foundation on her skin during the photo shoot. Lily’s adolescence and adulthood was fettered by acne problems, that were only resolved when she made her own natural beauty products. Today, the owner of multiple facial salons and her own skincare line has her own skin to show for results — her complexion is faultless. This, combined with her admirably toned physique and healthy diet, shaves off more than a decade of her 48 years. We speak to her about how she created Kew Organics, her unusual approach to skincare, and the women she looks up to.
Tell us about yourself and how you started Kew Organics.
I am a proud mother to a two-year-old daughter and have been in the beauty business since 2004. I love anything organic. I started an organic diet when I developed severe acne problems during my adolescent years. To treat my skin issues, I visited doctors and salons in hopes of finding a solution for my acne. Having been prescribed many harsh products and treatments that were meant to control oil and alleviate my acne, the alcohol-based and chemical ingredients threw my skin’s pH off balance, which caused my skin to develop more breakouts and became even more sensitive, dry and thin. I used layers of makeup to conceal the blemishes for well more than a decade, but no matter how thick my makeup was, it would never cover well. To make it worse, it contributed to more acne, scars, uneven skin tone, dullness and sensitivity.
I enrolled in a beauty college in search of a way to treat my skin problems. Equipped with my newfound knowledge, I formulated my own water-based organic skincare line and designed my own organic facials. That was how Kew Organics started. Through the combination of Kew Organics’ water-based skincare products and organic facials, my skin eventually healed and transformed to what it is today.
You’re adamant about not wearing foundation. Is that your secret to good skin?
There’s a saying: You are what you eat. The same applies to skin as it absorbs everything you put on it; so your skin is what it eats. The only lasting solution to clear, healthy, youthful skin is water-based skincare chock-full of clean, pure, non-GMO, vegan, certified organic ingredients. Water-based skincare helps to support and balance our skin’s pH level, while the ingredients feed our skin to generate young, healthy cells to deliver, clear, glowing complexion. Chemical-laden skincare and makeup can often severely suffocate your skin and lead to many skin problems because you are perpetually feeding chemicals to the largest organ of your body and it absorbs whatever you apply on it. Just imagine, if you smoke throughout the day, what would it do to your organs and health? Same theory, same scary truth. Ultimately, I believe in feeding my skin with the right skin food.
Your approach to your facials is a tad unusual, as you combine organic products with high-tech treatments. Tell us more.
My encounter with facials using machines started back when I was a therapist. I saw the results of using machines with effective technology. It really helped to transform skin and defy the aging process. Most importantly, they are natural alternatives to invasive, health-hazardous medi-aesthetics treatments such as the toxin Botox. High tech machines act as catalysts to stimulate and regenerate collagen, fibroblast as well as to tone and lift muscles. As an avid believer of all things organic, I believe that the long-term solution to clear, healthy, youthful, makeup-free skin lies in the goodness and efficacy of pure and clean organic skincare, which were not easily accessible at that time. Kew Organics offers the best of both worlds.
Having divorced and married the same man, and undergoing vitro fertilisation (IVF) to conceive, your personal story is rather unusual for Singapore’s context.
During my first marriage, my husband and I were very focused in our careers and did not spend time to nurture our relationship, hence the communication breakdown. We divorced after five years on friendly terms. During the years apart, we rekindled our faith and did some self-reflection. It was this period of reflection that we came to realise we did not know the true meaning of marriage; that marriage is about putting your spouse’s needs above yours; that love is selfless, sacrificial and unconditional. After being divorced for four years, we reunited in marriage. We tried for a baby the normal way, but to no avail. We decided to try IVF. To many, infertility may seem a taboo, but I realised that it is a common issue after encountering many young couples at the clinic facing the same issue, even those in their 20s! Thankfully, my IVF succeeded at the first attempt, and I want to use my experience to help others.
You’re clearly someone who thinks out of the box. How do we get more women to take a bold step into starting new initiatives?
First of all, they will have to find out what’s their passion. They have to love what they do otherwise it will be difficult to sustain. For example, my passion is in organic beauty. The drive and force of my passion led me to set up the Clarke Quay Central outlet and also launched Kew Organics skincare line during the second and third trimester of my pregnancy. Once they have a brilliant idea, or know what’s their passion, I’d advise them to do their due diligence, speak to as many entrepreneurs as possible so they can be well prepared because entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. If all goes well, then just do it. I told myself that even if the business doesn’t work out, I know I have tried and will walk away with wisdom and lessons. You never know until you try.
Also, give your business the attention it needs. Many entrepreneurs still hold on to their side jobs while starting a business. To me, I believe that if you don’t give your business 100 percent, your you can’t get back 100 percent from your business.
Tell us about some of the women you look up to.
My mother is my role model. Even though she was illiterate, she was and still is very resourceful. She’d tune in to the radio everyday to gain knowledge and information. The wet market is also her information counter. She also taught me about negotiation skills at the wet market. To help with the family income, she juggled so many jobs at the same time – babysitting my neighbours’ kids, cleaning house for my neighbours and kitchen helper at the hotel. She taught me so much about independence, maximising every minute, and stretching every dollar. She never takes no for an answer. I will be using some of her tricks to teach my daughter.
What’s next for you?
We are in the midst of developing more products to target different skin issues and ultimately help people to transform their skin and overcome their skin problems. We also have plans to open more stores locally as well as expanding into global market.
What advice would you give for aspiring beauty entrepreneurs?
Be passionate. Don’t let money be your driving force — if you have passion and drive, success will follow. Also, it’s a very competitive industry so make sure your products really work.
Photographer: Julian Ong
Stylist: Lena Kamarudin
Makeup: Chris Siow
Fashion: Junz Loke
Fashion assistance: Kristal Sulaiman
Photography assistance: Joe Ong