At a Starbucks in the centre of town, I met Tay Zoen, the founder of Zyu Skincare. We sat at a quiet table amidst the daily grind chatter, and it was from our conversation that I learnt that a calm, steady voice could speak volumes of mature ambition and a passion for the people around her.
“To any young person trying to start a business – I would say — don’t be afraid. The first step is always so daunting; people will have doubts.” The talented skincare line creator is also a med student, and at twenty-two years old, I can only imagine how bravely she forayed through the world of balancing commitments, medicine and the development of products to perfection. “People close to me had a lot of doubts — they questioned: Why would someone buy skincare from you if we have Guardian, we have Watsons?” She looks down for a moment, temporarily thrown back into that memory-ring of doubt, “They added, you’re just a person who has social media.”
Zoen is definitely not someone who “just” has social media; what she has is a captivating spirit and faith in herself and people around her, which explains the smooth journey of her skincare line launch and its subsequent pop-ups. Her genuinity shone through our conversation, as did her passion for creating products that were wearable and brought actual value to her customers. “I want it [any feedback received] to be organic, such that people genuinely feel that my product is worth appreciating — and so far, the feedback has been amazing”, she says, eyes lighting up with the thought of the authentic, positive reviews Zyu has gotten. “I am so, so thankful that the journey has been so smooth; people buy my products using their own money, and using their own time they will take before and after photos and send them to me! That warms my heart because I didn’t expect people to do that for me, for Zyu – and I am just so thankful that they enjoy using what I have created.”
To her, the genuine feedback to Zyu is important because of what she values when choosing her own products, for her own skin: “I personally trust word of mouth”. She chuckles, “I never buy just because I’ve seen it on an advertisement; I buy it if a friend has specifically recommended it or there is genuine support for it which someone else can articulate.”
“My parents were both in the beauty industry, and because of that I haven’t grown up using other people’s products; rather I grew up learning from their advice about beauty, about maintaining your skin. I feel blessed to have grown up from their advice, because even when I was younger, my skin wasn’t great. I would be more sceptical of, you know, showing my face outside because of my skin!” Her confession elicits a laugh from myself, because it’s prompted memories of my own #pimpledpast – where I hated even being in class because of a bad skin day. “Lots of people don’t get such in-depth advice because, maybe, their parents aren’t as involved in the beauty and skincare industry. I wanted to share this, to highlight healthy ways to be comfortable in your own skin to all the other girls out there.”
As she talks about her parents, a soft grin settles on her face, catching the light. “I actually have this avenue or idea to step into the beauty industry because of them. They have always been passionate business owners, which is why I had the opportunity to create and start my own business.” Besides her parents, the fourth-year medical student is also in Australia for majority of the year as her university is in Sydney. “You know, over there they really have good skincare routines. I regularly bounce my ideas off of them–in fact I even got their input for Zyu!”
“They’re really into organic skincare and treatment. It’s so amazing, and I can learn lots from them”, she shares, disputing my prior conception that skincare was something ingrained mainly in the Asian culture. “My friends and other people I’ve met there read up on all the extracts and ingredients used in the products they buy, aiming for organic, healthy treatments to achieve their skincare goals.”
The term ‘organic’ has come up multiple times in our conversation, from the type of feedback that Zyu-users give to the type of skincare treatments Zoen believes in. I was curious to find out if the conceptualization, the name ‘Zyu’ itself came from within, an internal source of inspiration that was uniquely ‘Zoen’. “Zyu comes from Mandarin, the Chinese word for pearl is ‘zhen zhu”. No wonder, I thinK instantly, her skin, a year after using Zyu products, is as smooth as a pearl’s! I must have a look of intense fascination on my face, because Zoen laughs and chimes in cheerily. “Zhu in Chinese [in a different pronunciation] is also the word for ‘God’. I don’t usually tell many people this, but I am a Christian, and I do feel blessed — blessed that God has blessed me in this journey, and for the way my friends have helped me in this journey, with the pop-ups and all.”
Zyu definitely has a lot of the meticulous and foreseeing Zoen-spirit in it, but her recollection of influence studying overseas opens another dimension of the conversation, on how she runs Zyu while pursuing full-time studies in Sydney. “I’m grateful for friends here – one is in NUS Business and the other is in NTU Wee Kim Wee — the two of them help me with different aspects of managing Zyu!” In the skincare line’s debut video for Zyu’s launch, the three of them can be seen brainstorming for the brand in its early stages. Her fiance, Joshua, is also listed as a co-founder. “He’s supported me throughout”, she says, smiling, “He helps with marketing; he was from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s mass communications course in the past and, being in the entertainment industry here, he often provides me with expert insight and input!”
The pair recently won the hearts of their followers with their dream-like engagement photos, and have often shared their wonderful romance with legions of Singaporeans on their social media platforms. “It really isn’t easy managing our relationship in a public sphere. When we got engaged, people were saying good things, but there were people saying bad things.” She says this with a firm nod and level gaze, acknowledging the negatives but not letting herself linger on them for too long, “We’ve learnt how to manage, and it is going well.”
Both Zoen and Joshua are no strangers to public scrutiny; Zoen has a following online for her style and energy, and Joshua starred in numerous runs of Singapore’s adored show Ah Boys to Men. Their willingness to share their thoughts and inspire us all in fashion, daily quips or #relationshipgoals is admirable in a climate where people do not refrain from negativity online. Having received enthusiastic messages from friends and followers of teamCARPE who were absolutely excited for us to interview multitalented Zoen, I ask her: “How exactly does he feel being engaged to a queen like you?”
Zoen laughs, shaking silky hair back from her face. “Thank you”, she says, eyes glittering, “but Joshua – he is such an admirable person, he’s been supporting me all this time.
“He has all the qualities I look for in a man”, she admits, a slight blush dusting her face. She continues with zest, “People tend to perceive people through social media, and through the filter of the career that this person is in. When he’s out, people literally see him as ‘the guy’, ‘the boy’ from Ah Boys to Men. We were out one time and someone came up to him and said “you are the boy, you are the army”. But he’s such a great person beyond that; he is more than that one character.” Shaking her head, she remarks “I’ve come to realize that people look up to Hollywood but not so much to Singapore actors.” I nod in agreement. It’s quite true that local talent is often seen in a lesser light than the deep reverence that people have of Hollywood and its Western-oriented ideals and cast, and I appreciate Zoen’s sensitivity to this and her acknowledgement of this conversation in the larger discourse of people being humans beyond their social media profiles, something she has to deal with as well.
Written by Founding Ed. Athena. Catch up with her here.