👠 IN COLLABORATION WITH COLE HAAN 👠
Winnie Chan has a quiet positivity about her that is quite contagious. In her company, you can’t help but feel like you’re elevated, that you’re a little more. If you had any doubt about yourself or the possibility of starting or accomplishing something before, somehow, a chat with the Bynd Artisan founder and CEO will leave you with a sense of renewed confidence, optimism and “I-got-this-ness”.
“We should always try,” Winnie says in her slightly raspy but gentle, mentoring voice when I asked about her mantra during our interview.
Try. It’s a word that has rewarded her with triumphs both in her award-winning custom bookbinding and leather-craft business, which inaugurated not too long ago in 2014, and in her personal life. It’s no wonder she recommends it.
Her support for friends and fellow entrepreneurs, though, extends beyond inspiring a mere feeling of positivity. Busy as she is managing a precociously thriving business and her family — she has two children with her husband and business partner James Quan, and no domestic help (“James and I share the responsibilities.”) — her brand of support is showing up.
Just take a gander at her Instagram feed (she is
fittingly monikered @the_paperqueen). Whether it’s a store opening, an art exhibition, the launch of a new business or collection, an interview — like this one! — or a fashion show, Winnie is there to celebrate (or contribute) to the achievements and success of others.
In fact, in her customary early-morning reflections (like, 5am early), she regularly ponders if she’s doing enough for someone else. “(It’s) important to me to have better awareness of how everyone is in the bigger scheme of things,” she says.
We rise, Robert Ingersoll once said, by lifting others. And that is the power of Winnie Chan.
On the day of our photo shoot and interview, we arrive at Winnie’s impeccable home at 10am. (It later dawned on me that, by then, she would have quite plausibly been awake for five hours and accomplished plenty already.)
It is a Tuesday morning. A super sunny Tuesday morning. As soon as the doors of the private lift opens, we find ourselves in a leafy balcony. Wafts of lemongrass aroma emanating from a diffuser in the air-conditioned living room and classical music fill the air. A familiar voice greets us “Good morning” two seconds before its mistress — our host and protagonist of the day — emerges. And just like that, the imposing heat retreats to the back of our minds, while a sense of calm and cool washes over us.
On the dining table, there sits a pretty cake in pink. “It’s from Shop Wonderland,” she casually informs us as she settles into a chair to get her hair and make-up done. And yes, it is for us.
Much has been said and written about this remarkable woman in every local media outlet worth its salt the last few years. She is the woman who modernised her grandfather’s bookbinding business and made notebooks cool again for this digital generation. She has built a super successful Singaporean brand in less than four years. She is an advocate for local designers, artists and makers. She is The Paperqueen. But who is Winnie Chan, really, away from the spotlight? What is she like in her quiet, private moments? The objective of this tête-à-tête is to get a glimpse into that space where her extraordinary meets her ordinary.
As she divvies up the cake ever so meticulously (is there any other way?) and feeds us at the end of a four-hour shoot, as she goes around handing out coffee and making sure everyone’s taken care of, I drift off to something she said earlier: “If I could take a walk in someone else’s shoes, it would be Claire Chiang’s. I hope that one day I can be like her, inspiring and empowering other women.”
But here’s the thing: You already are.
THERE IS GREATNESS IN EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US WAITING TO BE UNLEASHED.
Walk me through your day. What time do you typically wake up?
Winnie: I love to wake up early. It used to be 4am, but recently, it has been 5:30am due to more late nights. I need about five hours of sleep in order to function properly the next day, but I can also make do with three, preferably not on consecutive nights.
What’s the first thing you do the moment you open you eyes?
Winnie: The moment I open my eyes, all the things I need to do for the day flood into my mind, and I would get all excited and jump out of bed immediately. There are also things I need to do that I don’t consciously remember, but they simply surface when I wake up, and very often, the reminder comes just as the action is due. I am not quite sure what kind of body clock or system I have, but I really appreciate this inbuilt mechanism. I guess it could also be because I am obsessed about keeping my word and following through with what I promise I would do.
Do you have a “morning routine”?
Winnie: I need my coffee first thing in the morning. Then I put on my headphones to listen to my favourite music, and I do the laundry. I also go through my emails and potter about the house putting things back in their place. I enjoy the morning quiet in the house — to me, that’s my “me time” when I clear my head, reflect and think about things, and ponder if I could have done a task differently for a more desired outcome, et cetera. After that, I choose my outfit for the day and take a shower to get ready for work.
Do you have breakfast? What’s your breakfast of choice?
Winnie: Yes, I do. It could be muesli, cereal, some biscuits or cake. There is no particular favourite.
Are you a coffee or tea person?
Winnie: I love both coffee and tea, but definitely coffee in the morning.
What does an exciting day for you look like?
Winnie: Appointments back to back, with a high
likelihood of me running late for each one.
What about a quiet, chill day?
Winnie: That’s when I have the luxury of being at my desk all day at the office and getting paperwork done without having to attend to other needs before my own. This usually happens on Sundays and public holidays.
Running a business and a family — and running them well — can’t be a walk in the park. How often do you make time to relax and pamper yourself?
