Sleep is perhaps the most under-appreciated part of our lives. With comical phrases that we have come to live by, such as “sleep is for the weak”, we tend to forget that a deep slumber sets us up for the day and also helps us recover and heal.
Daphne Chee found this out the hard way. After many years of working in real estate, she quit to accompany her husband on his numerous work trips but developed difficulties in sleeping. “I couldn’t sleep because I had to constantly travel, and when you don’t sleep well, you then have all these negative emotions. I began to lose track of where I was. I lost myself and felt like a shadow,” she says.
With determination, Chee read voraciously about sleep and health. Her findings were surprising. “I read so many books and then realised that many scientists have found that sleeping is so important. It is on par with hydration, exercise and diet. But health books don’t really talk about sleeping. Sleeping is when we heal our body, heal our brain.”
She then sought to create the perfect eye mask to help with her sleep problem, before realising that other people might also be facing the same problem. And so began the development stages of iWell Natural.
Chee’s main product is a lavender eye mask, which is a major upgrade from the ones we get on aeroplanes. She took a few years to develop her business plan and perfect her product.
She first hired a seamstress but found her wanting, but she herself did not know how to sew. “I then paid RM60 for a 30-minute sewing class at Plaza Damas, just to learn how to operate the sewing machine. After the class, I went to Spotlight and bought my first Brother sewing machine.”
Chee encountered a few hurdles; the first was size. “The masks were initially so big, then I realised it was because I was using my husband as my model, and men have bigger faces. Even after that, there were so many prototypes and many late nights, but I’m happy with the results,” she says. The final product fits perfectly on your face, with a soft cotton velvet lining, a blackout layer, a decorative cover fabric — iWell Natural even has a batik range — and fresh lavender buds inside to promote an uninterrupted slumber.
Another challenge she faced was materials. “To look for the right supplier with the same mentality as me was hard. There are so many different types of suppliers. Some are very impatient and just want to take your money and go. Very few would really sit down and try to understand that I did not want to waste anything. I had to take time to source for the right person.”
Launching iWell Natural’s website last October, Chee was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Based on feedback, she made several amendments and her masks now help many to get some shut-eye.
One of Chee’s missions when starting up her venture was to help as many people as possible. She began by hiring an Afghani refugee woman to sew the helpful travel pouch that comes with every mask. Chee hopes that as iWell Natural grows, she will be able to continue to empower more individuals.
A big fan of nature, Chee wanted to ensure that her business would not contribute to the ever-growing waste created daily. “Whenever I go diving, I see all this plastic and all the things humans have done to nature. So, when I started this business, I told myself that I wanted to use my platform to promote sustainability and encourage less waste, on top of doing what I’m doing.
Whenever I do anything, I carry out a lot of research, because if you’re not well prepared, you are probably going to waste resources,” she says.
As Chee had many prototypes, she unstitched them to reuse the materials. She also reuses fabric scraps, turning them into scrunchies to be given as gifts to valued customers.
The box her eye mask comes in can be repurposed to store items and Chee hopes to make it out of recycled materials in the future. Her masks are a true labour of love — while it initially took her three to four hours to sew one, it now takes her about two to three hours.
While many businesses were badly hit during the Movement Control Order, iWell Natural benefited. “Believe it or not, my sales were actually very good during the Covid-19 lockdown. I think everybody shifted their buying habits online, so through word of mouth, I got more customers, many of whom bought eye masks as gifts.”
Since July, iWell Natural’s products have also been available at Shop Unplug in Bangsar.
At the moment, iWell Natural also makes soothing eye pillows, anti-ageing eye masks made of silk and, to complete the healthy sleep experience, mulberry silk pillow cases and silk scrunchies.
Chee has been working on a new eye mask that should make its debut in December. “I’m working on mulberry silk eye masks based on my customers’ feedback … I also hope to add tiny rose quartz stones. People believe that these crystals have the energy to aid in self-love and compassion, as well as to help you sleep. I asked my customers and there is definitely a market for it,” she says.
Chee’s care for the environment and her aim to help people are certainly at the core of iWell Natural. “I wanted to contribute back to society, and I feel like I shouldn’t waste resources while doing it. If I can just help one person or influence people to do the right thing, then I think I’m doing something good.”
This article first appeared on Oct 5, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.