Category: Entrepreneurship

Sarah Lian

Sarah Lian Prestige Malaysia

If there’s one great thing to be said about recent times is that many have awakened to recognise how mental health and self-love is just as essential as eating well and exercising. Thankfully in Malaysia, the public is finally opening up on programmes focusing on their personal wellbeing, and some recognition for this should be attributed to model, actress and host, Sarah Lian, the founder of Supparetreat, a women-only wellness retreat that has been thriving over the years. 

The Taiping-born, Vancouver-raised Malaysian shares that the idea behind Supparetreat stemmed from a successful workshop she first held with the women of her Suppagood Talent and PR agencies. 

“It was an eye-opener. With the great feedback from my team, we just wanted to take more women on a journey of self-discovery,” says Sarah. 

She then hosted a second by-invitation-only retreat with women from various industries, and it was this gathering that finally affirmed her vision that Supparetreat could grow into something colossal towards empowering the women community in Malaysia. 

Our focus is empowering the individual woman first. We are building a community to help women succeed in life, but it always starts with yourself. Once you are able to fill that cup, only then you can be important to others.

Sarah Lian

Then in 2018, Supparetreat officially held its first three-day open-to-the-public retreat at the Tanjong Jara Resort as a safe space for women to find inspiration, motivation and especially empowerment. 

Hosted by local coaches Hannah Lo, Racheal Kwacz and Sarah herself, the programme encompassed a multitude of self-empowering themes via its workshops, talks, coaching, sharing circles and more. 

“Indeed it was a very fulfilling experience. With Supparetreat we have specific pillars that we focus on,” shares Sarah. “There is Inner Empowerment, which focuses on areas like breath work and journaling; Life Design, which touches on the aspects of our mindset, goals, financial planning; and our last pillar is Intimacy and Relationships, which explores the subject of our ego, marriage, motherhood and other aspects along those lines.” 

Gaining momentum through word of mouth from participants, soon even more women wanted in, so more events were planned and it was time to expand its reach abroad. 

Supparetreat’s first overseas retreat, Ignite, was held in Canggu, Bali last year, right before the pandemic hit. Then it was time to rethink the concept for it to be virtually accessible, at least for the time being. 

“What was great about having the Supparetreat workshops online is that we managed to get so many different types of women who have been looking at what we’re doing and had always wanted to join. But because they live in places like Australia and Singapore, now they finally get a chance to be a part of this community,” says Sarah. “It’s so beautiful to watch it grow and watch them discover themselves”. 

From one to 75 online programmes later, Sarah realised that they have fruitfully tapped into a market that was underserved. So as an area of focus this year, Sarah wants to bring back Supparetreat’s well-received eight-week Remember Her programme, but catered for the virtual space spanning three to four weeks. 

“We had 12 women who signed up last year, and the coaches and participants thought it was amazing. So we’d love to do it again this year and make it more interactive and beautiful via Zoom,” says Sarah. 

That’s not all, once the lockdown eases up, Supparetreat is also looking at hosting retreats in hotels that are more inclusive to both men and women. “It will be a way more fluid programme where participants can bring their children, husbands or their group of girlfriends,” says Sarah. 

With mindfulness and self-love finally getting the attention it deserves, Sarah is fairly positive that the world is on a wave of awakening. “It can be difficult being a woman sometimes, but things are headed forward,” she says. 

“As long as we are in the position to learn, I have an optimistic view on how we’re looking at things. It’s so great to be a woman right now.” 

Raja Jesrina Arshad

PurelyB is on a mission to transform lives. When the company was first established in 2015, the objective was to do this by providing health education with a focus on Asian traditions in wellness. In doing so, it would also promote the idea of sustainable healthy living for urbanites who weren’t familiar with these methods. 

Now the mission to transform lives has expanded to create opportunities for marginalised communities through the creation of jobs while still preserving local herbs and wellness. 

“We’ve expanded our social impact initiatives to help communities, especially single mothers who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet,” says Raja Jesrina Arshad, CEO and co-founder of PurelyB, which is a social enterprise registered with the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). 

