Women Who Launch: Pure Tincture

Helen Lien, 36
Founder & Managing Director, Pure Tincture

Helen Lien started her career as an Airport Engineer working for Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, manning technical engineering business at Changi Airport Terminal 3. As an Honors graduate in Bachelor of Science (Building) from National University of Singapore with a couple of extra academic qualifications under her belt; handling nuts, bolts and instructional manuals was part of her everyday job. It is hard to imagine that nowadays, she manages a different set of work tools including tweezers, blemish extractors and brow scissors. Helen’s dynamism, tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit has enabled her to make a significant career change, overcome challenging times running her own business, and ultimately, pursue her life passion in health and beauty.

What got you into the business of health and beauty?
My sister. She has incredibly sensitive skin that clogs up very easily. Even in her 40s, she breaks out and turns red when her da-yi-mah (period) visits. She tried everything and was getting desperate. Coupled with the fact that I was contemplating a career switch, we started out on an adventure to look for skincare solutions that were available beyond what Singapore had to offer that the time.

What did you do?
For a year, we spent hours on the internet combing through information and doing research. We read many books on skincare trying to understand ingredients and verify information. We even took up beauty courses to become certified beauty therapists!

At that time, were you still employed in your full-time job?
No, I had left my former employer. During the 12 months that it took for us to start the company, I worked as a freelance Pilates instructor.

How did you come up with the name ‘Pure Tincture’?
The original name was Luvmist, which stemmed from a phase we coined ‘Love in a mist’. However, after a year of operations, we noticed our customers were not able to relate to the name. So we renamed the company Pure Tincture with a new catch phase ‘Simple organic beauty’. I feel this better captures the heart of our business, and (to me) represents a concoction of pure essences.

Is this your first business venture?

Setting up a beauty business in Singapore is not easy. How did you finance your setup?
My sister and I took out large sums from our savings.

What was your initial setup capital?

What challenges did you face?
When we first started nine years ago, the concept of using organic products was still very new and the benefits were not as widely accepted. The hardest part was getting people to believe that our products work. It was (and still is!) an uphill task competing with the many well-known mainstream brands in the Singapore market.

Another challenge I face is striking a balance between time for my business, family and myself. Especially for a woman, this is a demanding and daily battle.

Can you recall a time that was your most challenging?
Sometime in the 2nd or 3rd year of business, we had an opportunity to sell our products in Takashimaya. We were thrilled – but not prepared for the difficulties that came with it. Working hours were long (9am to 9pm everyday) and the monthly sales targets were high. I had a hard time with manpower because getting the right person is not easy. Very often, I had to be at the counter for long hours and I was expecting my first child. So, I stood with a big belly for hours! Then, not even a month after I delivered, one of my staff called to tell me she has decided to resign with a day’s notice. It was the peak of Christmas retails sales season. So, I had to start work right away. I felt really lonely and helpless then.

How did you pull through?
My family and their support helped me through those tough times. They looked after the baby whenever I needed help.

You compete in a niche market. How do you differentiate your business?
The proportion is Singaporeans who prefer natural skincare is still relatively small, but new natural skincare brands are sprouting up like mushrooms all over the island. One advantage we have is our early entry into the market. This has given us enough head start to establish a pool of loyal customers.

We take extra efforts to go beyond product claims by checking through each and every ingredient. Personally, we test all the products ourselves before putting them on the shelves. If we don’t use it, we don’t sell it.

How has your business changed you?
To stand out from my competitors, I have to be a role model to my customers. I believe that keeping fit and taking care of my body is the key to looking good. So I exercise 3-4 times a week and eat healthily. When people see the positive health in me, they are more convinced that my products work. I also make an effort to continuously upgrade myself by learning new relevant skills. Apart from being a certified Pilates Matwork instructor, I am also a facial therapist and recently completed a course on Dr Vodder’s Lymphatic Drainage Massage for Face and Neck.

In your opinion, are Singaporean women open and willing to spend on organic beauty and skincare products?
Singapore is expanding rapidly. There is definitely a huge potential for more growth in the next few years. Over the past two years, I have noticed Singaporean women are willing to spend more on quality products. Customers are well-informed and savvy in their selection, so many are switching to organic beauty products. This is more prevalent in women the age group of 26-38 years old. They are experiencing the most changes in their lives (ie. getting married, having their first child or changing skin conditions in their mid-thirties) and looking for better skincare solutions to meet their changing needs.

What advice would you give to young women entrepreneurs who are thinking of setting up their own business?
Know you products. Know your customers. And most importantly, believe in yourself.

Some people say perfect complexion is impossible to attain. What do you think?
It is not impossible. But it does require constant care. Apart from using the right products, I think a person’s complexion is heavily dependent on lifestyle, diet and genes.

There is constant debate when it comes to facials – to extract or not extract. What do you say?
I believe in gentle extractions. If your skin type is normal (ie. oily, combination, normal or dry), gentle extraction with the right technique and pressure is good for clearing pores. At our salon, we analyze the skin first. If the customer has sensitive skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema and inflammation, we will discuss and only extract when necessary.

What advice would you give to women who are dealing with common age-related beauty troubles like sun spots, aging and dry skin?
1. Cleanse, tone and moisturize daily. Apply a sunblock and suitable serum (especially for ladies after 30s).
2. Stay positive and accept aging as a part of life.
3. Sleep early. This helps the body organs to work its best while the body is resting.
4. Pamper yourself with monthly facials. If not, at least once every two to three months.
5. Exercise helps to detox the skin and keep it younger looking.

What are your top 5 skincare items you cannot live without?
1. A good cleanser
2. Brightening serum
3. Day moisturizer
4. Night moisturizer
5. SPF

What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?
Not many know that I am a pretty good runner, and that I’ve completed a 21km marathon before in under an hour.

Do you practice eco-conscious living?
Yes! I bring shopping bags to the shop and re-use it for our customers’ purchase (if they don’t mind). My friend and some customers even contribute shopping bags to us.

If you could play your part in saving the planet in ONE way in your daily life, what would it be?
Avoid/minimize the use of disposable plastics, especially take-away plastic containers.


Thanks Helen ♥

For more information on Helen and her Pure Tincture store, click here.

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  • Women Who Launch interviews, click here.
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