Humans of the Agency: Leong Jen
August 19, 2022
Leong Jen, Senior Specialist
Joined: Since 2021
Idle hands certainly were not the Devil’s workshop for many of us during the pandemic. From knitting and baking to homemade kombucha and sourdough bread, Singaporeans kept busy (and sane) by discovering hobbies that they didn’t previously have.
However, for Leong Jen, Senior Specialist at Finn Partners Singapore, her love for arts and crafts goes way back. While the rest of us begrudgingly enjoyed art classes only because they weren’t math or science classes, Jen took Art as an A-Level subject in Junior College. Her nails? She painted them. Her accessories? She made them. In fact, during the pandemic, Jen began making and selling polymer-based earrings on Etsy.com under her brand, Kylnclay.
In this story, we discover Jen’s artistic roots, how she turned a hobby into a fashion brand of her own, as well as how she’s managed to apply many of her entrepreneurial learnings to her day job.
Q: How did your passion for jewellery making come about?
I’ve always been into arts and crafts. In 2014, I began dabbling with polymer clay. It’s not like ceramics as most people know it. It’s effectively a type of plastic that polymerises when exposed to heat. At the time, I was making small crafts, like an anatomical heart, which I still wear as a necklace sometimes, as well as little flowers and cakes. It was just for fun, really. Then life happened and I stopped toying around with polymer clay for a while.
Fast forward to 2021, we were midway through the pandemic, the gyms were closed, and I injured my knee. I couldn’t exercise. I had a lot of spare time on my hands. Coincidentally, it was around this time when I started seeing many online advertisements of jewellery, and I thought, “I’m not going to pay $30 for that!” So, I decided to pick up my old hobby again and made jewellery that I wanted to wear. I also do my own nails because I’m just that frugal. Might as well put my fine motor skills to good use!
Q: What’s the journey like in turning the hobby into your own brand?
It came out of practicality. I only have a pair of ears, and there are only so many earrings that I can wear. So, if I wanted to explore the hobby, I had to either give, throw, or sell some of them away. Setting up an online shop just made sense because I paid money for the materials. I wanted to earn something back.
Honestly, the creative part, which is what I love the most, is a small part of it all. If you’re trying to build a business, you have to consider monetization. How are you going to get it in front of your audience? What platforms are you going to use? Are you willing to invest in ads? Or are you going to rely on word of mouth? These are decisions that you have to make. You can rely on Google ads, for example, but it’s expensive. It doesn’t make sense for small businesses. You can use social media instead, but then you need a content calendar and photographs because it’s such a visual platform. I think I am a decent artist, but I’m not a good photographer.
Also, I had to learn how to keep track of stock and inventory. If something sells on Etsy, I must manually update it on my spreadsheet. I’m not automating anything. I’m a one-woman show. So, I think it’s a learning experience if you’re trying to run a side hustle. You must wear a lot of hats.
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Q: What is the most fulfilling part about the hobby?
I never saw this business as my main source of income. In terms of financials, it’s nothing impressive. I have recouped my cost, but in terms of profit, it’s still under SG$1,000. However, when I start something, I want to make sure that I do a good job. I don’t want to see it lapse just because I am not seeing immediate success. My sense of achievement comes from the fact that I saw it through.
I am also super proud of myself for putting my creations on Etsy and sharing them with the world. I remember when someone I didn’t know—not a friend, not a family member—presumably saw one of my ads and bought my earrings. To me, it felt like such an accomplishment.
Q: Has the hobby informed your work in any way?
You can already see a lot of cross-pollination happening. For example, if I was launching a new collection, I would do ad boosting on Instagram and Facebook. I also learnt to build an audience based on interests. For example, I go for women between the ages of 18 and late 40s with discretionary income. In terms of interests, they are also predisposed to like fashion and accessories. On top of that, it’s also about content marketing, launching a campaign, exploring monetization, boosting certain posts, etc. These are skill sets that I’ve picked up, and I can apply them to my work here.
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Q: What’s next for you and your brand, Kylnclay?
I want to experiment with other materials, like resin. I already use it as a coating in some of the pieces. I like it because it gives the pieces a glossy finish. However, there are artists who work exclusively with resin, and I am so inspired by them. However, resin is dangerous to work with. It’s toxic, so I would like to do more research, understand the best practices, and get the right equipment before I explore this next creative venture.