#Her World Her Story

For decades, Her World has been a champion for women – in mind, body and action.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

For decades, Her World has been a champion for women – in mind, body and action. To celebrate Her World’s 60 th anniversary this year, we present #HerWorldHerStory – a collection of 60 inspiring real-life stories on print and on herworld.com. And it starts with you: real women. In this second of our six-part series, which runs till our August issue, #HerWorldHerStory will feature 10 women who encapsulate what it’s like to be a woman in Singapore. They share their successes, challenges, passions and ambitions – these are their stories.

Hu Ruixian, 25

11/ 60 This 20something dressmaker has made it her personal mission to get young women like herself to switch out their T-shirts and jeans for customised cheongsams.

started my cheongsam business Studio HHFZ in 2018, four years after graduating I from Temasek Polytechnic’s Fashion Design course, as I felt that millennials have forgotten their roots. I wanted to celebrate the Chinese heritage, focusing on custom dressmaking service. I also want to encourage more people to don the cheongsam other than on special occasions such as weddings and Chinese New Year.

I’m a one-woman show at the studio because I want to be 100 per cent involved, walking my customers through the entire dressmaking process.

Many people have asked me, “Ruixian, why do you go through all these steps by yourself?”

Some of my industry peers think it’s too “ley cey” (troublesome). But to me, it’s not about how many clients I have or how fast I get the work done. My job is my life! Every night before I go to sleep, I think about the pieces I’ll be making or working on the next day. It’s really a labour of love, and each piece I make is unique to the wearer.

I meet with my customers to understand what they’re really looking for in the dress, and they can also choose the fabric at the studio.

Sometimes, I’d bring them to the fabric suppliers to find the most suitable piece. I then create a draft of the final product, before working on the cheongsam. It takes me about three months to complete one.

I’m so happy when I see many of my young customers swop their T-shirts and jeans for my cheongsams

When the girls look in the mirror and feel beautiful in the dresses I’ve made for them, I get a lot of satisfaction.

That feeling is invaluable – and makes all my time worthwhile.
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It’s really a labour of love, and each piece I make is unique to the wearer.
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"I felt so free when I purged unwanted things."

Eve Wee-Ang, 43

12/60 Reading a book changed this writer’s life, and she embarked on a trendy new career – she became a Konmari Consultant.

I used to have a closet of sexy clothes in my 20s, but even if I could fit into them right I now, would I want to keep them? Me – a mother-of-two in my 40s? Nah, I’ve moved on. I felt so happy when I cleaned them out. That’s the feeling I get when I help people to declutter as a certified Konmari consultant.

But this wasn’t my biggest “clearance”. Four years ago, my family downsized from a 2,400 sq ft home in Shanghai, where my husband works, to a 1,000 sq ft space. That was when I first read Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Though some may not agree with her methods, they resonated with me. Oh my, I felt so free when I purged unwanted things. This sparked my desire to become a Konmari consultant.

I was certified last October, taking seven months – one trip to London and another to Singapore – for my course. Last April, I dragged my husband and two children with me to London to take up the course taught by master Konmari consultants. The two-day Konmari Consultant Certification Seminar costs US$2,100 ($2,915), and I met Marie Kondo who was in London to sign autographs. I took on two practice clients – one in Shanghai, and one in Singapore – before passing the certification exam to become Singapore’s first Konmari consultant. Those who engage me are mainly stay-home mums who seek solutions for their kitchen and children’s items, and working professionals who require decluttering of their wardrobe.

I had a client who was reluctant to get rid of her body-con dresses as they were a reminder of her once slim figure. I told her about my sexy clothes that I got rid of. She finally understood and donated all of hers. I was so proud of her. I’ve also healed in ways that I’ve never anticipated. Last year, my mum joked about having me to tidy her house. A month later, she passed away in a car accident. I finally tidied her house after her passing.

Going through her belongings, I realised with much comfort that she had taken my advice and surrounded herself only with things that made her happy and sparked joy. She had lived a life cherishing, and being cherished.

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"I also want to reach out to those who aren’t exposed to social work. This way, I can show them the joy of giving."

Rebekah Lin, 34

13/60 Co-founder of The Social Co. She bridges the generational gap, connecting the young and the old in social activities and programmes.

A conversation with an elderly lady in her 80s inspired me four years ago. It was perhaps one of the most heartwarming interactions I’ve had when I was volunteering in London. We have more in common than I’d have expected. I admired her spunk, and we shared the same joy of connecting with people through charity work.

