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A psychologist pivots to become a florist. Then COVID and the baby came

·Senior Reporter
·6-min read
Elizabeth Chew, founder and owner of Liz Florals, at her studio. (PHOTO: Yahoo Finance Singapore/ Wan Ting Koh)
Elizabeth Chew, founder and owner of Liz Florals, at her studio. (PHOTO: Yahoo Finance Singapore/Wan Ting Koh)

SINGAPORE — Being a florist has not been a bed of roses, said Elizabeth Chew, owner and founder of Liz Florals, from her cosy and cheerful studio at Midview City.

The same month she rented her studio in April 2020, Singapore’s partial lockdown, or so-called circuit breaker period, kicked in, and Chew, affectionately known as Liz to friends and customers, could not move in or carry out any renovations.

She was left paying rent for a space she could not occupy. Undeterred, the 30-year-old continued working out of her parents’ home, which had been her base since she registered the business in 2016 to work as a part-time florist.

However, three months into the pandemic and still reeling from its effects, Chew discovered she was pregnant.

Ditched a 9-to-5 job for flowers

A psychologist by training, Chew worked in a data science and health technology company after graduating in 2015. Ironically, it was her firm that set in motion a full career switch. The company gave employees a fund to pursue hobbies as part of its welfare benefits and Chew picked up floral arrangement.

She soon began creating bouquets for friends and family, deciding at a point to start charging for her efforts. She then found her niche —weddings.

“There’s a sense of satisfaction when you create something that brings joy to people. Or when people see it mostly it’s of good memories… so these are where flowers are of happy occasions, it represents something that’s more of the happy side of things,” she said in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance Singapore.

Chew’s part-time business bloomed and she was eventually forced to reject requests to avoid getting swamped.

She decided to quit her corporate job in 2018 to become a full-time florist. By then, the demands of the job outstripped what her parents’ home could provide. “I took up the whole backyard, the storage was very messy, sometimes it’s like a forest,” she quipped with a laugh. Then COVID-19 struck.

Pandemic woes

Not only was Chew unable to use her studio, weddings came to an abrupt halt due to government restrictions on events. Luckily for Chew, COVID-19 presented another opportunity in customers seeking to send gifts to friends they could not meet.

Demand for gift bouquets spiked threefold, but the profits from these were still insufficient to cover her studio's rent.

In fact, Chew herself was due to be married on 12 April 2020 in a banquet with 350 guests. She hurried forward the registration of her marriage to 5 April - just two days before the circuit breaker period kicked in.

“It was quite a mad rush, because they announced the circuit breaker on a Friday. On Saturday morning we decided 'let’s do it on Sunday, let’s ask all the vendors…' and then we rushed down to collect the cert," she recalled.

Life had other plans for Chew. Three months into her marriage, and before business could pick up again with the resumption of larger scale weddings, Chew learned to her surprise that she was expecting her first child.

She had to contend with running a business, renovating her studio, and dealing with the evolving restrictions of a progressively reopening economy — all while carrying her daughter.

The birth of her daughter in April 2021 brought about the biggest challenge.

“Its difficult because you need to pump (breast milk) every three hours so work is disrupted. And it’s so hard to grow the business especially the first six to nine months of being a new mother. It’s only recently that I would say I (started to) chiong (work hard) again,” she said.

Chew also experienced post-natal depression and anxiety for two months after giving birth, exacerbated by the lack of sleep and the stress of managing her rent.

“Really nothing makes you happy, your baby can be laughing and smiling there, but all I felt like doing was crying,” Chew recalled emotionally.

“The stress started kicking in and I couldn’t sleep well and I had an idea sometimes I needed to be away from my baby. The irony is that all I want to do is spend time with her but I also wanted to be away from her.”

Letting go

Eventually, Chew found an equilibrium and with it a new clarity.

“We only have so much time in our hands… I learned about letting go because when you let go you do have more control over your time… to be mindful of your time and present where you are. So when you’re at work you focus and when you’re at home you focus and that really helps me to do my best in both," said Chew.

“I’m still learning about letting go of things, I want to be be in control, but to learn that being in control is about letting go… you need to constantly remind yourself.”

For example, Chew said that while she used to be able to reply queries immediately, she now gives herself up to three working days to respond, which inevitably means that she foregoes the more urgent requests.

“I think I do lose out clients to (competitors) who respond faster, that’s for sure, but I try not to do work when I’m at home so I must try to let go of that customer.”

Likewise, if she spends more time at work, Chew would have to sacrifice time with her baby.

"But the thing is if I keep thinking this way I cannot function properly so it’s about letting go and trusting,” she added.

Since then, business has picked up and Chew now hires five part-timers to help her with decorating event venues. She now draws about twice the profit since she started running Liz Florals full time.

Another aspect Chew has learned to let go is in mentoring part-timers who might grow to be competitors.

“I tell myself you should be proud when someone does that because you have taught them enough to provide that leap of faith,” she said.

“As long as these people actually helped you to fulfil your current goals, then you can’t stop them from taking that money from you because it’s a give and take right? They help you earn money but maybe (during) that they learn something and they earn from your share as well, and that’s life to me.”

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