AUDI Q2 x SHENTONISTA: #Untaggable — Balancing Act

Jacqueline, Entrepreneur/Photographer/Unicycle Hobbyist.
T-shirt from Cocurata Abstraction, pants from Comme des Garçons, ring from COS, bracelets from Ann Taylor and The Mindful Company, shoes from Vans.

In the vein of Audi’s new Q2, to be untaggable means to be undefinable; to mean different things to different people, or to be so good at so many things that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you do or who you are. With that approach in mind, our Audi Q2 x Shentonista campaign sees us speaking to four individuals who seem to be able to do it all—balancing different roles both at work and play, managing to stay on top of everything, and having the best of all worlds.

One such person is Jacqueline Chang. Whether it’s in the running of her hair salon, PREP Luxe; on shoot as a relationship photographer; exploring interests such as learning how to ride the unicycle; or just observing and interacting with the people around her, Jacqueline is constantly approaching life from all angles. The two words that come to mind, when you speak to her, are heart and intent. Early on in the conversation she assures us that she hates small talk, and so everything she says—or does, for that matter—is intentional, and carries weight. Another thing you’re instantly struck with is her sense of selflessness, something that seems to stem from her deeply reflective, introspective nature. Not one to be the life of the party, Jacqueline says she’s trying to be a better listener, supporter, and follower, and it’s clear that everything she does is a study of conscious decisions and reflects an open, receptive mind and heart. We find out that there’s more to this accomplished multi-tasker than meets the eye.

How did you start doing what you’re doing now?
I started photography in 2006, when I was in university. I did a degree in Business Management at Singapore Management University, then I went over to London to do my Masters of Arts in Innovation Management at Central Saint Martins. I studied there for two years, and worked for another two. At about the same time when I was thinking about whether to move back to Singapore for good, my secondary school friends called me, told me they were setting up a business, and asked if I wanted to join in. That business became PREP.

Why did you take up Innovation Management?
I was in the first batch for that course and it intrigued me because the it had a lot to do with design thinking and ethnography. I’ve always liked people-watching but it’s useless in Singapore right? In this course, however, before you start anything you have to watch, understand, and empathise—that was fascinating.

Why did you decide to pick up unicycling?
When I was young I wanted to work in or be part of the circus; every time I saw acrobats I thought it looked really fun. When I was in London, my bus always went past this circus school and one of the offices that we worked at overlooked a courtyard where you could see the students practicing. I went to Google what this school was about and found out you could actually do a degree in Circus Arts, and that they had short courses. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to go work in the circus, but I could actually get a taste of it and that’s why I signed up. My mum bought me the unicycle I have now.

What else do you want to try?
I wish I could be a jazz pianist in a hotel lounge. I have classical piano training, so I wish I could play jazz piano as well. The whole concept of improv jazz and theatre is actually something that I’ve been reading about recently, because you can translate a lot of that across to customer service and business development.

What were you working as in London, and why did you decide to start PREP back in Singapore?
I worked in this company called The Tasting Sessions. They organise experiences around food, drink, music, performance, and art. I did business development, helped with events, and event photography. When my secondary school friends, who were investment bankers at the time, called me with the idea of PREP in mind, I asked myself two questions: firstly, do I really believe in this concept, even though I had no experience? The concept of a wash and blow-dry only hair salon originated in the US. When we first opened PREP in 2013, we were the first in Singapore. The second question I asked was, “Would this be at the expense of our friendship?” We’d all been schoolmates but we were never classmates and had never done any work together.

So working with friends—how’s that been?
The environment and trust knowing that someone’s always working in your interest is great, and very rare. When it comes to making decisions, especially difficult ones, it makes a difference when you approach them as people and know their heart behind it. Very early on in the business, we also agreed that decisions have to be a consensus, not a compromise—it’s not majority wins. So even though it might take a longer time, the people who are for an idea should be able to convince the other person.

