The "New Normal" in the local beauty scene: Cai Jin of Handmade Heroes
As most of us attempt to navigate the New Normal during this CMCO, for some, the struggles have been more apparent and tricky to manoeuvre. Lim Cai Jin, co-founder of plant-based, all-natural beauty brand Handmade Heroes, came clean with her experience during this pandemic—from successfully circumventing pay cuts for her staff to rolling out new products right after the CMCO was enforced:
How has Handmade Heroes been affected from the pandemic?
“The whole MCO has been confusing for a lot of people because it was extended every two weeks. So our plans weren't certain—I had to plan things every two weeks in advance, and then subsequently changing said plans after that for another two weeks.
“Pre-pandemic, we’ve always complemented Handmade Heroes' online presence with a physical presence. Our products are available at Robinsons, but since stores couldn't open during MCO, we had to rely 100% on our online presence. It was a bit of a challenge as we were used to getting revenue from a few different streams—it feels like we had one hand cut off after being used to having two hands to do the job.
“I feel that retail is still very much experience-driven. Customers like to have the option of visiting stores to try the products, going home to deliberate [on whether to buy it], and then buying it online and having it delivered to their homes. Our online sales contribute to more than 50% of our total revenue, but the majority of our customers (especially first-time customers) prefer to experience our products in-person. After making that first-time purchase, they will usually continue to shop with us online. That’s the trend we’ve noticed.”
Did you have to halt operations during the MCO?
“During the first phase of MCO, we couldn’t produce anything until the government stated that we can continue operations if we produce essential items. We didn’t fully operate (only partially) as we didn’t want to expose our production team. Our staff will come in two days a week, so it was not an easy feat and there’s only so much we can produce with limited manpower. It has been a trying time.
“Thankfully, we were still able to pay our employees’ salaries (no pay reduction) despite slowing down half of our production.”
What are some of the challenges when it comes to producing all-natural beauty products, especially during such difficult times?
“Most of our ingredients are procured from overseas i.e. USA and Australia; so when flights in and out of these countries were reduced, all our delivery times were pushed back to a few weeks—six weeks, even.
“Fortunately for us, we managed to put in a few orders of packaging and ingredients before MCO started so those actually got delivered during the MCO. Even so, the permit we got from the government only allowed us to produce hand sanitisers, and our business was heavily dependable on online sales. We had online stocks, but at one point, most of it went out of stock for a bit.
“Our customers placed pre-orders for some products in our website before the CMCO, and that has worked out for us.”
How has the New Normal been for you?
“We've resumed most of our operations, but on the management side, we are still working from home. Those who have to go back to the office will need to undergo a COVID-19 test beforehand. There are very strict protocols and SOPs to follow through, and since we’re producing personal care products, we have to make sure everything is in order.
“Pre-pandemic, we already had strict measures enforced for our staff such as compulsory protective gear—from masks to gloves to proper shoes—before they begin production.”
Despite the recent challenges you faced, what are you most grateful for?
“The chance to slow down. During the first two weeks, I was definitely not used to staying home for so long. I always felt the need to go out and do something. I could be home doing work but it feels different. Typically, you’ll find me out of the house early in the morning right after breakfast, but now this lockdown has taught me to slow down.
“I also learnt that it’s okay to feel whatever we’re feeling. I’m sure many of us are feeling a bit of grief and anxiety during this time, but once you learn how to accept these emotions—and the New Normal—it’ll be that much easier.
“I used to feel sad out of a sudden, especially when I think of the uncertainties that we're going through right now. And it doesn't help that many headlines in the news sound like it could very well be the end of the world. But then I decided to limit myself with news I was consuming on the daily—it helps to read positive headlines and learn new ways to adapt to the New Normal.”
How long do you think the New Normal will last for?
“I think it’s going to be a while until we revert back to pre-pandemic times. As long as you take precautions and do what you need to do, it'll make it safer for everyone. Everyone is pivoting more to online channels and e-commerce right now, and I find that it’s amazing that our customers consider natural care an essential part of their lives.
“We are thankful for having a supportive community, and despite the pandemic, our customers are still shopping for our products. We also try to connect with them and tell them to share their thoughts with us on social media. It’s comforting knowing that we’re all in this together and supporting each other.”
How do you de-stress?
“When I wake up, I avoid checking social media first. Right after brushing my teeth, I do light yoga stretches to prep my mind for the day. I do this every other day—I tell myself that this is my half hour to breathe and clear my mind.
“There isn't much work-life balance when I'm working from home—you’ll find me glued on my laptop around the clock. So this mini morning routine helps me compartmentalise and focus on what I need to do without stressing out or worrying about work.”