“We have expanded our social impact initiatives beyond just working with marginalised farmers in the harvesting of our herbs,” the CEO writes in her 2021 updates to investors. “But now to also train and employ marginalised communities to be able to sell our products and spread good health in an affordable and sustainable way.” 

The company’s social mission is aligned to five UN Sustainable Development Goals – no poverty, good health and well-being, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and responsible consumption and production. 

The idea to expand the company’s social mission to empower the lives of women began more than two years ago. Through conversations with PurelyB’s herbalist Hameedah Hamid who comes from Narathiwat, Thailand, the idea of doing something to help the community from her village was formed. The villagers were impoverished and received little help from the Thai government. When visiting the area, Jesrina discovered that the only source of water was from a well that had been built through funds sent by Hameedah, earned through her work as a massage therapist and mid-wife. 

“It was a real eye-opener,” recalls Jesrina, of her visit. “I could see that a lot of women were affected and a lot of them were single women. I wanted to help and I could see that we could help by doing this together.” 

That resulted in the creation of the product Pegaga by PurelyB, which was made using the herbs that were cultivated by the villagers from Narathiwat. 

“We started with a small plot of land and then trained them to grow these herbs,” she says. “For Kak Ida (Hameedah) it wasn’t just about making money but about helping people and we believed that we should have that same purpose.” 

That’s when the inclusion of women as part of the company’s social mission began. When the product was launched, Jesrina described the herbs as being, “part of women’s traditions for many generations.” Thus, the best way to produce these herbs was by “working directly with the women that know them best and have relied on them for many years.” 

The mission has, however, since evolved. There were limits, she says, as to how much they could help women purely through farming. 

“We are a small business,” she explains. “We are limited in terms of capacity and in terms of how many women we can employ, how much farmland we can have and how much production we can do.” 

That prompted the team to start thinking about how else they could help women, particularly those who have been affected adversely by the pandemic. 

“If they are single mothers, how are they earning to put food on the table?” she thought. It was also at that point that they started receiving requests by women who were keen to sell their product. 

“Some of them had not even tried our product but they believed in it because of Pegaga and the herbs in it. We saw this as an opportunity to help more women.” 

Hence, in 2020, the decision was made to take things further with the development of the PurelyB Empowerment Agent Programme. While contemplating the use of agents, the question of whether they would be able to sell the products in this digital age also arose. 

“Some of them had old-school skills in terms of selling but we felt that we could train them in digital marketing,” she explains. “So later on if they want to create their own product, they can use these skills to do that. We can empower and upskill them so that they are not just limited to selling PurelyB products. For us, it became about making a difference and not just about selling our products.” 

They then reached out to organisations like Ibupreneur and The Family Wellness Club, to connect with single mothers and marginalised women who were keen to boost their income through participating in this empowerment initiative. Interestingly, the workshop conducted with The Family Wellness Club in Ipoh, also attracted a couple of retirees as well who were also interested in learning how they could boost their income. That meant they were also able to engage with the elderly too. 

The initiative has had its challenges, Jesrina admits, particularly since the country went into lockdown soon after the workshop that was held a year ago. The ensuing restrictions have prevented similar face to face workshops from being conducted. Nonetheless, a digital session was held with members of Ibupreneur recently. 

“I loved seeing the response,” she says. “There were so many great questions that ranged from the product to health.” 

It is still “early stages” for the empowerment programme but Jesrina is content that there is an initiative in place that can help women learn new skills. 

“I hope it can translate to them being able to use these skills for more than just selling PurelyB products,” she states. “But for now, it helps to have our products because a lot of women can’t afford the raw materials to make their own products.” 

Through the workshops, Jesrina has had the opportunity to meet many women and have conversations that have solidified the social mission. 

“There are so many stories of women who have lost their jobs and are selling kuih and biscuits to make a living. But it is hard and they make less than a certain amount each month,” she says. “Just hearing these stories, I feel that I want to help. I am not sure how much of a difference it would make but I hope that it is a channel to earn income. I am here to provide training, support and guidance.” 