You changed from being employee to a business owner; how did you learn to deal with the shift in roles?
I think it was from doing wedding photography. Back then there were potentially less than 10 female photographers in Singapore. It’s a privilege to be able to go into peoples’ homes—you learn a lot from just watching. Sometimes the bride and grooms’ relatives might go, “Your photographer girl one, can or not?” At a very young age, being exposed to all that, you learn to grow up a bit faster. It was good foundation for meeting people, and at the end of the day, all businesses are about people. There are no short-cuts.

What about the flip side? Do you think starting PREP has changed the way you photograph people or your photography style?
It helps me to be a bit more patient with people and to understand that everybody has stories. With all services you can look at it both ways: when you get a mean customer, you can simply think of this person being very mean, but this person might be going through a difficult time. It’s fascinating how much people tell stylists, or even me.

So what’s your role in the company?
The three of us don’t have a background working with hair, we just run the business. When we first started out, I was doing marketing and creative design, Yishi was dealing with the legal and HR side, and Jacelyn was doing finance and operations. We make the big strategy decisions together, but I’m the one in charge of most of the operations now. However, when you own a business, you can’t say you only do one thing.

How do you manage all your different roles?
In my mind everything is very compartmentalised and there are actually different timelines. There’s the big picture of the whole year, and there’s today, and how many hours I have. Doing one thing at a time really helps. It’s only when you freeze and take in the magnitude of things that stress builds up. I’m not a master of it yet and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be, but I think being angry, sad, or stressed are actually choices. I recognise that I’m in a position where I’m not as much subject to the bureaucracy of large organisations, though I’m not saying that one is better than the other.

What’s one thing you’ve learnt during your time at work?
You learn to be immensely grateful for all the small things, the small support that people show you. You don’t take anything for granted.

What do you think are some of the best things in life?
I always tell people that one of the richest things about running my own business is the privilege of having lunch with my grandparents on weekdays. Money can’t buy that, and most people can’t do that. Nowadays a lot of people say that you should follow your passion but I have an equal—if not more—respect for people whose priority is money, not for materialistic gain but because they want to be breadwinners for the family. That is very respectable—to do something you completely hate, or have no passion for because you are accountable for other people’s lives.

What motivates you?
I think it’s important to live a life larger than yourself. For me, this basically means that you’re living life not for yourself, but for other people around you that love you. You start to think about what makes life worth living.

Where do you draw inspiration from?
From people, from conversations, and from life. I guess it’s a broad answer, but it’s the small things. Also I believe that with everyone you meet, it’s either you walk away telling yourself you want to be more like this person, or you think, “This is exactly how I do not want to be.”

What is innovation to you?
Innovation is putting existing things together in a way that was not possible before. Look at the Nintendo Wii—before the Wii came about, when you did market research and asked video game players what could be improved, they might say better specs, screens, graphics etc. The Nintendo Wii is essentially still a video game but they integrated the fact that people like to exercise and move. Innovation is really about the thought process and human-centred design-thinking, and should always be about bettering people’s lives.

What is something that nobody knows about you?
My dad is Mauritian, Mauritian-Chinese. He can’t speak Mandarin, he speaks Creole.

What are certain things in life, to you, that are #untaggable/undefinable?
The love of a parent or grandparent is undefinable. I’m working on a project called Outgive The Grands. It’s my second personal photography project, featuring grandparents interacting with their grandchildren. The concept of ‘outgiving’ is when you think you’re showing parents or grandparents love but they completely outgive you. There was once I was going to take my grandmother to PREP to get her hair cut and I told her I’d go pick you up, and I’ll pay for your haircut. Back then we had two stores and she woke up early to cook Hakka suan pan zi (abacus seed) and put them into takeaway boxes for the staff at both shops, and for me as well. I thought I was giving her a treat—the whole concept of outgiving is very underrated, and is something that we cannot define or tag.

This is a project for Audi Singapore.

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