Cover Photo: Chokmah

How attending theology school, a stint as a flight attendant and two miscarriages led Joyce Lim to finally discover her true passion for entrepreneurship and sustainable crafting

How I’m Making It is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.

“I want to show you something. Do you see these dried pieces of Jesmonite that are leftover? We crumble them and put them into the jars for the next group to use. Nothing goes to waste here,” said Joyce Lim. She is the founder of modern and sustainable lifestyle brand Chokmah and she mentioned this as we concluded a peaceful hour at her cosy space in Funan mall. 

We were participating in one of Chokmah’s most popular workshops, the Terrazzo Collection Pill-Shaped Tray workshop, and had just enjoyed the creative process of colour mixing, casting and sanding Jesmonite trays of our own with Lim and her colleagues. 

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“Jesmonite is a really eco-friendly material. We recycle, recast and upcycle everything we use here. In fact, we have our Broken Made Whole collection that is specifically designed with sustainability in mind,” Lim said as she walked us through her shop after the session.

“The collection was actually inspired by my own life funnily enough. Each broken piece represents the challenges and obstacles in my life but when you take these broken pieces, with the right support and hands, what’s broken can be made useful and beautiful and new,” Lim shared with a smile.

True enough, there could not be a better analogy to describe the journey that Lim has been on. From becoming an air stewardess to overcoming two miscarriages to finally becoming a mum, and now, a financially-independent entrepreneur, Lim’s journey has been nothing short of spectacular and this is her story.

Lim started out her career in interior design. Fresh out of Laselle College of the Arts, Lim joined the industry with much vigour.

“I got to work with colours and designs while interacting with people and designing their homes. It was really fun,” Lim said. When she made the decision to leave that life to become a flight attendant, it was a surprising one mainly because it was not her own choice.

“To be honest, it was my mother who wanted me to be an air stewardess and out of obedience, I just wanted to fulfil her wish even though I was not confident in how I physically looked,” explained Lim. “Slowly I learned how to become more confident and decided to give it a try. I did enjoy it in the beginning because I got to interact with different people and learned about different cultures. However I quickly realised that I prefer working in the arts,” she shared.

After a while, Lim decided that this was not the path for her and that’s when she decided to go back to school though what she chose to study was certainly unexpected. 

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“I actually completed a Diploma in Theology and I was fully set to further my studies and serve my church as a minister,” Lim shared. “It was getting married that completely changed the trajectory of my life. For starters, I gave birth to my son and became a stay-at-home mum,” Lim said.

Two years after her son was born, Lim received the happy news in 2018 that she was once again pregnant. “I was eight weeks into my pregnancy and we were filled with so much joy,” said Lim soberly. “Unfortunately, I started bleeding and when I saw the doctor, I was told that the fetus was no longer growing and that I would need to have surgery to remove the baby.”

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Things sped up quickly when Lim started feeling intense discomfort in her abdomen. “I started bleeding even more profusely and I went to the restroom where I ended up discharging the fetus,” she said. “I was confused and in denial and I had to be rushed to the hospital because of the bleeding. We were really distraught and traumatised.”

With the support of friends and family, Lim was slowly able to grieve and heal. So much so that one year after the miscarriage, she found herself pregnant once again.  

“Unfortunately, I suffered a second miscarriage. This time we were more prepared, but it was still a painful experience,” Lim said before adding that this time, she held on to the hope that she herself was alive which meant that she could always try again or adopt.

It took a number of years but in September 2021, Lim finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, her second child. Though in reality, by that time, Lim had already managed to set up and start work on her third baby, Chokmah. 

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Lim credits the season of waiting and parenting her firstborn for the birth of Chokmah. 

“Chokmah was born during one of the most challenging seasons of my life. It was a season when there was a lot of uncertainty due to Covid-19 and I had decided to pick up a new crafting hobby,” Lim shared. “While I was enjoying it, I was very uncomfortable with the amount of material waste that I accumulated which is what led me to start researching for more eco-friendly materials. This was how I discovered Jesmonite.”

“So initially there was no Jesmonite supplier in Singapore and so I had to order it from the United Kingdom and that’s when I started to experiment with it. Through my own testing, I started seeing potential in the material,” Lim said before adding that today, she is the official distributor in Singapore for Jesmonite.

“I slowly grew in my confidence with the material and that was what gave me the courage to set up Chokmah,” Lim explained. She added that she loves teaching which was how she decided to incorporate workshops into her business model.

“It was tough in the beginning. I was a one-woman business for a while and it was very difficult to expand because I was limited in what I could manage. However when I finally decided to invest in a team, my business started taking off,” Lim said. “It allowed me to focus on the more creative aspects of the business rather than having to manage and handle every single tiny detail.”

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During our conversation, Lim repeatedly gave credit to her team (which includes two full-time and nine part-time staff), her friends and family, whom she insists are the only reason she is where she is today. 

“It’s hard running a business with a newborn. But my husband and I are a team and we find a lot of joy in getting to raise our children. Indeed, it takes a village to raise a child. I am blessed to be in a community where my family and friends do help in raising my children by babysitting them and more,” Lim said. 

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Today, Chokmah, which is a Hebrew word that means wisdom, a nod to Lim’s fervent belief that one should always live wisely, is looking to bring her brand overseas and expand her collection while also providing jobs to more people.

Below, Lim tells us how she does it all in her own words.

What is a typical morning like for you?

Joyce Lim (JL): My morning starts as early as 5 am. I pray and meditate and once my husband and children wake up, it is playtime for all of us before breakfast.

What do you usually have for breakfast?

JL: Breakfast is the most important meal of my day so it’s usually a very heavy meal. It usually involves rice paired with scrambled eggs, different varieties of meat and a vegetable dish.

Something like what you might have for lunch or dinner. This meal really perks me up and sets my day as it is the time when we eat and hang out as a family.

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What does a standard work day look like for you?

JL: It’s mostly a lot of meetings. So before I rush off and attend all my meetings and functions, I take some time daily to mentor my team. I check on their personal well-being besides their individual tasks and roles as well. They are the most vital part of the business and are my first clients. They keep the business alive. So it is important that I make sure they are focused, physically and emotionally well fed before starting anything. 

After that, it’s meetings with different collaborators or interviews. Being connected with the local demographic in the crafting scene is important for us to stay relevant to meet the needs of our clients.

Finally, I will take time to get creative, getting involved in the daily productions of our homeware, photoshoots and preparations for the next day. Some days I will run workshops too. 

How would you describe your working style?

JL: I thrive on sharpening my creativity by seeking and solving challenges around me. Pressure and critical thinking help to deepen my emotional tank so much of my style revolves around getting creative with problem-solving and being on my toes.

Choosing to work in a team is also one of the ways I work. It fuels and energizes me. It has taught me to serve and lead my team with empathy and love. I am intentional in being kind and thoughtful in my working environment. I believe that everything should be done in love.

Accountability is also one of my key working styles. My schedule is transparent to everyone in the team and with my family so that we can keep track of each other’s schedules and most importantly be wise with our time.

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What time do you usually have lunch? What do you usually have for lunch?

JL: I eat around 2 pm and I keep my meals very simple. I am conscious of eating healthy so it is usually sandwiches, salads and the occasional pasta.

Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?

JL: Underrated. I treasure relationships a lot so free time is precious to me. I have learnt how to kill two birds with one stone by planning new activities and experiences around my family and friends. So these set times are an opportunity for me to learn, grow and explore my creativity while spending quality time with family and friends.

How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?

JL: I believe in quality over quantity. When I am with my family or friends, I make sure that I am fully focused on them and not just being present physically but also mentally and emotionally.

I am also glad that in Chokmah, I have an amazing team who is competent and responsible so I am able to delegate easily. I also remind my team to be intentional in respecting everyone’s off days and break times by not discussing any work.

How do you chase your dreams?

JL: I imagine myself living my dream. I will then discuss it with people who I trust and who will encourage and guide me towards these goals before figuring out what I need to do to make it happen.

Risks: should you take them? Why or why not?

JL: Definitely. I believe in being courageous and having faith that all things will turn out good at the end of the day. Especially for a creative business like mine. Creativity takes courage.

How do you deal with your shortcomings?

JL: I am constantly reaching out for help in various ways. Also, I remind myself that the process is as beautiful as the final product and this encourages me to appreciate the difficult moments in reaching the end goal. I also believe that my weaknesses are someone else’s strengths so that’s why we work in teams.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?

JL: Do to others what you want others to do to you.

What is an idea/thought that you heard recently, that you thought was interesting?

JL: Full sensory virtual reality. I can already imagine all the virtual creativity that could be built into it.

How do you unplug?

JL: I exercise regularly. Exercising keeps my body and mind healthy and focused.

How do you stay grounded?

JL: I always remind myself of my purpose here on earth during my daily meditation. I also have a habit of writing down in a diary and listing everything that I have to be thankful for each day. Being content and grateful reminds me that I am successful today because of the help from everyone around me and not just by my strength alone.

Also, I have different life mentors and business coaches who will keep me in check while I myself keep accountable to my husband and parents regarding any family decisions.

How do you manage stress?

JL: With poise, as I work best under pressure. Many times, I am able to handle stress calmly by focusing on solving problems creatively and by thinking logically. I work with facts, manage my expectations and definitely do not shy away from asking for help.

How do you stay motivated?

JL: “You cannot give what you do not have” is a quote that I believe in. To stay motivated in a fast-paced creative industry, I intentionally look into different sectors to learn from and find inspiration to challenge my own thinking.

Also in Chokmah, we have a monthly learning journey where we go to different workshops, classes or other fun activities to increase our creativity and we will intentionally put into practice what we learn.

Do you have moments of doubt and how do you overcome them?

JL: Yes, many times I do doubt my decisions or ideas. However, I overcome them by weighing the pros and cons and finally coming to a decision to be courageous and have faith that it will be successful. Even If it does not turn out successful, I will learn from it and be better for it.

What would you consider your greatest accomplishment to date?

JL: My greatest accomplishment is that I have, thankfully, achieved a state where I have the financial freedom to help those who are in need.

What would you still like to accomplish?

JL: I will like to be acknowledged as an artist rather than just a crafter. I hope to be able to exhibit my artwork for others to appreciate and be inspired by the stories behind each masterpiece.

What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?

JL: I will pray with my family.


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