Winnie: Activities that one considers to be “relaxing” and “pampering” are highly subjective. Some people may love to unwind and chill in a spa and regard that as “me time”. I would be highly petrified at the prospect of spending a day alone in a spa. So, one woman’s meat is another one’s poison. I take pleasure in little snatches of time spent with people I love, catching up with them. I also unwind and indulge myself by shopping online and having a nice whisky or gin at the end of the day.
Knowing myself and my possibilities and limitations is important. Otherwise, I could be over-extending myself for others, and under-achieving and not maximising my potential.
What is your idea of self care?
Winnie: Knowing myself and my possibilities and limitations is important. Otherwise, I could be over-extending myself for others, and under-achieving and not maximising my potential.
Stress is often self induced when we have high expectations or demand too much of ourselves.
The key to self care, I feel, is self acceptance and being comfortable in our own skin. If we can acknowledge our own shortcomings and understand that happiness is possible even with what we deem as imperfections, that life can be fulfilling even with rawness and scars, then we have attained self care.
That doesn’t mean we accept that we cannot achieve certain things we
envision. Daring to dream, understanding our own shortfalls, and believing that we can make it possible despite hurdles — these are also different forms of self care. There is greatness in each and everyone of us waiting to be unleashed.
What makes you feel good about yourself?
Winnie: Looking good gives me a lot of self confidence and makes me feel good. Having people I don’t know come up to me and tell me that I am inspiring makes me feel very good, too!
What is your idea of Utopia?
Winnie: There is no such thing as Utopia. It’s a mater of perception (is your cup half full or half empty?). But if everyone can have empathy and graciousness, to not judge or have preconceived notions, that will be pretty close to Utopia.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS UTOPIA (IS YOUR CUP HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY?)
Do you ever experience self-doubt? How do you keep calm or give yourself a quick boost of confidence?
Winnie: I experience self doubt all the time. Which is why self-reflecting and reviewing things in the morning — conversations I had, did I offend someone?, am I doing enough for someone else? — are so important to me to have better awareness of how everyone is in the bigger scheme of things.
I calm myself by making an effort to look good, so I may appear confident even when I am having cold feet. Many have perceived this as my “quiet confidence”.
Speaking of looking good, what’s your thought process when you pick your outfit for the day? Do you do it the night before or in the morning?
Winnie: I pick my outfit just before I take a shower in the morning. What I choose depends on the type of meetings I have to attend for the day. If I have an evening engagement, I will pick something that will work from morning to night with just a change of accessories, bag and shoes. I am usually busy all the time, so I do not have the luxury of going home to change.
Are you one to plan your outfit around your shoes or shoes around your outfit?
Winnie: I decide on the shoes after I am fully dressed and when I’m just about to leave the house.
Describe your style in three words.
Winnie: Chic, contemporary and relaxed.
Would you ever choose style over comfort? Or are you a believer that a woman should — and can — achieve both?
Winnie: I choose style and comfort. I believe it can be done with some creativity. For example, add quirky accessories or fun, colourful shoes to an otherwise boring (but comfortable) black outfit.
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Winnie: Too many. I head for the shoe section first every time I visit a boutique.
I TAKE PLEASURE IN LITTLE SNATCHES OF TIME SPENT WITH PEOPLE I LOVE, CATCHING UP WITH THEM.
Tell me something that not many people know about you.
Winnie: I guess most people are surprised when I tell them I don’t have a helper, and that James and I share the responsibilities when it comes household chores. I guess it doesn’t sound very sexy, so we don’t usually talk about it (laughs).
Where is your Happy Place?
Winnie: My bed.
What are you reading at the moment?
Winnie: Online newspapers.
What’s the last thing you said — or texted — James?
Winnie: To-do lists. He can’t live without his list.
Take your pick:
a. Heels or flats? Flats.
b. Letters or emails? Letters.
c. Night in or night out? Night In.
d. Netflix or a book? Book.
Do you have a mantra you live by?
Winnie: I definitely live by the mantra that we should always try. (If you
want to do something), just give it a shot, you never know.
What time do you usually to go to bed? What’s your “bedtime routine” like?
Winnie: Recently, I can only get to bed past midnight. Ideally, I would like to lie in bed before 10pm, read for at least an hour, sleep by midnight. Before bedtime, I need to apply beauty products — take care of my face, moisturise, put on my socks and set the alarm clock. And of course, giving the hubs a kiss and wishing him good night.
If I were to take a walk in your shoe, what are three things I will learn about life?
Winnie: (1) Nothing is forever. (2) To be grateful for what you have. (3) No one owes you a favour, and there is no such thing as a free lunch in this world.
Finally, if you could take a walk in the shoes of any woman in the world, who would she be?
Winnie: I look up to Claire Chiang. She uses soft power to persuade others, and she is grounded and real. Both she and her husband Ho Kwong Ping are James’ and my definition of #couplegoals. They are both involved in the business of Banyan Tree, they give back to society, and they have worked together to create an iconic Singaporean brand — something we envision for Bynd Artisan one day.