Olivia, Visual Designer. EZY Ankle Pants from UNIQLO; rest of outfit Olivia’s own.
Olivia might be the perfect embodiment of the saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” With her largely monochromatic ensemble, array of tattoos and piercings, and bleached hair, the girl might look too cool to approach, but a smile from her is all it takes to realise that Olivia’s void-of-colour exterior belies a personality that exudes warmth and candour. We’ve kind of seen her grow up over the years—when she was still fresh from school, to a self-assured, confident young lady working in one of the biggest companies in the world, while still managing to run her own business on the side. She’s gathered some knowledge—and a few more tattoos—along the way, but what’s stayed consistent is her distinct sense of style and, of course, that genuine personality.
Shentonista (S): Aside from working full-time as a visual designer, you manage a business on the side called Ask & Embla. Can you tell us more about that?
Olivia (O): Ask & Embla was my final year project in Polytechnic and the brief was to design a brand identity for a hypothetical store. I created the collaterals, the social media platforms, and website. After I graduated, I thought, since I had all these materials, why not launch and see how it goes? So it started from there. I sell accessories; on the first day, within the first hour, I got a sale. I thought “Hey! This could actually work.” Ever since then, I’ve been grooming it on the side as a pet project and it got traction after awhile. Eventually, I met my business partner who joined forces with me, put in his business and marketing input and web development skills, and we started to grow. It’s been five years and we now we have a dedicated team for it.
S: What are some of your biggest challenges at work?
O: When it comes to managing my business, the challenge is from a non-business side of things. It would be maintaining a strong level of well-being, cohesiveness, and happiness within the team, which is a very intangible and unquantifiable metric. It’s also a balance of people’s energies and something that you don’t have control of. If you’re lucky, you get a team with high energy and is easy to take care of because they get along well with each other. If you don’t, you have to step in. It gets quite personal at times because you can’t have input on what someone might choose to be because of his or her experiences in life. On that level, that’s hard.
S: What’s a typical day like for you on a weekday and a weekend?
O: A typical weekday sees me waking up around 7AM; I start my day with a shower, some meditation, and I go off to work as a full-time visual designer from 9AM-6PM. After 6PM, I’ll head off to my own personal office where I handle my side business, and I will have meetings and reviews with my team. We do that for an hour or two until 9PM and that’s when I have dinner. The next day repeats itself. During the day time, I check in on my team via WhatsApp and other communication pools but I only get the opportunity to see them face-to-face after my work ends.
On the weekends, I do more or less the same things, but I do get more sleep. When I work, I just handle my side business. There’s an endless list of things to handle and backlog that I have to clear, and I work on that till dinner. On weekends, however, if I don’t feel like working so hard that day, I get to call the shots and start to proportion my work-life harmony.
S: Work-life balance or work-life harmony?
I think that depends on the definition of balance or harmony. Balance can mean 50/50 whereas harmony can mean anything. To me, right now, my work is more work than life and I find that manageable so I guess that’s my harmony. I think it’s very important that I find it okay to juggle so many things because I find joy in everything I do. None of these are chores and really ‘work’ to me. They’re totally my choices as nobody forced me into doing these things.
S: What’s the most precious lesson you’ve learnt in all of your years at work?
O: That my fear, anxiety, and self-doubt do nothing but hold me back. In my experience, I have a lot of regrets from when I didn’t do things more boldly, speak up, or fight for things that I felt strongly about because I felt doubt.
S: What’s a piece of advice you wished someone told you before you started out as an entrepreneur?
O: I wish someone reminded me to always leverage and that it’s okay to ask for help, that I don’t have to do everything by myself. I could have saved myself a lot of labour, time, and stress if I had these guideposts earlier rather than later.
S: How does your style fit into your lifestyle?
O: I guess I’ll first identify what kind of mode I want to be in. If I’m meeting clients or guests or have to see more people that day, I want to be more professional, and I’d put in more effort into looking good. Maybe I’ll forego comfort for style but if I’m on a more relaxed mode that day and will be keeping to myself then I’ll dress down. I’ll then prioritise comfort over style and choose something more loose fitting. The outfit I’m currently wearing is both comfortable but also very appropriate for facing people and going out. I feel good that I look good.
S: How important is style and comfort to you?
O: Style is highly important to me on mostly on a feel-good factor. When I dress stylishly, it’s not to impress anybody but to feel good on the inside, which ultimately affects my mood. Comfort is also very important because my mood gets affected when I feel uncomfortable.
S: In your opinion, how do you manage to stay comfortable and be stylish both at once?
O: Finding the goldilocks zone between comfort and style is quite hard. Often, stylish clothes, in my experience, are not made to be comfortable. It’s a guess and test thing! To be fair, in our weather, it’s very hard to be comfortable. What I’m wearing now is fairly breathable as both my top and pants are made of lightweight materials. They’re also loose-fitting and don’t affect my breathing in any way. I’m feeling rather comfortable now.
S: Share with us the three things you’ll look out for when purchasing a clothing item.
O: I often dress in a monochrome palette so one of the first things I look out for when I’m choosing my clothes would be colour. I’ll then try the pieces on and see if they’re comfortable. The last consideration I’d make would be the price.
S: If you could raid anyone’s wardrobe, who would it be and why?
O: Zacky Vengeance from Avenged Sevenfold. He’s my favourite guitarist. I would pick him because why wouldn’t you want to raid your favourite rockstar’s wardrobe?! Imagine the cool and or weird stuff you’d find in there.
S: Describe your style in one word.
O: I hate this word because I think it’s overused, but I think I’m a ‘minimalist’ in colour. (laughs). My wardrobe is 90% black, white, or grey and it doesn’t expand beyond those three colours. There’re only one or two loose pieces which have colour in them. Even my accessories are silver and I don’t think that’s a colour; it’s close to grey.
S: Clothes for everyday wear, be it for home, work or play—share with us some of your style hacks.
O: One of the subconscious reasons why I choose to dress in mostly black and white is that every piece is matchable in my wardrobe. The pairing is easy and I don’t have to think too hard about colour matching. If everything goes well with one another, you can cover your eyes, pick pieces and still look good.
S: Share with us how you would take an outfit from day to night.
O: I’d keep these same ankle pants I’m currently wearing, but bring an extra top, something that’s more dressy and showy to change into.
S: When you’re off work, what would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
O: I recently had a perfect day when I was on vacation. I was in Germany and the weather was 15ºC; I had good coffee, with bread and butter in my hands (it’s a very ‘poor man food’ but I love bread and butter), and I was just sitting outdoors at my boyfriend’s uncle’s backyard listening to the birds chirp. I didn’t have anything to do—it was perfect.
S: What in your life do you feel most grateful for?
O: I feel most grateful for the people in my life who love me for me, especially when I sometimes don’t love myself. They give my life meaning and I am grateful for their presence.
S: If a theme song plays every time you walked through the door, what would it be and why?
O: The Dark Eternal Night by Dream Theatre. If I were a wrestler this would be my entrance song. (laughs)
S: If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
O: Frankly, that time isn’t much because I don’t sleep a lot! But if I didn’t have to sleep, I’d get about seven hours of my time back every day and I would relax and have more me-time.
S: What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
O: I can give you a 40-minute presentation on the movie, School of Rock. I can recite it, quote it, tell you about the actors, their backstories, and I could talk for longer than 40 minutes! (laughs) It’s my favourite movie of all time because the lead is Jack Black and he’s my idol—his humour references have honestly played a big part in my personal taste in music and jokes. I know a lot of good old music like AC/DC and much, more more, all because of him!