Charmaine & Derek
Husband and wife Derek and Charmaine make one power couple — together, they run their own multidisciplinary creative agency, Elementary Co., and have recently gotten even busier with the arrival of their newborn daughter (who is lovingly documented on Charmaine’s Instagram). It seems that the couple have no trouble making things work; we speak to them to find out just how they do it.
1. Do you have any problems with the dress code at work? How do you personalise your outfit?
Derek (D): I don’t have “problems” per se because I can wear what I want since I run my own business. I do have 1 rule that I keep for myself and my team: Always dress to the context of the situation, and definitely always dress well when meeting clients. That forms the “base”, and if I do “personalise” my outfit, it usually is with something that subtly stands out, in that you won’t notice it on first glance. I don’t want to look like everybody else, but I don’t like to be the loudest character in the room.
Charmaine (C): Not at all, because I run my own creative agency so I pretty much get to wear whatever I like! I keep my clothes pretty simple and personalise my look with more interesting footwear, necklaces or more recently, earrings. (I stopped wearing dangly statement earrings for a couple of years and only started being interested in them again a month ago.)
2. Do you have any fashion pet-peeves when it comes to workwear? Or do you have any advice for dressing up for work?
D: For me, it’s about giving your clients and co-workers the proper respect by showing them that they matter enough to you that you put in the effort to present yourself well to them. Again, however, it’s to do with the context of the situation, and who you are meeting: I would suit up and wear my best shoes if I am giving a big presentation, but I’ll dress comfortably if I’m going to be outdoors.
C: I think it’s important to dress appropriately so it does annoy me when people show up for important/corporate meetings dressed informally (t-shirts, bermudas, or with caps on). I believe in dressing for success, so dress smart if you want people to think you’re smart and take you seriously. Why would anyone want to do business with someone who doesn’t respect him/herself enough to look sharp when conducting themselves professionally.
3. How did you come to start working in your current industry? Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?
D: I started Elementary Co with my partners (and wife) because we wanted to do something that we could call our own. I’ve always worked with or in start ups so it was only natural that I came down this path, especially since Charmaine had been in marketing departments and production houses for a good number of years. So yes, everything just fell into place.
C: I studied Interactive Media Design in Temasek Poly and worked in television and photography for almost a decade before joining RWS to handle marketing for Universal Studios Singapore for close to 5 years. During those 15 years, I was fortunate enough to work with many advertising and creative agencies (in fact I myself worked for some of them while I was a producer) and that exposure inspired me to want to do something similar on my own.
4. If you weren’t working in your current profession, what would you be doing? Or, if you could do anything you wanted to do, what would it be?
D: I would maybe want to do something music related. I recently joked that I would gladly be Hans Zimmer’s microphone- or coffee-boy after watching the making of Interstellar’s music on YouTube.
C: If I wasn’t running Elementary Co., I would want to go back to working for theme parks. I’ve always loved theme parks, ever since I was a kid, and working for Universal Studios Singapore all those years just amplified that love of mine. I do not rule out the possibility of me going back into that line of work someday, it’s the most fun you can have while at work — outside of what we do at Elementary, that is! If I could do anything I wanted to do, I would be a ballet teacher. When I was a child I wanted nothing more than to dance ballet professionally and I trained hard for that dream for 10 years only to abandon it once I became a teenager (thanks for nothing, puberty!). I’m way past a dancer’s prime now so I’d settle for teaching and helping other little girls fulfil their dancing dreams.
5. What is one piece of advice you’d give to anyone who’s just starting work? Or a lesson you’ve learnt at your time at work?
D: I really cannot offer any Instagram-worthy motivational quotes on this. But my theory is that success is two things: Getting the opportunities, and doing a good job of them, which leads to bigger opportunities to do a good job of and so on. The first takes a good bit of luck, which if not given to you, you have to earn by putting yourself out there, meeting new people, trying different things until something works. The second is a lot more straightforward I suppose, just try your best and if you don’t know how to do it, Google it, ask someone who does, or fail (not too drastically!) and learn from that mistake and try again.