In 2017, The Social Co. focused solely on helping elderly folks, compared to a wider group of people when it first started.

I co-founded Social Co. in 2014 with my friend Cheryl Chong as a passion project. It’s a thinktank or a collective of professionals who provide advice and ideas, so that youths have an avenue to do good, through a series of movements, programmes and activities that we have organised. Youth volunteers get to spend time with elderly folks and even go on outings with them.

Many see the younger generation as a privileged group who’re obsessed with social media. This stereotype doesn’t quite paint an accurate picture. Many youth volunteers whom I’ve met want to do good.

You may wonder why I spend so much time on such causes? Firstly, I feel that there is a lot of social tension caused by age gaps. The older generation generally has an unfavourable impression of youths, and youths on the other hand don’t know how to reach out to them. I wanted to bridge the intergenerational divide in Singapore.

Community engagement has also been a very big part of my life when I was growing up. I look up a lot to my mother, Lim Hwee Hua, who was Singapore’s first female minister. Observing her at work, I saw her dedication for her residents, supporting their needs.

Beyond providing a platform for youths who want to do good, I also want to reach out to those who aren’t exposed to social work. This way, I can show them the joy of giving.

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"It’s a great opportunity to help those with disabilities with my skills. It gave me a renewed sense of purpose."

Elisa Lim, 26

14/60 She designs clothes for those with disabilities so that they can get dressed with ease.

Fashion design has always been my passion, but when I pursued my fashion diploma at Lasalle College of the Arts, I realised luxury fashion didn’t quite resonate with me. I began questioning my place in the fashion industry.

Then, a doctor whom I got to know asked me to design clothes for his bedridden patients, during the final year of my diploma in 2015.

I thought, “What a great opportunity to help those with disabilities with my skills.” It gave me a renewed sense of purpose, and I began researching and working on the designs.

I graduated in 2017 with a degree in fashion design, and set up Will & Well, which was inspired by my final-year project that featured a clothing line for wheelchair users.

Business was challenging in the first two years due to the lack of awareness. I’ve since relocated my studio from my home to Alexandra Hospital last November.

Many of my pieces are one-off custom designs. For example, I redesigned and replaced sewn on buttons with magnetic buttons on the school uniform for a sixyear-old girl with one arm, so that she could change easily and quickly.

I also make readyto-wear unisex pieces for my online shop, such as front slit drawstring pants with zip openings on both pant legs, originally designed for a posthip surgery client.

I have also introduced a new workshop, Sew Simple. I started this four-part clothesmaking and alteration workshops to raise more awareness on the clothing challenges faced by disabled persons, offering caregivers solutions to restyle and redesign existing clothes to improve functionality.

At these two-anda-half-hour sessions, I teach basic sewing technics as well as the creative process to include new designs, for people with different kinds of special needs.

My aim is to help disabled persons with better dressing processes, giving them a sense of ease, comfort, independence and dignity.

Currently, I’m running a social campaign, #BeTheDifference, where people can nominate those who need custom clothes but can’t afford it. They’d then be gifted with our clothes paid for by sponsors.

What’s rewarding for me is when someone sees my creations and tells me, “This is what I have been looking for”.

That’s all I need to hear, and that’s what takes me ahead.

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"The greatest achievement as a filmmaker isn’t getting awards, it is when you can make a positive change to society with your work."

Ang Geck Geck, 32

15/60 She went from selling ice cream door-todoor to becoming a filmmaker.

Filmmaking has given me a voice as a woman in a male-dominated industry. My films are largely driven by emotion. If you ask me, a woman’s emotion is not her weakness but her best gift in telling a compelling story.

I never dreamt of becoming a filmmaker because I was never exposed to films when I was younger. Before filmmaking, I took on various jobs from selling ice cream door-to-door to selling clothes at a department store! All I wanted to do was to earn enough money to give my grandparents a better life. They raised me after my parents divorced.

I was an arts student in college, and I chose film as a major at the School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), because painting , which is my passion, wasn’t available among the options. I felt out of place in university as I had no prior film background, compared to my peers who majored in film in polytechnic. At one point in school, I was also weighing my career options, as I was given roles such as styling and makeup during group productions. I couldn’t see myself working in those jobs later on.

Then one day, I got a chance to direct my first film. After it was screened, my professor clapped and told me he loved it. He selected it as one of the “Best Takes” to be shown at ADM’s 2010 year-end show. I knew at that moment I’d make a career out of filmmaking. It gave me a sense of purpose.

I’m working on my first feature film, Ah Girl, which is in its development stage and it’s a story that highlights the issues faced by children of divorce.

To me, the greatest achievement as a filmmaker isn’t getting awards, it is when you can make a positive change to society with your work.

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"I could further develop the academy with my professional skills, and shape the children’s learning experience."

Radhika Radhakrishnan, 41

16/60 She had NO formal background in the sport but this soccer mum went from being an accountant to the CFO of a football academy.

I’ve always been a hardcore soccer mum but I had no formal sports background I other than learning about the sport from two of my three teenage sons (aged 14, 13 and 6), and showing up at all their training at F-17 Football Academy since 2014.

F-17 provides professional football coaching to about 500 children aged two to 16 at three locations, and it was founded in 2013.

I got to know the then and current management of F-17, who initially sought my advice in accounting during a buyover. Last April, they offered me a fulltime position as F-17’s chief financial officer (CFO). I couldn’t say no. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where I could play a part to further develop the academy with my professional skills, and shape the children’s learning experience. I also love working in an environment surrounded with kids.

So I left my accounting job at a commodities trading firm to join the football academy. I’m quite different from many CFOs . I wear three hats in two locations: the office and on the field. In the day, I’m in my office gear, dealing with the corporate and administrative stuff with the team. But if you see me on the field in my shorts and T-shirt cheering loudly for the kids and teams, I’m Radhika, the hardcore soccer mum! When you spot me in a F-17 jersey, that’s Radhika, the CFO on duty!

One of my proudest moments was when we secured a partnership last year with the well-known Wolverhampton Wanderers football club that is part of the English Premier League. The club now conducts food and nutrition and fitness programmes for children at F-17.

The kids at F-17 are like my family. Though not all will become professional footballers, but that’s fine! So long at the end of their journey they’re able to take with them the lessons, skills and mindsets to their everyday lives, I feel happy that we have done our job.

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"I want to achieve even more, and that is to clinch a world championship title one day."

Nurshahidah Roslie, 32

17/60 THE champion boxer – and avid dancer says female boxers aren’t all masculine.

Many people have this misconception that boxing is a sport that makes women more masculine. Sure, boxing requires fast reflexes, strength, and determination. But it’s also empowering, and a great workout.

You can be a boxer who is feminine. Female boxers aren’t stereotypically tomboys. Since I took up the sport 14 years ago, I’ve embraced my femininity even more.

Some find it a surprise that I can groove or joget (dance) just as well as I box! Many don’t know that I’m an avid dancer. I’ve been going for Latin dance classes once a week for four years, and I incorporate Zumba into my cardio routine too.

While I always loved combat sports, my journey with boxing began in 2006 after a friend introduced me to kickboxing when I was studying at The Institute of Technical Education. My strength, as I found out, was in my arms rather than legs, so I switched from kickboxing to boxing. I was given the moniker “The Sniper” because of my range and calculated hard punches.

I competed in the amateur category in 2008, and met my current coach, Arvind Lalwani, who was then the National coach for the Singapore team. I joined the National team a year later, and after the 2015 Southeast Asian Games, he groomed me as a pro boxer.

I debuted at the Singapore Fighting Championship 2 in 2016 as Singapore’s first female professional boxer, where I fought against a Malaysian opponent and won. Since then, I have bagged 14 wins and six championship titles, along with the 2018 World Boxing Council Super Bantamweight

Besides competing, I also work as a freelance boxing coach and fitness trainer. It’s fulfilling, because when you coach, you’re actually revising the techniques yourself, too.

I train six days a week at the Juggernaut Fight Club gym. Off-season from my matches, I do my cardio and resistance training six times a week, and box at least twice a week. Of course, I also joget once a week.

To me, boxing is the most beautiful sport. What I love most is the challenge of having to constantly sharpen myself from techniques, form to power and speed. There’s no reaching a level of perfection. Even with my accolades, I want to achieve even more, and that is to clinch a world championship title one day.

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"The kids didn’t see me differently... they treat me like everyone else."

Nur Ayuni Abdul Rahim, 18

18/60 She overcame her intellectual disability to become a childcare aide.

I was often bullied in primary school by my schoolmates for having poor grades and being a slow learner. They I called me hurtful names... but what they didn’t know was that I have mild intellectual disability. I was diagnosed at 11.

