At 14 years old, she entertained thoughts of becoming a mother in the future. When she welcomed her first child, she didn’t quite expect to find herself in the parenting business! In her own words, she was never the entrepreneurial sort either, and needed more than just determination and motivation to thrive.
It was an eye-opening surprise when she let us in on her earnest responses, and we are privileged to catch up with Joey Kwa, founder and CEO of Spring Maternity. Mums in Singapore would definitely know Spring Maternity – they are one of the largest homegrown brands which takes care of baby, maternity and nursing needs.
How exactly did she stumble into the business when she’s not quite the usual “go-getter” (in her own words), and manage to build a thriving retail business for over 13 years? How did she overcome challenges with both the business and motherhood? Read on to find out!
Hello Joey! We hear it was an accidental stumble into entrepreneurship! How did the idea of being in the baby/parenting business come about?
About baby and parenting: The only thing I was very sure about, when I was about 14 yrs old, is that I wanted to be a mother. I recalled vividly that a Channel 8 program was interviewing childless couples who went through pains trying for babies, and I cried with them! I felt their longing, their yearning, and that they were not feeling “complete”… and I was fearful that I would become like them. This thought accompanied me through the next 2 decades, until I first became pregnant in my late 20’s.
About baby/ parenting business: I have never grown up with the ambition of setting up or running a business. In fact, I thought passionately about becoming a graphic/ interior/ fashion designer, an architect, an archaeologist, but never an entrepreneur. I stumbled into it during my first pregnancy when I was working in the fast fashion industry as a Fashion Buyer. I was looking for maternity wear, and found the selections back then limited and expensive. That seeded the first thoughts of having my own maternity label and Spring Maternity was born.
From maternity wear, the business simply took root, grew and became what it is today – a maternity and nursing label worn by pregnant women around the globe: Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, China, US, Europe, Middle East, and recently In Africa continent! In Singapore, Malaysia, and Cambodia, Spring Maternity has evolved into retail chain stores beyond maternity wear, encompassing quality pregnancy and baby products sourced both locally and overseas.
What are the challenges you’ve encountered?
Plenty!! Sigh.. lol.
Looking back, the common challenges of running a business – managing costs, manpower, marketing, building and maintaining business relationships, growing the business, etc. are ever present. To make things worse, if a business doesn’t grow in Singapore’s competitive business climate, it’s considered a decline.
My biggest personal challenge (and still is), honestly, is balancing work and motherhood, spending quality time with my 2 kids, learning and exploring my role as a mother with them at different stages of their lives, which is ever-evolving. I look at the SAHMs around me; their very delicious and thoughtful made-with-love home cooked food for their children, they’re always present for their kids and all these sends me waves of guilt. But I am not that kind of mother, who can do these 24/7.
Last year, I told my pre-teen kids jokingly, that perhaps I should quit my job and spend more time at home with them. They looked at me blankly at first (I think they were imagining scenarios of me at home all day), and told me, “Mummy, I think better not, we can take care of ourselves.” Actually, the truth probably is, they are probably fearful of losing much of their digital freedom if I were to be home all the time.
How did family and friends react when you wanted to start your own business?
My biggest supporter is my husband, the ever so gung-ho risk taker and entrepreneur. My uncle, an entrepreneur himself, had been a great early supporter and influencer. He was critical in pushing me to go out and just try, and to go with my instincts. Both had more faith in me than I had in myself!
How has it been balancing work and family, especially in the early days?
In the early days with the birth of my daughter and son, it was pretty tough for us to manage as both my parents are no longer around and we didn’t have any help. We sought help from my aunty, my bestie’s mum, and subsequently had our first domestic helper when my girl was about a year old. It was not until the 3rd helper within 3 years, before I found the right one I could entrust my kids to (and she is with us for the 11th year now).
I remembered vividly during our initial months of our store at Suntec City back in 2003: When I had to go to work on a particular weekend, but all I wanted to do was to spend time with my girl at East Coast Park. I woke up earlier that morning, brought her to East Coast Park, strolled while watching the sea and the ships, before leaving for work reluctantly.
Do you have a role model or someone who inspires you to keep going?
During my growing up years, I was not one of those go-getter individual who had endless supply of self belief, confidence, esteem, and self motivation. Possibly to the contrary belief of my team, I was the laid-back-watch-the-world-go-by type, 与世无争 sort.
During my university days, I would go to the library wanting to work on my tutorials, and I would end up falling asleep. I needed high doses of inspiration, determination and perseverance to get work done. It’s my optimism, curiosity, passion and empathy which have kept me going.
During the times I doubted my ability to curate beautiful and functional maternity wear, Miuccia Prada taught me, one needn’t to go to fashion school to produce successful fashion labels. In fact, while working with trained fashion designers, I realised they didn’t understand the business of fashion, whereas my training in business and passion in marketing, gave me an advantage in curating a commercially viable fashion label.
Steve Jobs instilled in me the importance of believing in yourself, following your own instincts, beauty in design simplicity, ingenuity in thinking differently.
Jack Ma inspired the importance of optimism, perseverance, and giving back what you have earned to pay it forward.
In fact, it doesn’t have to be famous people who inspire or who can be role models. They are simply “more available” resources to read about. Simple every day folks like the parents of little Tabitha Teo Pei Shan, and little Tabitha herself (who was a 17 year old trapped in the body of a toddler), inspired me with their optimism, perseverance and simple love. With curiosity, empathy and a dose of adventure, gradually, I realised I have been pushed to go beyond places I have never imagined.
What do you think are the key factors of maintaining a business in the competitive landscape?
Ability to change, tenacity to see through change, foresight in spotting what to change.
As we arrive in this age of digital revolution, change has never been faster and more drastic. As I plotted the growth of Spring Maternity in the last 13 years, I realised we “changed” drastically about every 5 yrs.
Into our 5th year, we ventured from a true blue maternity boutique store (at a peak of 6 small boutique stores) to 4 bigger format maternity and baby products stores, and 1 boutique store. As we ventured into our 10th year, we took our brand aggressively overseas, proudly marketing ourselves as a Singapore brand. Now into our 13th year, we have embarked on a new journey to merge all our 5 stores into a megastore, in fact, doubling the retail footprint of the sum of our 5 retail spaces put together, introducing a new dimension – services, on top of a comprehensive product category.
We are also taking a bold leap, to re-brand our new retail concept – Bove (pronounced as “love” with a “B”), which purposefully and meaningfully rhymes with “Birth”, and is a combination of the 2 words “birth” and “love”, to emphasise the beautiful bond between parent and child.
With a busy schedule, how do you unwind after a long day/week?
Giving myself “personal time” mostly through yoga practices, and at occasions, stealing time to chill over a cup of coffee. I am glad I have gotten myself back on track to exercise in the last 2 years. I have taken up yoga to build strength and flexibility, something I have pretty much neglected for nearly 2 decades after leavingschool. I have grown to like the peace and quiet during each session, to meditate and learn to focus my mind, and be “present”, to heighten my sense of awareness.
At the end of each long work day, I try to be home to understand my kids better, to learn the music they are listening to, to talk to their friends on their nightly Skype sessions, and to sit together with them to share and browse content online.
Do share some tips that would be helpful to new parents!
1) A woman’s financial independence
Coming from a traditional male dominant family background, where my mother was a typical housewife for most of her productive years, I value very much a woman’s financial independence from her husband. Having financial independence means she is likely to enjoy a more equal say in the household, more likely able to do more of the things she loves, and move towards a more balanced personal growth which is important in her general well being as she ages.
2) There is no single benchmark for the “perfect” mother or father
I have come to learn and accept that there is no “perfect” parent, so I don’t have to beat myself for not spending as much time with my kids as other mums. The “perfect” mum is my own mother, despite her lack in education, despite her not knowing how to express her love for her kids better other than nagging, scolding and beating, she expressed her love in ways I finally understood, the day I became a mother myself. The “perfect” parent is there when you learn to accept and is in harmony with your “imperfect” self, so that you can love your “imperfect” child.
3) Don’t “over” fuss your child
A child is going to grow up and soar on their own. One of the best skills you can equip them with is independence and tenacity. As a toddler, when they fall, encourage them to stand up again on their own without fuss. As a kid, let them explore the things around them, learn to enjoy and appreciate outdoors, pick up a sport, play competitively, let them understand perseverance and teamwork. If a parent is always there for his/ her child, the child will still be a child in his/ her adult years.
Thank you for baring your heartfelt thoughts to us, Joey. These words echo the sentiments and struggles of many working mothers, and it’s always a constant challenge to strike a balance between motherhood, work and our own life.
We hope fellow mummies are inspired by Joey’s story! New parents, the three tips that she has shared are definitely timely reminders from someone who has ‘been that, done that’ :)
Thank you, Joey, for making a difference in a pregnant mum’s life and our babies. Spring to greater heights and take our Singapore brand far and wide! For more information about Spring Maternity: Website / Facebook / Instagram
If you’ve got an inspiring story to share, or know someone who should be featured, drop us a note!