Opening her first facial salon at 43, while also trying for a baby by IVF, Lily Kew doesn’t fit conventional ideas of what an entrepreneur looks like.
Many stories of entrepreneurship tell a narrative of a young, spirited 20-something-year-old, stepping out to materialise their dream or make the world better with a fresh idea.
But of course, there’s no cookie-cutter for startup founders.
Lily Kew, founder of Kew Organics Facial Bar, wouldn’t fit the conventional mould since she incepted her business at 43, at a time when she was also in the midst of trying for a baby by IVF.
For a woman whose success came later in life, you may not actually have known her age if you passed her in the streets.
You could be deceived by how clear and radiant her skin looks now at 47, even without a trace of makeup.
Great Things Begin With Self-Empowerment
It took years of hard work before Lily achieved the skin she now bares makeup-free.
She experienced adolescence and adulthood fettered by acne and scars, visiting countless doctors and salons before finally deciding to enrol in a beauty school at 29.
The advocate-for-organics had gone through “harsh products and treatments” that were meant to control oil and alleviate her acne.
But the alcohol-based and chemical ingredients also made her skin more sensitive, dry, and thin.
“I had to use lots of makeup to cover up my blemishes and scars for more than 10 years, but no matter how thick my makeup was, it could never cover well,” Lily says.
[I wanted] to find a lasting solution to achieve clean, clear, healthy skin with a rosy glow, so I can ditch makeup for good, as there would be nothing to cover up.
She had no qualms about leaving her previous career in an entertainment company, wanting to liberate her skin from the damaging routines of nightlife.
After graduating from Dominelli International College of Esthetics in Canada, Lily worked as a beauty therapist for brands like Dermalogica and Dr Haushka.
She also created her own spa brand in 2004, which she eventually sold off in her pursuit of starting something totally organic.
In 2014, Lily opened the first Kew Organics Facial Bar in Everton Park.
Kew Organics’ quaint shop front in Everton Park
Tackling “Serious Skincare” With A 6-Figure Investment
“Serious skincare means [skincare that] can solve a myriad of problems, including serious, chronic issues such as recurring acne, pigmentation, wrinkles, sagging skin, and so on,” Lily says.
Pumping in a “6-figure sum”, she fully funded her own venture to provide serious skincare in Singapore.
Treatment room at Everton Park
But not long into running her facial salon, Lily became aware of the lack of organic products suitable for her clients to use.
“I believe in the goodness and efficacy of pure, clean organic skincare, but they were not easily accessible,” she says.
“[Those you could find were] very gentle and mild, which only worked well for skin without any issues. Otherwise, they were either too rich or too oily for the Asian climate.”
“When running my salons, I get frustrated that I know my customers’ skin conditions could be transformed if only they stopped using conventional products laden with synthetics, chemicals and toxic ingredients.
Lily decided she would create her own organic label that would cater to battling common woes in Singapore, like clogged pores, acne breakouts, pigmentation, and dehydrated skin.
Aside from being non-GMO, vegan, and “free from chemicals, parabens, and preservatives”, she focused on using only a water base for her products, which she considers essential for rehydrating our skin.
Even packaging was carefully thought out as a part of her “serious skincare”.
The bottles are made of a special Miron Violet Glass that only allow the desired spectral colours of light to pass through, so that the ingredients contained always stay “activated”.
Launching A Skincare Line And Getting Pregnant At 45
The year she launched the Kew Organics skincare line, 2016, was also the year Lily succeeded in getting pregnant with her daughter, at 45 years old.
She was also opening a second outlet of her facial salon, which she set up from a completely empty space in Clarke Quay Central during her second trimester.
“I worked till the day before [I gave] birth,” Lily says. “I stopped work at 9pm and went to the hospital the next morning at 7am.”
Lily and her daughter Uli
She counts herself lucky to be one of the mums who breezed easily through her pregnancy, and could continue to pursue her passion without missing a beat.
With similar luck in business, Kew Organics broke even in the first year of opening a facial spa, and saw revenue increase steadily by 30% each year with the addition of 19 of their own skincare products.
Lily’s customers were mostly expats in the beginning, who were already well-informed about organics.
Some Singaporeans were also keen to switch over to the organic trend from conventional store-bought skincare products, and many of these customers found Kew Organics through recommendations from their friends.
Salon for facial peels under 20 minutes
Sugar K Organic Peel Bar
She continued to develop her range of services, and introduced a new express facial bar concept for time-strapped customers in 2017, offering organic facial peel treatments that can be done in a snap under 20 minutes.
By 2018, Lily’s work reaped bountiful results by crossing the $1 million mark in revenue after 4 years.
“The Best Beauty Is Natural Beauty, Self-Acceptance”
With serums, cleansers and essences that range from $59 to $150, Kew Organics’ products are in a higher price range, but are still affordable compared to other brands of similar premium positioning.
Customers who want to eventually replace the need for makeup, like Lily has, are usually the ones who’d find high quality skincare a worthwhile investment, as it lets them save on products used to cover up in the long run.
“I have not used a single drop of foundation and concealer for more than 10 years—not even when I [have to do a] photoshoot or [go up] on stage,” Lily says.
Lily Kew was recognised at Women Entrepreneur Awards 2018
Meeting many faces that come through her salons, one young client stood out to Lily because of obvious multiple plastic surgeries that made her skin look “so tight it could burst”.
“She told me she hated her features,” Lily recalls.
With women going for plastic surgery at younger ages, even during their teenage years, the ‘mumpreneur’ finds it a pity that these solutions won’t really rid people of their insecurities.
“While they fix what they see as flaws on the outside, many still continue struggling with body image distortion,” she says.
“[Witnessing that], I feel compelled to push the message that the best beauty is natural beauty, self-acceptance, affirmation of self-identity, self-love and self-empowerment.”
Find out more about Kew Organics’ facial bars and skincare label here!
Featured Image Credit: Kew Organics