December 13, 2017
As the founder of Shop Wonderland, Melissa runs a beautiful cafe and floral studio out of a shophouse along Telok Ayer Street. Aside from the many delectable offerings of hearty fare and indulgent cakes at her cafe, I simply fell in love with her floral studio on the second floor - a space filled with natural light and the lingering scent of botanicals.
In a world that glorifies the pursuit of perfection and novelty, I often return to and seek out inspiration from the most familiar of things, and I wondered if other women shared similar sentiments. Amidst the festive bustle at Shop Wonderland, I had the pleasure of time to catch up with Melissa as she spoke about her craft as a florist, what grounds and motivates her in work and in life, and how she finds respite and joy through it all.
Business owner, Florist, and Mother - how do you do it? Take me through a regular day in your shoes...
My typical day starts off with the kids, either sending them to school or sorting them out at home. I then head off to the shop where I meet my team for a quick rundown on what to expect for the day or the week. After all the human interaction, I sit down and tackle admin and emails. The afternoons are for meetings or to be on the shop floor if they need me - either for flowers or at the cafe. The day often flies by and I end it with a peaceful walk home. It gives me time to consider the day's events.
Nature and botanicals have always been a point of inspiration and reference for me as a designer. I admire that you work intimately with these elements - what does floristry mean to you?
Floristry is to create pieces that tell a story through colours, texture, and shape. When a customer trusts us with an order and allows for freestyle, that is when I get to truly create, according to how the flowering foliage has grown. When each stalk is placed into a bouquet, it is important that it is not methodical. It should be entirely emotional, to tell a story using your materials. This organic dialogue is what I find most meaningful and exhilarating about floristry.
Who or what has inspired you throughout this journey?
I've had the privilege of working with inspiring mentors during the earlier years of my career.
I started out as a journalist with the Singapore Tatler, and my first mentor was the social correspondent in the editorial team. She taught me a lot about behaviour and conduct. She had immaculate manners and showed me what it means to have and upkeep a personal brand and reputation. As a young girl, fresh out of university, it was a great start to life lessons.
When I left journalism to pursue a career in fashion retail, my next mentor was the one who hired me although I had no relevant education nor experience. By the first 6 months of my job, I was so close to giving up because the going got tough. But she talked me through and emphasized the importance of earning my stripes. I spent the next 8 years in that industry.
These lessons of doing my due diligence and having a good foundation have taken me through my entire career and now, my business. I am not an extremely ambitious person or someone who has lofty ideals, it has stuck with me that getting the basics right is more important than having unsustainable glorified success. And this is what I tell my team now.
We often hear conversations about how great it is to have your own thing going, to be your own boss. For me personally it's been nothing short of invigorating - bittersweet and transformative in ways I did not expect. What was truly unexpected for you as an entrepreneur?
The past 7 years have been a ride. I think the most unexpected in this journey is that it is impossible to resign from running a business, unlike regular employment. Before you become a business owner, you think "if I don't like it, I'll just stop". But it's turned out not to be as simple, you really can't just throw in the towel. Even in the most challenging season, I have to bite the bullet and continue in the best possible way. I suppose there is a lot of character building in this journey, one that requires good breathing and stamina.
Juggling the needs of both family and a business has its challenges, yet I feel they are a complementary source of strength. What do you think about this dynamics?
I appreciate my husband for giving me a lot of space and respect for my work or my need to commit a fair amount time to it, particularly in the first 5 years of the business. When it comes to new developments in the business or projects, and if I ask for help in terms of ideas, he is always in it with me wholeheartedly - researching, and being a very constructive person to have discussions with.
At this moment, I am most appreciative that he is completely okay with taking the kids on weekends by himself when I have to work, and nary a complaint. As a result, I can head to work without any guilt, and better focused on my task at hand.
My two young boys have really taught me a lot. One thing that motherhood has instilled in me is patience. To be honest, I used to be a hard leader and supervisor. I had little tolerance for poor behavior and mindless mistakes. Being a mother, I've learnt softness, to listen and to give it a chance.
How do you find respite on a full plate?
I relish the simple pleasure of walking, so when I get the chance, I love taking long walks. A particular route I enjoy regularly is the one from work to home. That takes about 45 minutes and I always feel stronger after. It's an opportunity for me to be alone and to just take in the surroundings, think through the day's events, and how to tackle tasks ahead - it really relaxes me. I also indulge in an occasional pick-me-up of strawberry cheesecake ice cream!
What are you looking forward to in 2018? Any aspirations or dreams for you and your household?
I am looking to more holidays, a maturing team at work and therefore, greater stability. It's an irony but I hope to spend more time with my children and pay more attention to their personal growth, academics, creatives, sports, etc. My husband and I believe in an experiential childhood for our kids and I want to be able to do that in the simple activities of our daily lives.
The Weekend Sundries Woman is a series of narrative photos and conversations, featuring authentic, independent women in their most familiar element and craft. We hope this project elicits thoughts and discussion about the nature of the modern woman today - her growth, her challenges, and her comforts. At our studio, we are inspired by the beauty found in the imperfect, the raw — in one's commonplace. We believe finding rest and a moment of pause in this hectic world is the key to thriving.
March 27, 2020
August 09, 2019
Meet Denise: co-founder of interior design firm Habit, and also my long-time friend and ex-colleague.
It's been over a decade - somehow Denise was an easy friend to make, and an easier friend to keep. During our rare but always caffeinated catch-ups, it doesn't take much for us at all to jump into unreserved conversation about our highs and lows, and laugh in wild abandon over the oddest things. As a friend, she's someone I can count on to call me out on things, and to shoot the elephant in the room. She's a keen observer, fiercely loyal and owns a wicked sense of humour ( and more recently, a ragdoll named Mao). If there's one thing that I've learnt from her professionally, it would be that excellent work takes unwavering perseverance and commitment. So, I'd like to share with you a little bit more about her in our WS Woman journal...
February 18, 2019
Meet Alexa Ong: local illustrator and freelance art director; the owner of Wood&Lead (her creative avenue for whimsically crafted products).
We visited her studio at Pearl's Hill Terrace on a relaxed Saturday morning. Sharing the space with other like-minded creatives, Alexa makes this intimate corner of the room her home away from home. With a family of house plants lined along the ledge of the window by her desk, and a collage of framed prints dotting her studio wall, her workspace is reflective of her creative practice that is playful, homely and relatable.
Gathering around a large communal table in the studio, we delved into conversation on her creative journey and practice, while sharing laughter and yet another of life's simple pleasures - in the form of one too many chocolate bars.