Women Who Launch: It’s Natural

Early this year in April, 29 year-old Liyan Huang started her first online business It’s Natural.

Carrying natural and organic brands from Australia, Sweden, America, New Zealand and Italy, It’s Natural is one of the new generation of online startups selling natural skincare products. Products sourced are not usually found on the counters of local departmental stores. In fact, the only way to have access to these natural products is online, or if you personally travel to the countries themselves. And who has that kind of life, and money?!

I was interested to find out what drives this young Singaporean woman, and understand the mind behind this new emerging generation of young entrepreneurial women.

For nearly ten years now, Liyan suffers from an endocrine condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or more often coined as PCOS. PCOS is one of the most common female endocrine disorders where a woman suffers from a severe imbalance of female hormones. According to Dr. Tan Thiam Chye, a Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at KK Women’s and Children’s hospital, this condition is common in 10% of women.

Symptoms of PCOS can be extremely difficult to deal with, and it includes: infertility, cyst in the ovaries, acne, oily skin, dandruff, weight gain and obesity, male-pattern baldness and thinning hair, dark brown skin patches on neck, breasts and thighs, skin tags, depression and sleep apnea. These symptoms can easily wear down the vulnerability of any young woman’s psychological state over time. Unfortunately, there is no cure. Once diagnosed with PCOS, it needs to be managed to prevent problems. Another unfortunate is – treatment is based on symptoms. So with the array of symptoms that could affect an outbreak, one may undergo several treatments simultaneously. This can be extremely overwhelming.

The cause of PCOS is unknown. But many experts cite genetics as one of factors that may play a role.

In Liyan’s case, it is heredity. Her mom has PCOS. Because PCOS is a hormonal dysfunction, lifestyle modifications is one of the fastest way of managing the condition. For Liyan, she suffers from extremely sensitive and oily skin. So, she changed her skincare products and started using ones that are natural/organic-based. As she was studying in Australia at the time of diagnosis, Jurlique was one of the high-quality natural brands that helped with her condition.

But after a while, going natural with skincare especially with sought-after brands like Jurlique started to take a toll on the wallet. To add, her search for high-quality yet affordable natural skincare products proved difficult. Especially in Singapore.

So, what’s a girl got to do? Start her own online business, source around the world for the best natural brands and offer them at reasonable prices (minus the high over-heads traditionally incurred by physical start-up businesses).

But if you think this self-starter had always wanted to start her own business, it cannot be further from the truth. Deemed as ultra-conservative, non-adventurous in any sense of the word and fairly level-headed, Liyan shocked all her friends when she told them her plan to go online. In fact, she also holds a full-time job as a dietician to national athletes and sports teams. But what is working for her as an online entrepreneur is her superb organisational skills and personal determination.

What is it like to run your own online shop? 
Busy, busy, busy. Apart from the basic logistics of taking stock and balancing the books, an online business requires one to very social media savvy. I need to think of topics to post on our Facebook account, and find short blogs to post on our own website to generate traffic. Sometimes, the number of things to do can be quite overwhelming. Especially when I have a full time job as well. But this online shop is my baby.

How is your business doing?
Pretty good! Some months I can get quite a few orders, and other months can be quiet. But it is still relatively new. Given that I am also working full-time, I get a lot of support from friends, family and word-of-mouth. I am happy doing what I do. To me that is all that matters right now.

Natural and organic skin care often seen as paying too much for too little. Are Asian women into natural and organic skin care? 
Like cars, there are high-priced Porches and there are low-priced Cherry QQ. But there are also those in-between like Honda Jazz that are efficient and reasonably-priced. Same can be said for for organic and natural skincare. What matters most is what the customer is looking for. I think more and more people are going organic. This is evident in the number of organic shops in Singapore now.

The traditional way women buy their skin care products is at the counter where they have the chance to touch and feel the products before purchase. Being an online skin care retail shop, how do you compete? And differentiate yourself to get customers?
To stay ahead, I feel that the online shop has to sell products that brick-and-mortar shops don’t sell; or that the online price has to be cheaper than the retail price in shops. To make up for not being able to touch and feel the products before purchase, one way is to get people to review the products. Singaporeans are very internet savvy. Many of my friends and clients read up on products before they buy. This means I have to get my products reviewed by bloggers, and I must ensure the products I choose to bring in are good enough to the withstand reviews!

What is the one thing you learned, but wished, someone told you when you started your online shop? 
That I should have bought my website name instead of getting it through a shopping suite.

Because when I bought my website name through a shopping suite (at least the one I use), my web name technically belongs to them. It makes it harder to move to a new suite.

Who inspires you? And why?
My mother-in-law. She is a single mum who brought up 3 children single-handedly, and have been through some really hard times.

What skincare products do you personally use daily?
I’m using Lily Loves Pearl’s gel cleanser, MV Organic skincare’s cream cleanser, Trilogy’s hydrating mist toner, Trilogy’s Nutrient Plus firming serum, Trilogy’s rosehip oil, Estelle & Thild’s fragrance-free eye balm and Lily Loves Pearl’s light balancing moisturizing lotion.I spend a lot on skincare! Due to my PCOS condition, I am have oily and sensitive skin that is extremely prone to blemishes and pimples, especially near the time of the month. The combination of rosehip oil, and nutrient plus serum, helps to reduce the redness during the flare ups. These products help to keep my skin balanced, without being too oily.

Have you tried organic food or worn organic material garments? 
Oh yes! My mother-in-law is a big advocate of organic produce. She is the reason I became an organic junkie. I used to think organic food is just pesticide and fertilizer free, and not worth the higher price. But after tasting her cooking (made with loads of organic ingredients), I changed my mind. There is a difference in taste and texture. For example, with organic vs. non-organic coriander, the former smells and tastes crispier and much more fragrant. I don’t wear organic garment, but my bedsheets are made with organic cotton. They feel much softer than ordinary sheets.

How do you practice eco-conscious living? 
I bring my own bags when I go grocery shopping. And I unplug appliances when not in use. We had this point in mind when my husband and I designed our home. We made sure that power points were positioned in convenient-to-reach spots, so that we can switch off the main power of the appliance when not-in-use.

If you could play your part in saving the planet in just ONE way – in your everyday life, what would it be? 
Reduce energy consumption whenever possible. This includes things like making sure the air-con is not too cold, switching off lights when no one is around, and not exercising on the treadmill!

Thanks Liyan!

For more information on Liyan and It’s Natural, her online natural skincare store, click here.

For a complete listing of:

  • Women Who Launch interviews, click here.
  • Inspiring Women interviews, click here.
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