It all started with a simple movement three years ago that would change the way we think about fashion sustainability and consumption today. Thanks to the #WomenOfStyleTheory community, we have now sowed the seeds for a new fashion movement in Singapore and Indonesia with thousands of women sharing an Infinite Wardrobe and the experience of unlimited fashion freedom.
The Women Who series highlights inspiring subscribers in our community with a story to tell. This week we sat down with a passionate woman, in her humble abode where her studio is also the living space shared amongst her family.
Meet Ng See Min:
Hi See Min, being a jagua artist might be an unconventional job to others, how would you describe your job to someone who has no idea what you do?
Jagua is similar to henna, yet not quite so. It looks like a real tattoo, but it stays on for only two weeks. This is also the reason why I always have jagua ink on me — it would be easier to explain and show people the difference between henna and jagua ink. In other words, I am a temporary body artist. I use organic ink that comes from a real fruit from South America and paint realistic looking tattoos that last for two weeks.
How did you start on this journey of doing Jagua? Share with us how it all started and what was it that brought henn.drawn to live.
Initially, I was bored and I wanted to earn more money while studying in university. I don’t come from a privileged family, so university was very expensive and time was a commodity. Jobs like tutoring and waitressing were options, but those did not earn me enough money so I was constantly on the lookout for more. My passion for drawing and the idea of wanting to take the financial load off my Mom’s shoulders was how the idea of henn.drawn came about. It was an avenue for me to be financially independent.
Henn.drawn actually started with the use of henna and traditional henna designs. But overtime, the motifs and patterns became repetitive, which motivated me to research for better alternatives. Having a Mum who is strongly against tattoos was how I innovated to find an alternative for temporary tattoos.
What is the difference between henna and jagua ink?
Henna is a brown pigment, and it doesn’t replicate the look of a real tattoo, so I always felt that it was an imitation. I’ve also tried out black henna, however I never really knew what the ingredients were exactly. Even if I used the safest one available, I wasn’t comfortable with using something that I had no full knowledge about.
I stumbled upon Jagua ink over Instagram — a dark-blue ink made from jagua fruit. I decided to try it on myself and the rest is history!
Do you still feel like yourself if your jagua ink fades?
Of course, because there will be times I am lazy to draw. However, at times I will still feel an emptiness, which is why I would want a tattoo as it is permanent.
Unlike other jobs, this job doesn’t exactly require regular hours. Can you share with us what a workweek is like for you?
I pretty much work all seven days a week. Officially, I attend to clients who make appointments–about four days a week.I usually try to have an off day every Tuesday, but I always end up working anyway.
I try not to work during the weekends but events are mainly held on weekends, so I end up working on weekends whenever necessary. On the bright side, I can start whenever I want. On most days, my appointment starts only at 3pm, which means I end later than most people, at around 10pm.
Style Theory decided to name you as part of the Women Who Paint. What’s your take on the word ‘paint’.
I paint quite a lot. I paint on skin, face, clothes, and shoes too, for fun. I really like to paint.
This took me only four hours, with maximum concentration. I try to paint whenever I can. It’s a love-hate relationship because it’s so time consuming but the end product is satisfying.
Do you see henn.drawn as more of work or just a part of your lifestyle? Some people say work isn’t work when you are doing something you love. Can you share with us how you relate to that?
Right now it’s work and lifestyle, because I feel like without it, I am not myself; It’s an extension of myself. But it is also work, because in order for henn.drawn to expand and survive, I can’t draw whenever and whatever I want. I also have to plan for other things, such as hiring people to handle administrative work, and following customers’ drafts. Currently, I spend a lot of time handling admin and replying queries.
What motivates you to continue on in this career?
The people — my clients — very cliché but it’s true. When I first started henn.drawn I did feel burnt out and felt as if I was a sellout. It became very commercialised. Although people might still feel the same (perhaps even more so than last time) at least now, I know my purpose really well. I used to think that henn.drawn was a source of temporary tattoo that’s easy to sell out because it was mass marketed. Thankfully, after doing this for awhile, I truly understand that our art is not just about creating temporary body tattoos, it’s also the experience that comes with it. We value the human connection — the conversations and the space we share during the session is something sacred.
People tend to share their problems with me, although it doesn’t start out that way. I feel that my art sessions are where they feel safe to share. Whenever someone wants a tattoo, I don’t think they just wake up one day and decide to get a tattoo. Instead, getting a tattoo is a notion of celebrating or getting over something. I realise that people use body art as an outlet, or to express themselves in a way that they can’t.
People tell us the little way we changed their lives and many share that although we may not think that we’re not doing much by drawing, it has helped one way or another. It’s more than just drawing. I have learned to value my clients and the connection we share.
What are some struggles you faced when you first started your journey of being a henna artist?
I remember constantly devaluing myself, thinking it’s just a simple drawing and anyone with an arts degree can do better than me. I’ve never studied art before so I always felt like my work is just very amateur.. I charge very little and that’s actually not very good for the business!
I always thought that I don’t know how to run a business. I just winged it, did as I pleased, and it worked. Even though the company is growing, I didn’t feel happy or responsible for it. I constantly believed that henn.drawn took off because I was lucky or had help from others. However, over time, I realised that a lot of it was my own effort, and that it is very detrimental for business owners when you don’t even believe in yourself. Now I’m slowly improving, and believing in myself.
What are some inaccurate representations about jagua tattoo that you commonly get? And how is this different from henna?
