People in search for their “ideal career” tend to look outward for inspiration. Career fairs and internships seem to be the standard choice, and the importance of introspection in career discovery tends to be overlooked. We speak to Bertilla Wong, owner of one of Singapore’s leading online blogshops The Closet Lover. She explains the importance of looking within, and cites perseverance to be one of the biggest forces in starting her business and keeping it strong.
The Closet Lover, an international fashion retailer, has a whopping 87,000 and 79,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook respectively - It may come as a surprise that this store adored by many young Singaporean women had its humble beginnings not from the physical world, but the virtual one.
The Closet Lover started out as a blogshop, born through a passion project by Bertilla and her sister. What sparked it all was simple – Bertilla used to buy clothes from overseas, and resold them during her university days. Upon nearing her graduation, she realised she wanted to commit to her fashion business full-time.
It didn’t take long before she had her first taste of adversity. When Bertilla told her parents that she wanted to start her own business, she faced opposition from her own family, who questioned the feasibility of her dream.
“My mother was a disciplinarian,” said Bertilla. She added that her mother was very strict with her results since she was young, and felt that entrepreneurship was not a viable option. Wouldn’t it be better to be a professional at a reputable company?
Even her sister, her partner in The Closet Lover, was hesitant to continue when sales kicked off to a disappointing start.
Despite the initial setbacks, Bertilla persevered. After all, her mother’s tough love was also instrumental when it came building her resilience.
For instance, being pushed to take on leadership roles in school landed her in the student council at Nanyang Girls High, where she learnt about teamwork, responsibility and people management skills. She still applies these skills today, where she manages a team of her own in The Closet Lover.
Despite her lack of prior fashion experience, her determination trumped her self-doubt and industry barriers.
“I didn’t have a lot of industry knowledge, but when I was put into that situation, I learned on the job. I just drew it back to my Nanyang days, to not give up, and when I tried, it picked up. Giving up was never in my dictionary.” she said.
Bertilla emphasised that when building one’s career, it is important to remain realistic and grounded. Acknowledging the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, she sets pragmatic deadlines for herself to help her tide through the uncertainty of being a self-made boss.
This also translates into using small milestones to make sure that one’s gas tank to go on with the journey is always full. Success should not be attributable to a single win as that is not very sustainable, she said.
The best way of keeping herself going – though it might not seem intuitive – is by celebrating small wins such as selling out a particular product or completing a complex task.
Unlike some entrepreneurs who would put their studies on hold, Bertilla made it a point to complete her university education. As an employer herself, with a degree unrelated to her business, she suggested getting professional qualifications before venturing out as an entrepreneur.
Even though aspiring entrepreneurs should pursue their dreams, it is important to take a pragmatic approach by having something to fall back on as a lot of employers still place emphasis on certifications, said Bertilla.
When asked about the challenges in her entrepreneurial journey, she recalled a time when she was faced with cash flow problems.
“Before, I was only responsible for myself. Now, I am responsible for my company and my employees as well. Even though sometimes I feel burnt out in the business, I tell myself I need to carry on. When you really love something and build something, you will persevere through tough times,” she said.
Perseverance might have shaped her future, but it was the past that made her who she is today. Because of this, Bertilla would put her last dollar on the belief that her most important trait was not innate, but nurtured.
She remarks, “It is because of my past experiences, I am not someone who will easily crumble today.”
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