6. What would your dream workplace be like, in terms of the actual physical space and working environment?
D: The working environment at Elementary Co is pretty enjoyable. We’ve developed a culture that works like a tightly knit family, and we try our best to keep the place a happy one to work in. So I’m lucky to be quite close to a dream workplace for me in that respect! The physical space (the bigger one that we’ll hopefully move into in the near future) needs to be something that people have a choice in, depending on what they need to be doing at the moment. If they need some “do not disturb” time, they should be able to head into “focus areas” and bang out whatever they need to bang out. If people need to have a discussion in a group of 2 or 3, they should be able to head to the break out areas. Hence, I would like a space that has a good mix of these areas (I already have the optimal proportions for this mix in my head of course). Oh yes, I would like a big “powerful looking” wooden desk at some point.
C: In terms of working environment and office culture, my dream workplace is my current workplace. My team is like an extension of my family — we work hard, but we also spend a lot of time together hanging out and it’s always a riot in the office. We like the same kind of music so the speakers are always turned up and there’s a lot of life, chatter and laughter going on. I would however love for us to have a physical space that’s in a warehouse — high ceilings, large floor to ceiling windows with lots of natural light, timbre flooring and a larger desks! Our current office is pretty cramped but hey, we’re a start up so I just have to be patient.
7. What is one thing you think you should be doing more of, or that you wish you had more time to do?
D: Spending quality time with my family and friends. There’s never enough time for that.
C: I think I should be spending time to get my driver’s license because I’ve been putting it off for way too many years and I’ve run out of excuses. Other than that, I wish I had more time to read. My Kindle has been collecting dust for far too long now and I miss taking in the words of someone else’s imagination.
8. Could you tell us about a personal project that you’re working on right now, or that you would love to undertake?
D: At the moment, outside of work (and rest), my 6 month old daughter takes up most of my time (I wouldn’t say she’s a “personal project that I’m working on” though). She is of course, as they say, a “bundle of joy”, and every new milestone brings a new set of challenges and rearrangement to our lives. That is a lot of fun in itself though!
C: I would really like to start photographing older, well dressed people I see in Singapore. I’ve started noticing a lot of them recently and think it would be a nice opportunity to show how it’s absolutely possible to age gracefully and dress age appropriately as well. I also just went for my first calligraphy workshop and would like to pursue that as my little hobby as I find it extremely therapeutic and calming.
9. As Singaporeans we often struggle with our national identity and sense of common culture. Do you think we have a Singaporean identity? What do you think it should be built on, and why?
D: To me, Singapore has always been a globalised crossroads for people that have come here to find a better life for themselves. I don’t think that we collectively think of this enduring aspect of our history enough — and that we’re now this mish-mashed melting pot of cultures that has evolved much beyond our original immigrant groups (e.g. we have a K-Town in Tanjong Pagar now). In short, I think the Singaporean identity should be built on “diversity” or at least, that aspect of us should be celebrated more.
C: We sure do! A lot of times we dwell on the negative aspects of the Singaporean identity (a nation of whiny, self-entitled, petulant complain kings & queens) but I think we ought to focus on building an identity based on heart and determination. We are after all a nation that has made the best of our limited natural and human resources to build a bustling, first world country from what used to be a quiet little island.
10. Can you name us something Singaporean that’s close to your heart? It could be your favourite local dish, homegrown musician, particular location, etc.
D: Our efficiency as a country and our ability to get big things done. It’s something that I find myself being increasingly proud of, especially when my expat friends mention it, and profess their love for living here because of it.
C: A few weeks back, I had the privilege of witnessing 3 amazing groups of local musicians perform to a full house at Esplanade’s Concert Hall, something that has never been done before in the history of local music. One of the bands was The Great Spy Experiment and they are something Singaporean that I hold very close to my heart. The band consists of a number of very good friends of mine who have been playing together for 10 years, but who also played for the final time as The Great Spy Experiment last night. They have brought their own brand of Singaporean music across the world during their decade together, and paved the way for many younger, aspiring homegrown artistes to pursue music making here in Singapore. For that, I salute them.