Singapore chemical engineer sees career bloom after switching from oil to flowers
SINGAPORE — Janice Lim had always considered herself a risk-averse person who planned her schedules well in advance.
After all, she took up a job in the oil and gas industry after graduating as a chemical engineer.
But after quitting and getting retrenched from her next job, Lim decided to take things into her own hands — literally.
The 27-year-old donned her gloves and began dabbling with flowers in resin, creating coasters for fun until her first order came in — a display piece in resin preserving a flower bouquet.
Fast forward a year and Lim’s brand The Summer Alcove now has a waiting list that is two to three months long, with orders for resin-encased flowers streaming in.
“When I first started out it was nothing, and I charged quite low because I didn’t know how to price my product. I didn’t expect it to be able to grow to a scale of what it is now,” she said.
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Prices start from S$26 for a coaster or ringholder to S$250 for a full square display. Lim also creates trays, soap dishes and paperweights.
From oil to creative industry
Lim told Yahoo Finance Singapore about her journey from a supply chain analyst to the owner of her small start-up, born at a time when she saw her bank savings dwindling.
After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, Lim joined an established oil and gas company as an analyst managing a portfolio of suppliers. While she liked her supervisors, she felt that the company wasn’t her place for the long haul.
Singapore’s “circuit breaker” period in April 2020 solidified that feeling. With the pandemic keeping people at home, Lim, who had plenty of time to reflect on her future, realised she wanted more. She wanted to create things.
"If I can do whatever I wanted to, what would I do? Obviously it's not this. it's not going to an office every day and shifting papers around and doing not much at all,” she said.
“And that was the time when a lot of people started their home bakeries and all these small businesses …So that kind of made me think if I had something to do for a business, what would I do?”
That was when she started the Instagram page for The Summer Alcove. But without any solid ideas for her business, the page remained dormant.
Months later, Lim left her company to join an online grocery delivery platform doing operations and marketing to learn the ropes of a smaller company. She did not foresee being let go after a mere three months when the company restructured.
By the start of 2021, without a clear path in mind, Lim had fallen back into her “default” mode of hunting for a job. But the constant interviews took their toll and she soon fell into despair.
She gave herself three more months before deciding to simply focus on being her own boss.
“I was thinking if I want to tell people that I can do all these things, why don't I do it for myself? Why do I have to go and do it for someone else when eventually one day I will want to try it for myself.”
She began doing web comics, then selling her own crocheted creations, but neither took off.
That was when YouTube recommended to her a video about resin. Thinking it looked “quite fun”, Lim bought some resin and flowers for herself to make coasters, learning the craft from scratch.
Trial and error
Her work involves three main steps: Designing the displays, preserving the flowers in silica gel to maintain their vibrancy, then casting the flowers in food-grade deep casting resin according to the finalised design.
Through trial and error, she learned which colours worked resin, a clear substance that had to be painstakingly poured over the blossoms layer by layer. Too much at once could burn the delicate blooms. The process could take up to weeks depending on how big the product was.
Despite the difficulty of working with the material, she was hooked.
By April 2021, she began running Instagram ads to market her products and a woman reached out to her wanting to preserve a wedding bouquet. Lim had snagged her very first customer.
Another bride reached out to have an engagement bouquet preserved a similar way. This bride gave The Summer Alcove a shoutout by posting the final product on a Facebook bridal group. The post gained traction with Lim receiving five to 10 enquiries.
As word of social media post spread, Lim began investing more into her craft. She said she spent a mid-four digit sum in resin, moulds and other equipment.
Within months, Lim converted her bedroom into a mini studio, with half the space accommodating three workstations and a shelf to store supplies. Even half of Lim’s clothes wardrobe was sacrificed to cardboard packages, pouches and the like.
Her days now being with admin work in the morning and the crafting in the afternoon. At night Lim does the packaging, photos and designs.
Planning for the unplanned
Thinking back, Lim said she learned to expect the unexpected.
"It's a new way of doing work that I had to get used to. So a lot of it is just see how it comes and see how I can react to it."
With barely enough time to catch up with her orders, it's a challenge for Lim to explore ways to expand, but she is thinking of pushing out a DIY kit for flower resin products and displaying her wares at a pop-up booth. She will likely move to a dedicated studio space next year.
While she now rakes in a mid four-digit income comparable to when she was a supply chain analyst, Lim cannot forget the period of uncertainty when her savings dwindled.
"At that point in time, I didn't even know if this was a viable business. So it seemed like a lot of expense for no return," she said.
"What I've learned is that sometimes things don't turn out the way you expect it to, but sometimes that could be in a good way," she noted, adding that a lot of the opportunities that helped her business grow came from sources she didn't expect.
Her modest advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: Just start small.
"There's no need to go all into this one big idea, because at that point, when you're starting the idea, you probably don't know enough about it to know the challenges that you'll face. So just start small and then progress from there. Things will probably like take a form that you might not expect and it might be for the better."
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