Su-Quinn Teh

It doesn’t come across as surprising when Su-Quinn Teh described Blair Waldorf, the Queen B of the hit series GossipGirl as one of her early fashion influences. But don’t misunderstand, Su-Quinn bears no similarities to the scheming Waldorf but rather connects with the latter’s sense of style which was often reminiscent of a Hollywood celebrity from the golden age of cinema. 

Even as a child, Su-Quinn was often dressed in frocks — a term that is lost in today’s world — paired with Ferragamo headbands. Today, her classic style remains as she points to Jasmine the New York socialite played by Cate Blanchett in the film Blue Jasmine as her fashion inspiration. 

“Quaint and romantic,” she says, when asked about her fashion choices. “I am typically described as being classic and well-coordinated.” 

At times, perhaps, a little “stuck” in her comfort zone as she remains consistent in her choice of outfits. But that’s perfectly fine, as Su-Quinn is certainly not one to follow trends. To her, fashion is a “creative expression of personality an emotion.” It is this individualistic aspect that led to her being spotted by photographers when she was just 16, resulting in some modelling work. She also appeared in the work of Australian director Bernie Zelvis.

“One should never try to dress up as someone else because you lose your sense of originality in the process,” she says. “I think it is very interesting how clothes were created for functional reasons but are now a form of expression.”

Now, she adds, clothes have meaning. What’s important, she says, is to be confident and comfortable in your clothes. 

The constant evolution of the fashion world also demonstrates our ability to change, to improve and push ourselves further over time. That is the beauty of life.

Su-Quinn Teh

It is a point of view that is perhaps a little unusual for a graduate in accounting and finance. Su-Quinn does admit she took a somewhat traditional path academically. Upon graduating, Su-Quinn worked as a stylist and buyer for David Jones, something that was more aligned with her interests. Later she ventured into interior design and floral arrangements, to further develop her creative spirit. 

Her interest in interiors began early when she used to wanter into the decor section of Laura Ashley, then located in Suria KLCC. While living in Melbourne, Su-Quinn recalls spending hours along Church Street in South Yarra, going through interior stores like Koko Lane, French & English, Maison Living & Provincial, while she redecorated her family’s homes. 

She had been tasked with refurbishing a couple of family properties with her mum which cemented her interest in interiors. 

“My mum and I decorated a few homes together which eventually flourished into a hobby and now a part-time job,” she explains. 

Later, her husband, Lip Jin Teh, encouraged her to pursue her passion in floristry by enrolling in floral arrangement courses at Jane Parker in London. Soon after, Su-Quinn joined forces with a friend and started the florist Ever Bloom. Now, the mother of twin boys, she does floral arrangements and interiors on a project basis. 

For Su-Quinn, it isn’t as simple as a rose smelling as sweet by any other name. Instead, she describes each flower as having their own distinct personality. 

“Each flower is very special on its own,” she says. “The way it moves or the number of petals it has. No floral arrangement can be 100 percent the same and there can be many sides to an arrangement. I love how there is always something to stimulate my mind.”

Each florist, she says, has their distinct identity which results in a specific way in the flowers being designed. 

“It can be more green and garden like, more romantic, more flamboyant or modern or just a clean, classic look filled with leaves. It is a pretty straightforward journey from there. Once you have identified this, as long as there is a right balance of colours, textures and sizes, the arrangement will definitely work.”

“People don’t realise how tedious and time consuming it is to make floral arrangement,” she adds. “For instance, how the length of each stalk and direction it points to can transform the entire look of the arrangement.”

There is also a specific thought process where interior projects are concerned. It usually starts with a theme, from there the rest will unravel. 

“Once there is a sense of direction I can visualise the entire length of the space,” she explains, “where to put the main furniture, the type of wallpaper for the feature wall and whether I would go with chandelier, lamps or wall lights.”

However, as a young mother, Su-Quinn is more focused on spending time with her boys, Chad and Casper Teh. This also means she spends quite a bit of time in her favourite room, the nursery, formerly her husband’s wine cellar, which she transformed after discovering she was expecting. 

“I spend a lot of time in there when I was heavily pregnant and now reading stories to my kids and playing with them,” adding, “each day has become more meaningful with a sense of purpose. My sons are the last people I see before I head out and the first people I look for when I get home.”