Women Who Launch: Katharos

Nerissa Chuang, 30
Executive Director, Katharos

From the moment one meets Nerissa, it is apparent that there is more to this National University of Singapore graduate than her infectious girly laughter, impeccable dressing and meticulous grooming. Barely 30, Nerissa is a working machine. Not only does she have a successful career in the finance industry, she also engages a professional mentor as her life coach and keeps busy conducting workshops and building multiple streams of income. Launch in March 2014, Katharos is her first foray as a distributor of natural and organic beauty products.

Were you always passionate about organic skincare?
No! It is a funny story. I attended a course supposedly for marketing and the trainer ended up talking about organic living. Midway through the course, I went to the ladies room. There, a lady who was attending the same course, came up to me and started giving me lots of natural living advice. She even told me I was putting too many chemicals on my face with my regular makeup. As random as this encounter was, it got me thinking.

What prompted you to start Katharos?
After that incident in the ladies room, I decided to purchase some organic products online because the ones at retail outlets were significantly more expensive. However, when the products arrived, I realized more often than not, they were not what I expected. Some products marketed as ‘organic‘ were, in fact, regular products made simply with a small amount of organic ingredients. Some even contained the same harmful chemicals that I was trying to avoid.

It occurred to me that I was not the only one who fell for this. I knew that if I wanted to make the switch to use truly authentic organic products and share the benefits with people around me, I had to be directly involved with the distribution.

What behind the name ‘Katharos’?
Katharos means ‘pure’ in Greek.

Is this your first time starting your own business?
Yes and no. Yes because this is the first business I have started on my own. No because I have been (and still am) working in the finance industry since graduation; and the nature of the job is flexible and it often feels like I am running my own business anyway.

Did you think you would one day become an entrepreneur?
Yes. After experiencing so much freedom in time and having an income that is directly correlated to the time and effort I put in, I find it difficult to see myself as an employee with fixed hours and a salary. I have always been free-spirited and I function best when I am given the autonomy and space to explore my creativity.

How do you juggle two careers?
These days, I pretty much work regular hours on my full-time job. In the evenings, I work on Katharos until 1-2am every night. It is not ideal but it is necessary for now. My weekends are also devoted to trying up loose ends for both jobs. I am fortunate to have capable staff to support me and a supportive husband who helps me with the website, logistics and accounting matters.

It must be exhausting to be always working. What spurs you along?
Warren Buffett once said that in order to attain financial freedom, one needs seven sources of income. I believe with proper time management, people really can multi-task.

What was your product sourcing process like?
Google. I google everything. First, I filter through all the brands to see which measured up to my list of criteria from brand positioning to consumer reviews. Then, I got in touch with the shortlisted brands and purchased samples to try the products on myself. I chose Eminence and Wild Nature because they were able to give me exclusive distribution rights and had quality products I believed in. They also showed business integrity in my dealings with them and good support.

What was your initial start-up capital?

What challenges did you faced that you wished someone had warned you?
That the business world is a lot more complicated than I expected. I learnt to be a lot more careful and discerning when considering potential business partnerships. I have had a couple of close encounters with potential partners who had their own agenda; luckily I figured it out and made a graceful exit before it was too late.

In your opinion, are Singaporean women willing to pay more for organic skincare products?
I believe so as long as they are educated in this area. This is why I invest in workshops because I get more personal time with my customers. Most people are willing to spend as long as they know what they are paying for.  I believe if you see the value of something, you don’t count the cost.


Who inspires you?
My mentor, Christina Khoo. Some years ago, I engaged her as my life coach. Since then, she has been a great support for me, both personally and professionally. She leads such a fulfilling and balanced life that I really admire and look up to.

Any future plans for Katharos?
I am considering a project to open retail outlets in other parts of Asia, as well as carry other organic product lines unrelated to skincare. I see this as a good form of diversification whilst being in line with what Katharos represents.

What advice would you give to young women entrepreneurs in Singapore?
Before you start, ensure you have some financial stability first before taking on new risks and expenses. There will always be unexpected expenditures in the beginning stages of starting your business so you must be prepared for that!

What is your best selling product?
For Eminence, it would be Eminence’s Vanilla Latte Tinted moisturiser. Up to 80% of people who have sampled it, have ordered it. This moisturiser combines the benefits of sun protection and moisturizer with sheer coverage that replaces the use of foundation for daily wear. It has a light, non-oily texture that is comfortable on the skin. Perfect for busy girls who do not have the luxury of time to slater on layers of different products in the morning. And it smells yummy!

For Wild Nature, my best-seller is Wild Nature Destiny Smudge Pot in our makeup range. The strong pigments of this gel liner makes it shockingly easy to apply. I am already getting numerous requests for the smudge pot in brown (which is arriving April 2014).


If I had to describe you in three words, it would be…
Focused. Disciplined. Dedicated.

How important is eco-living to you?
To be honest, it was not until the end of 2012. My husband (fiancée at the time) and I went to South America for our pre-wedding photo shoot. During our stay in the Amazon, we were amazed at the practices that our resort had in order to preserve their natural environment. Being completely in nature, we saw how differently our world has changed due to industrialization. It was then that I started being aware of my impact on the environment.

What are some practices of the Amazonians that left an impression on you?
To avoid any chemical residue of any sort (because everything gets absorbed back into the soil and into the rainforest), they only use one particular kind of soap that is made from 100% native natural ingredients. Also, they bag and collect ALL of their refuse which gets flown out of the rainforest – by plane – once a week.

What are some eco-friendly changes you have made in your life?
1. I grow as many herbs as possible in my herb garden and use organic fertilisers.
2. I have stopped eating shark’s fin and foie gras (even though I used to love it).
3. I reuse water from my humidifier to water my plants and clean my floors.

If you could play your part in saving the Planet in just ONE way in your everyday life, what would it be?
Use less energy. We consciously convert our home lighting to LED lights and all our appliances have good energy star ratings.


Thanks Nerissa 

To find out more on Katharos and its full range of products, visit katharosorganics.com.

Interested to know more? Read my review of Eminence Stone Crop Starter Kit.

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