My school then recommended a transfer to Grace Orchard School (GOS) when I was in Primary 5. It’s a special education school for students with mild autism and intellectual disabilities.

That was the best thing that happened to me because I work as a childcare aide now.

At GOS, the classes were in smaller groups. I was more... comfortable and I made more friends. In 2017, I was one of three students selected to train in childcare services.

I took it up also because my family encouraged me... they knew I was good with children... seeing how I’ve helped my seven nieces and nephews with their daily activities, like showering.

After two years of hands-on training at a Presbyterian Community Services (PCS) childcare centre, I started my internship last year as a childcare aide at another PCS centre.

I’ve since graduated, and have been working as a fulltime childcare aide since last December.

I really enjoy what I do... helping the teachers during mealtimes, bathtimes and outdoor activities.

But it was scary for me at first... because the kids kept a distance, and they wouldn’t talk to me.

It took some time to “win” them over.  Slowly, the children and I grew close... I see them running up to me each time they saw me. I’ve also become more open and confident.

The kids didn’t see me differently... they treat me like anyone else. The even gave me gifts on Teachers’ Day.

My dream is to become a childcare teacher one day. For now, I know that I’ve made it.

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"Most times, sex workers don’t need my sympathy. They ask for empathy, and for others to stand with them to say, “I’m with her”."

Vanessa Ho, 32

19/ 60 As Executive Director of Project X, she’s the voice for sex workers and she wants to protect them and give them equal opportunities.

I no longer judge people too quickly, and I’ve learnt this through my full-time work at Project X – a sex workers’ rights group founded in 2008 that provides sex workers with equal opportunities, and protect them from the violent crimes they are often subjected to.

I’ve always believed in gender equality, and wanted to pursue a career in this field.

I did so after graduating from university. Most times, sex workers don’t need my sympathy. They ask for empathy, and for others to stand with them to say, “I’m with her”.

I’m involved in a lot of outreach to sex workers in a handful of areas in Singapore.

I talk to them and assist them with any family, social, or health problems they may face.

But what I don’t do is telling sex workers how they should live life or change their lives.

I’ve seen many challenging cases over time. Many cases of abuse and assault go unreported because they‘re fearful of repercussions that they would be arrested or deported, if they admitted to providing sexual services. I want to eradicate the feeling of helplessness experienced by sex workers, and encourage more to speak up when they are subjected to abuse.

Project X operates from two community centres in Little India and Central Singapore. They’re safe spaces for sex workers to come and meet our community workers and discuss the issues they face.

We’re a team of three, assisted by 15 volunteers. Besides online programs, we also run empowerment workshops for sex workers in areas such as mental health, legal rights, and sexual health.

Our latest initiative, The Next Step, helps sex workers, who want to retire from the industry, to move on and integrate with society. Through our work – and more awareness, I hope more people are empathetic towards sex workers.

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"My friends didn’t understand why I took an interest in Teochew opera, which they perceived as a dated artform."

Tan Wei Tian, 16

20/60 The teenage Teochew opera artiste wants to spread the word about this traditional artform.

While many kids wore capes to mimic their favourite superheroes, I’d put on my dad’s longsleeved shirts to imitate the “water sleeves” that were worn by the Teochew opera actors.

My grandmother opened my eyes to Teochew opera when I was a little girl. She brought me frequently to Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre in Chinatown, and Bukit Gombak community centre, to watch the live performances.

I was taken in by the costumes, beautiful headdresses, and poetic lyrics and music. At three, my parents got me an opera teacher with the help of the National Arts Council, and I performed my first opera. I can’t remember much about my first performance but it was the start of my journey in Teochew opera.

At first, my friends at school didn’t understand why I took an interest in Teochew opera, which they perceived as a dated artform. But I managed to pique their interest with videos and images of my performances. I was really touched when some of them even came to watch my shows. Teochew opera is a dying artform, and I enjoy sharing with other people on the performance art.

I now perform with Nam Hwa Opera during school holidays. We prepare for our full-length opera shows at least two to three months ahead. When I finish school in the evening, I head for my rehearsal at 7pm, ending at 10.30pm. To me, a good opera comprises a fluid storyline, dynamic characters and nostalgic melodies.

To don the full regalia takes two hours of preparation. It’s challenging for me as I stand at 1.6m, and the headdress alone can weigh over half a kilogramme.

I’d see myself practising and preserving this dying artform for a long time, it’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I watched the first Teochew opera performance.

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