Jenny Teoh was one of the many business owners who began their entrepreneurial journey during the Movement Control Order period in 2020. “It started last year, during lockdown, as I was trying to pick up a new hobby and make use of my free time at home. So, I ordered a DIY craft kit from Jesmonite and tried it out,” she says.
Her intention was not to start a business but to overcome creative block — Teoh works full-time as a graphic designer — and she started the hobby as a way to reduce stress. However, when she showed what she had made to her family and friends, they encouraged her to start selling them. She says, “I gifted the first batch of my project to my family and friends. They really liked them and said I should turn this project into a side hustle. Their positive feedback made me feel accomplished and motivated. So, that was how I was sure I could do something with it.”
After a couple of months of trial and error, Teoh launched Forme Atelier last December. French is special to her as she is currently learning the language, so she decided to name her brand Forme, which is “shape” in French. Also, she found that the name suited her products perfectly as each comes in a different shape and size.
Admittedly, running the business alone with no prior experience has been quite tough for Teoh. “I did not have any experience selling things online before this. The biggest challenge was learning to do everything by myself. I have to source for materials, design and make the items, and promote the brand online. It’s like a one-woman show,” she laughs.
Nevertheless, she feels lucky as she receives full support from her friends and family who she can rely on for help whenever her plate is full. “My fiancé Loïc is especially helpful. Whenever I have new ideas for the brand, we will discuss them together,” she says. On top of that, having a strong sense of time management and organisation has helped her run the business smoothly.
Teoh has a purpose behind the design aesthetic of her products: to bring the joy of colours into people’s homes. The inspiration to bring happiness through her products came from her obsession with Marie Kondo, who is well known for her “Does it spark joy?” catchphrase. “The first collection that I made was full of colours as I was hoping to brighten up people’s homes. With the trouble and stress people were going through because of the pandemic, I was hoping my craft could spark a little joy for anyone who owns them,” she explains.
Forme Atelier’s Happy Place collection, its first, is a crowd favourite, featuring a smiley face at the centre of the coasters. Customers can choose between round- and star-shaped coasters. With this collection, Teoh wishes to evoke a sense of positivity that can lift one’s mood.
Apart from selling the pieces on the brand’s website, she is exploring opportunities offline. Last Christmas, she set up a booth at Kedai KL and managed to sell 10 pieces of her creations. “It was the first time I sold the products physically and I was not expecting a lot of sales. However, I really enjoyed communicating with customers face-to-face because I got to see their reactions as they looked at or touched the coasters or mirrors,” she says. Teoh certainly wants to sell her products at more bazaars after this as she loves interacting with people.
Recently, Forme Atelier had its first collaboration with a local business for its latest collection — Jardin — a set of two floral scented candles packed in a box. The candles are made by Good Company and poured into candle vessels handcrafted by Forme Atelier. “I had had this idea for quite some time. I thought about how nice it would be to come home and light a candle. The aroma from candles is perfect to help people relax and wind down after a long day. I approached Esther, the owner of Good Company, and discussed my idea about putting our products together. We were very excited about the partnership and that’s how the Jardin collection was born,” explains Teoh. She looks forward to working with more local brands to create interesting collaborations.
The brand prides itself on running a business that is respectful to the environment. Teoh has been practising the three Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle — from the production process to the packaging. “For instance, I try to minimise waste and reduce unnecessary use of single-use plastics for our packaging. We recycle the cardboard that we receive from suppliers by shredding and using them to provide extra protection for our pieces instead of buying more wrapping paper. Everything that our customers receive is recyclable and reusable.”
As a small business owner, Teoh is determined to use her platform to help those in need. She felt a sense of sympathy for the flood victims in Pahang early this year, which prompted her to start an initiative called Project Give Back. She also made a donation to Kuching Food Aid, a non-governmental organisation founded by Shen-Tel Lee. “With Forme Atelier, I want this business to be more than just a side hustle. I aim to help those in need while continuing to make art that will bring happiness to as many people as possible.”
This article first appeared on Nov 8, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.