People think it’s a different kind of henna. But it’s not, henna comes from henna plant, where the leaf is made into paste. Jagua ink is an organic dark blue ink made from the juice of the jagua fruit. People think it’s tattoo and assume it’s real until I tell them it’s just temporary and only lasts for two weeks.
Did you ever foresee henn.drawn progressing so far, such as adding more artists to your team, and getting invitations for workshops, not just locally, but overseas too?
I see it progressing maybe in the next year. Right now I’m already hiring a virtual assistant to handle my schedule and administrative work. I am also hiring more apprentices to expand my team, and have plans in mind to hold workshops overseas.
How is it like having your work and career environment in your own home?
It feels like a double-edged sword. I have control over a lot of things and everything is easily accessible. It is a lot easier now than it was in the past. But at the same time, it has infringed on a lot of boundaries.
My work and home demarcations are very blurry. I tend to feel stressed when I’m not doing anything at home – I can’t even sit back and relax even if that’s what I want to do. I also feel bad for intruding into my family’s space because my studio is practically the living room. Whenever I’m working, they can’t use the living room and it is the only communal space that we share. I do feel responsible for not having enough time spent with them in this space.
Have you encountered anyone who felt that your career wasn’t a ‘real’ career?
Of course, but I wouldn’t argue with them. I try to see where they are coming from, and most of the time I know they say things from their own beliefs, so it doesn’t reflect anything about me at all. As long as I know what I want to do and my purpose,I don’t have to worry about what others are saying. If what was mentioned is true and constructive, or if the feedback gets too repetitive, I will address the issue and work on it.
Where do you find motivation in your personal life? Who and what motivates you in life?
I work out! I have ClassPass and if you cancel after the 12 hour mark, you still need to pay. So the thought of wasted money motivates me, and forces me to work out.
Who are your role models and what about them inspires you?
I seek motivation from a lot of places and people. My role models are mainly my mum and Sharon Au. My mum taught me to be really resilient and that it is possible to start something even when you have nothing. She is illiterate and yet managed to raise the entire family single-handedly. Even though she has no formal education, we have a house, and a nice place to stay. This taught me that women can do anything even when they start out with nothing.
Not sure if you know, but Sharon Au moved to Paris at the age of 43. It was amazing because I know her life in Singapore was comfortable. And yet, that was the very reason why she chose to reject it. Her lifestyle affected her and she became less patient, less compassionate and too comfortable with the luxury provided. Working in Paris, a place completely foreign to her, was her way of throwing herself into the sea of the unknown. Sharon had close to no friends or connections, yet she managed to survive. There was a time where I always felt that I’m growing older, no longer 21 and there’s not much time left for me to do all the things that I want to do. But when I look at Sharon and what she has achieved, even at 43, I came to a realisation that it is never too late to try anything new. It’s my life and I call the shots.
As a subscriber of Style Theory Apparel, what are some of your favourite hits about our service?
The fit is always great! I prefer not to buy or try clothes in Singapore in general, because the fit is always catered to petite or smaller sized girls. The clothes in local retail stores always make me feel bad — like I’m too fat for this shop. Style Theory, on the other hand, has clothes that are very flattering, and they fit well. The fit algorithm helped a lot in picking the right size too.
Where do you think Style Theory can do better?
Style Theory is more for working adults, and even though my style is a bit “weird”, I do love a lot of the clothes on the app. I have about 50 items on my wish-list but I always think that I don’t have time to wear it because I’m always at home. I feel that Style Theory’s outfits are too formal, too glam for casual day.
What is important for you when it comes to renting? (Do you rent more for work, weekend, events or travel?)
Mostly, occasions and travels. I don’t have to buy clothes and don’t succumb to the societal pressure of wanting to impress people at functions. I feel that I always meet the same people so I can’t wear the same thing. That’s where Style Theory comes in handy and I love that I don’t have to do laundry, iron or fold the clothes.
Were there any times during your subscription that you felt closest to what the brand stood for? Could you walk us through that?
100%! I do believe there’s no end point to anything, and as humans, we will never stop growing and learning. We are always progressing, and in the process of self-exploration, and that is most important.
How do your friends describe your personality?
Whimsical, quirky, empathetic!
How has your personal style influenced your drawings and henna designs?
My drawings and paintings using makeup, and experimenting with makeup.
What’s your personal philosophy?
Believing in myself, and that I have the power to control how I feel over certain things. It makes you responsible for whatever happens in your life and not simply resigning it to fate.
=What are some of your favourite off-duty activities? (Where can we find you on a day-off?)
At the meditation studio! Meditation helps to ground me, especially when I’m stressed and in need of healing. Some classes don’t require much, it is simply an outlet to rest and relax in a quiet place. It helps in clearing your mind, while at the same time, those thoughts you’ve tried to suppress will eventually surface, and you can address them later on.
What are some resolutions or changes you have made recently and have still kept to it?
I don’t make resolutions, I don’t believe in it. But I am committed to work and growth as a person. It helps in learning more things and being open to more experiences.
We’re almost done with 2019! What are some experiences or things you would want to try in 2020? What are some things you want to try in 2019/2020?
Travel more to relax, and try working overseas — New York is a great start.
I would also like to try to relax more, learn how to build boundaries, and have a balance in my life.
Do you have any advice for those who are looking to enter the workforce or create new waves at their current role? (How would you encourage or talk about hustling to people looking for change at work?)
Always strive to give value, no matter what. Don’t fear fear. It’s the worst thing that can happen.
Inspired by See Min’s style? Rent her picks from the Infinite Wardrobe: