Cover Photo: Lily & Lou

At the peak of her career in the fashion industry, Lily & Lou founder Yan Ng decided to quit her job and start her own sustainable brand with her partner. Here’s why and how she did it

9 to 5 is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.


When entrepreneur Yan Ng made the bold decision to start her own company, she was at the peak of her career in fast fashion, leading teams across Southeast Asia and helping to launch brands in multiple different countries.

However, exhausted from a career built off the back of the ugly side of fast fashion, Ng decided that it was time she did something to disrupt the industry, even if it meant going out on a limb and taking significant financial losses. And so, she founded local sustainable fashion brand Lily & Lou. 

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: Sarah Garner on Starting a Circular Luxury Fashion Store in Singapore for Children

“I love fashion and I always envisioned myself working in it which is why I was not keen to follow a traditional career path that would give me security,” Ng shared.

“I wanted to take a risk and so I enrolled myself into Raffles Design Institute (now, Raffles College of Higher Education) and got a degree in Fashion Design as well as a degree in Business Marketing from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.”

While she was studying, Ng worked as a retail assistant for a local fashion brand and was converted to become a full-time staff member after graduating. 

“It was my first foray into fast fashion and quickly, I progressed within the company and pioneered several important projects,” she said. She added that she helmed the company’s pivot towards e-commerce and digital marketing campaigns.

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: Zenyum’s Julian Artopé on How He Started a Dental Health Company With No Background in Dentistry

“These projects are the default now, but back in those dinosaur days, I had to muscle my superiors in order to be given the green light. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to start from the ground up in an organisation. I sometimes consider my tenor at the company a sponsored entrepreneur effort,” Ng said with a laugh. She added that at the company, L’zzie, she managed seven retail stores across three brands that were under the company portfolio. 

Upon leaving L’zzie, Ng knew that her next move would have to be a strategic one. After a short stint as a project manager at e-commerce solutions site Webcada, she went on to join Tokyo Fashion, an e-retail brand that had, at that time, three fast fashion brands under its name and that sold its products to several different market segments around Southeast Asia.

With her talent and skillset, Ng quickly rose through the ranks and was even given the role of Regional Marketing Manager at one point when she was mid-way through her marketing degree. She eventually took on the position of Regional Director in 2017 and helped the brand launch new market series and launch in eight different countries in Southeast Asia.

It was at this point that Ng started to reevaluate her career and what she was doing with her life. 

“My career was built upon fast fashion and the years I’ve spent behind-the-scenes made me realise that fast fashion businesses are not sustainable in the long run not just because of the adverse environmental impact but also the financial and social impact. There is always a huge disparity between supply and demand ... and it got to a point where I felt the need to disrupt the cycle,” she shared. 

It was this realisation that prompted Ng, who had always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur herself, to launch Lily & Lou in 2018.

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: Private Jeweller Vihari Poddar on How She Opened Her Own Jewellery Store at 16

The sustainable fashion brand allows women to create their own clothes that fit them perfectly and are still stylish. Using sustainable fabrics and digital sampling, the company is able to create unique pieces for their consumers that they can wear and love for years to come. 

“The idea was inspired by my shopping experiences. Pieces on the shelves are always almost perfect. It could be that the length is a tad too short, the neckline is too conservative or that there are no pockets. Plus, there have been several awkward occasions when someone has shown up in the same outfit as I did because I had picked out something from a fast fashion brand. Lily & Lou can offer pieces that are built by you, for you,” explained Ng.

However, Ng was not content with simply creating a sustainable fashion label. Rather, she wanted to create an impact and felt that technology was where she could do that. So she turned to her partner, Riyad Twair, who is the head of infrastructure at Dtone.

“When I first considered diving into Lily & Lou, I was hoping to create an impact within the fashion industry. I toyed with the idea of combining fashion with technology, and of course, Riyad was there to provide insight. Lily & Lou has him to thank for our unique product offerings,” Ng said before saying that going into business with her partner was never intentional. Rather, their skillsets imply complemented each other. 

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: Samia Khan on How She Started a South Asian Fashion Platform Despite the Odds

Together with Twair, Ng established Studio by Lily & Lou, a one-stop solution for small businesses to overcome their digitalisation challenges. The company helps its clients grow their brand by making informed decisions, helping to bring them closer to responsible manufacturing and setting up their digital presence. 

Together, Twair and Ng push boundaries together while also ensuring that they keep their marriage strong. 

“I think we have a good dynamic going where I toss ideas at him and he suggests ways to execute them. We have a lot of respect for each other so we don’t try to overpower either person,” shared Ng.

She continued by saying that Twair works at Lily & Lou on a project basis and that this arrangement means that they always have something to discuss at the end of the day.

“Technically, we don’t work together full-time. He has a day job so his commitment with Lily & Lou is on a project basis. Of course, we have a habit of sharing our days with one another over dinner. And that’s when I pick his brain for opinions on Lily & Lou,” she said. “We also make sure we are transparent with one another and maintain open communication. Work is, after all, just work.”

Today, Ng and Twair are looking ahead to the future and hope to be able to grow their physical presence outside of Singapore as the world gradually resumes activity. They are also speaking to multi-label stores around the world for pop-ups and are in the process of growing Studio by Lily & Lou.

With her two businesses, family life and more, Ng has her hands full. Below, we speak to the entrepreneur to find out just how she does it all on a day-to-day basis. 

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: How Nana & Bird’s Founders Created a Luxury Lifestyle Brand Without Any Experience

What is a typical morning like for you?

Yan Ng (YN): I start with morning workouts to get myself fired up for the day, a nice shower and breakfast after. I also enjoy morning runs in the park and/or weight training at home.

What do you usually have for breakfast?

YN: I typically cook. Thanks to Riyad’s Lebanese influence, I rotate between scrambled eggs with Lebanese flatbread or a hearty Man’ouche (flatbread with za’atar, olive oil and cheese). To complete my morning meal, I have a latte and a side of fruits.

What does a standard workday look like for you?

YN: My workday is pretty standard in terms of the number of hours I clock in but the work is highly dynamic. I split my time between my start-ups (Lily & Lou and Studio by Lily & Lou) and my job as an adjunct lecturer at Raffles College of Higher Education. 

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: How Elemis Co-Founder Noella Gabriel Started Her Wellness Career at 20

How would you describe your working style?

YN: I place a lot of emphasis on effectiveness, efficiency and adaptability. In a way, it’s an extension of my aspiration towards total sustainability by maximizing existing resources. I find a detailed checklist helpful for days that are highly packed as well.

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

YN: I try to keep to the standard lunchtime which is between 12 pm and 2 pm just to force myself to take a break. As an entrepreneur, work is consistently piling, so to keep myself sane, I make sure to exercise some structure with fixed break times. Lunch is definitely my heartiest meal of the day and usually ends with an iced latte. 

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

YN: I established a standard duration to my workday and never knock off any later than 7 pm unless absolutely necessary. I work hard during my work hours but set aside time for friends and family after hours. Aside from attending to the occasional messages and urgent emails, I stay away from work during the weekends. Sundays are phone-free days. 

Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?

YN: Underrated. I’ve gained an appreciation for free time since I’ve stepped into the shoes of an entrepreneur. Free time is awesome and soul healing. It allows your mind to relax and recharge for the challenges to come. It helps with stress too. 

How do you chase your dreams?

YN: I put my dreams into action. I’m a visual person and I like to create a vision board to give my dreams some realness before I get into the nitty-gritty.  

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: How Alvin Poh Went From Struggling to Make Ends Meet to Selling His First Tech Company for SG$30 Million

 

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

YN: Of course. Risks are dreams materialised. Without risks, there’d be no challenges.

How do you deal with your shortcomings?

YN: I primarily rely on my friends and teammates to give it to me without filtering anything. I don’t take things personally and appreciate any critique so that I can improve. As a practice, I also seek feedback on my performance as a supervisor from my teammates during our appraisals.

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

YN: There are so many, each applicable to a specific phase in my journey. “Focus on what’s truly important” is my favourite though. I’ll admit to being a bit of a perfectionist and can sometimes have my stress level skyrocket over an inconsequential mistake. I’ve learnt to, for the lack of a better phrase, “close one-eye” when it comes to errors that do not affect the overall objective of my goals. 

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: Pang Gek Teng on Leaving Her Banking Job to Open an Australian-Inspired Grocery Store in Singapore

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

YN: That the pandemic was all a scheme to stem the growth of our population like in the tv show Utopia

How do you unplug?

YN: Before the pandemic, I would book a short vacation and explore a nearby country. Since then, I’ve learnt to unplug via the Internet. I will binge watch TV shows on Netflix or scroll through Tiktok’s feed of mindless videos.

How do you stay grounded?

YN: “How can I do better?” That’s the question I consistently ask myself as to not become complacent. 

How do you manage stress?

YN: I simply step away to clear my head. Sometimes, I express my stress through tears (although it’s exclusively in front of Riyad). I’m good as new once the tears dry. 

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

YN: I would step away for a bit and seek counsel with Riyad. Since he’s usually the logical person between us, I can always depend on him to help me gain a new perspective. 

What is one item that has changed your life for the better?

YN: Technology. It has allowed me to solve problems creatively and efficiently and I feel we’ve only just tapped the surface. 

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

YN: I wind down with a bit of light reading before shutting my eyes for the night. 

NOW READ

9 to 5: How Jasmine Chong Used Her Passion For Yoga to Launch Lab Studios

9 to 5: Cheryl Han on Opening a Postpartum Clinic After Getting Retrenched

9 to 5: Powella Founder Sital Phichitsingh on Juggling Her Own Business and Family

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.