Societal expectations dictate that we go to school, finish college, find a good job, marry, start a family and let the cycle repeat. Seeing more and more people break free from this stringent and oftentimes unrealistic path can be eye-opening and inspiring.
Chiew Yee Sian obtained a degree in fashion and marketing but she chose to embark on a natural skincare project. “I had quite bad skin so I used lot of commercial products and spent so much on facials and complicated skin routines. Then I discovered plant oils, pure plant oils and the results amazed me so I thought, okay, I will do this for my project,” she says.
It was through this six-month project that Root Remedies was born. After Chiew graduated, she began job-hunting but still kept thinking about her earlier venture. “At first I was quite scared because I had no outside work experience. But then I also thought that if I really want to do this, then I should just go ahead because I have nothing to lose,” she says.
Her family were harder to convince, as many of them felt that she should join the workforce as tradition dictates. But Chiew was determined to see this through and began experimenting in her kitchen. She is very particular about what goes into her handmade products. “I try to extract all the essence from raw ingredients. I use a traditional method called oil infusion. I soak the ingredients in an oil for a long time and then use the oil to make the products,” she says, adding that this process is tedious and labour-intensive other brands rarely use this method. Chiew tests her creations on herself and gives samples to family and friends. “I always listen to feedback from my customers and try to improve my products.”
Chiew says it was a learning curve when she began selling her Root Remedies products. “I set up an online store but it didn’t really work at that time because no one knew my brand. People still like to try, see and feel the products.” But attending many bazaars gave her business the exposure it needed and, slowly, customers began making purchases online as well.
A shy person, Chiew had to force herself to be confident and approachable, engaging with customers about her products. Her timid side is forgotten when she talks about her all-natural line and enthuses about Root Remedies. “I love everything. My coconut oil soap is my signature product because it is multipurpose — you can use it for your hair, face and body. When I travel, I just bring this and coconut oil, that’s it,” she says.
Chiew’s bestseller — lip therapy — uses natural minerals for colour.
“It’s non-toxic so sometimes mothers buy for their daughters who like to play with makeup. Some of my customers who have eczema on their lips love it because it moisturises,” she says.
Root Remedies is about three years old and its skincare products can be found on its online store and in places such as The Hive Bulk Foods, Naiise and Ilaika. At 24, Chiew has established a successful business, learning as she goes along and juggling everything by herself. But she is always looking forward, ready to get started on the next thing. She hopes to start making her products in a factory and aims to open Root Remedies’ first bricks-and-mortar store next year.
Chiew’s initial ambitions were aligned with the fashion world, but finding her passion in skincare was an unexpected surprise. “I never thought I would do skincare to be honest. I knew I loved skincare but this is something so far away from what I thought I would do.”
Still, when I ask her if she loves what she does, she answers with a wholehearted yes. “I work every day and sometimes it’s hard because my mind is on this 24 hours, but I enjoy it all, even when it is hard. I feel like I am achieving something. Every time I face a problem, I solve it and it feels great.”
This article first appeared on Dec 10, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.