Nearly three years ago, one start-up made waves across the local beauty industry—both figuratively and literally. Offering a completely novel pampering experience, the Cocodry blowdry bar—a salon that offers styling services exclusively; no colours or cuts—opened its doors for business in December of 2019. Within its first year (most of which was spent under the MCO), the business broke even. Now, post-pandemic, it boasts two locations, even more services and a strong community of stylists and loyal clients behind it.

That in itself is impressive, to be sure, but the woman behind the business is even more so. Meet Kim May Chee: The founder of Cocodry.
Suit and top: MSGM
Our August cover star is every part the poised, put-together entrepreneur (or—dare we say it—girlboss) you'd imagine is running Cocodry, but she didn't start off that way.

As you would expect, launching a business is a learning curve for anyone, but Kim had all possible odds stacked against her: "I faced many challenges, from not having enough capital to start, having to get investors to invest in a new idea, hiring a founding team, learning to be a good leader, surviving the MCO, and overcoming my lack of business experience, to name a few."

In fact, she was actively discouraged from entering the industry at all. "I was told that this industry was a war zone and that I'd be eaten alive for my naivety," Kim recalls.
Fortunately, there is one thing that has remained constant throughout her entrepreneurial journey so far, and that is her resilience. "I knew that no one would take me seriously until I made it happen," she remarks.

That put paid to any doubt: Not one to back down from a challenge, Kim set out with little more than a bright idea to recruit her team, otherwise known as the Cocosquad. "Can you imagine [it]?" she muses. "I started hiring without a physical store—just a pitch deck… [and] I wasn't only pitching to investors, but also to my potential founding team!"
As we know, the Cocodry brand is thriving in the present day, but what drew Kim to the beauty sphere in the first place?
Jacket: Ganni; Hair extensions: Hair Architect
Well, the entrepreneur's roots in the hair industry can actually be traced back to her childhood. As it happens, Kim isn't the only member of the family to have entered the salon business. Daughter to veteran hairstylist Simon Kim, Kim spent most of her childhood surrounded by the hair industry.

The paternal Kim started out as a 15-year-old high school dropout and worked his way up in the trade, eventually earning himself international acclaim as an award-winning hairstylist. With no business experience, he had opened the Hair Impression salon at the age of 19, followed by his own hairstyling academy at the age of 21, and expanded the salon to 10 branches across Penang Island by the time he had turned 30. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that Kim has such a natural entrepreneurial spirit.

Unfortunately, the recent pandemic and a stagnant business model that alienated new clients left the Hair Impression salon in crisis, and Kim's father soon found himself looking to call it quits. However, unable to watch him give up on his craft, Kim sought to help her father start anew.

"All I needed to do was strategise to help him pivot and stay relevant in the market," Kim explains. "That's when Wave Salon was born—a Santorini-inspired salon that makes customers feel like they're at a resort and delivers an experience that makes them feel good."

It's Kim's innovative perspective that gives her businesses their edge in a saturated market. For instance, with Cocodry and Wave Salon, the novelty of the business model is that the customer experience goes beyond hairstyling. Further, the Instagram-friendly decor of both establishments is by design—a marketing tool that serves to attract a younger, more social-savvy demographic to the salon. All in all, the influx of new clients has put Mr Kim right back in the game, where he belongs.
Suit and bralette: Moschino; Hair extensions: Hair Architect
When prompted about the biggest business lessons she's learned from her old man, Kim has three nuggets of wisdom to share. The first lesson is that the only constant in life is change: "One of the reasons why Hair Impression couldn't stay relevant and sustain itself as a business was because things were being run exactly the same way as they had been 10 years ago."

The second is the importance of courage: "Even though Hair Impression fell apart, my dad had the courage to start all over again from ground zero—in his 50s!"

The third lesson is to learn from both the successes and the failures of others: "Because of my first-hand experiences watching my dad while growing up, I've had the advantage to learn [from] some of the mistakes he has made, which has been a huge contribution to Cocodry's success."
Suit and top: MSGM
In a lot of ways, Kim's life has come full circle, but her work doesn't end with carrying on her father's legacy.

One of her core missions with Cocodry is to foster the personal and professional growth of other young women. When prompted about the spark behind this passion, Kim explains: "I've witnessed, first-hand, the women around me giving up their careers for their families; women who were being underappreciated by men just because they weren't providing financially for the family."

"I never want myself or anyone else to feel that way," she continues, elaborating that she believes women need their own income so that they have the option of independence in any circumstances. As such, she feels strongly about giving fellow women the tools they need to succeed: "I love seeing other women thrive and chase their dreams! Cocodry was founded to make women feel confident on the inside and the outside—not just our guests, but the Cocosquad too."
Suit and bralette: Moschino; Hair extensions: Hair Architect
So, what's next for Kim May Chee? Life for the 28-year-old is already pretty hectic, but it's about to get even busier. Earlier this year, Kim announced that she was pregnant… and that the baby was totally unplanned. "Will I ever be ready?" she contemplates. "I don't think so. Honestly, it scares me!"

"We always ask successful women how they have it all, and I want to have it all too!" she exclaims. "I've accepted the fact that there's no such thing as a perfect work-life balance, and I'm going to embrace that in the next chapter of my life."

That said, though she's ecstatic to be a mother, Kim asserts that she definitely won't be slowing down in her career anytime soon. In fact, she can already see Cocodry growing internationally!
Jacket: Ganni; Hair extensions: Hair Architect
Overall, it hasn't exactly been a straight and easy road for Kim, but through it all—the good and the difficult—she's still standing. And, as Merdeka approaches, her story is more inspiring than ever.

Building a business from the ground up is hard enough. However, going the extra mile to elevate and reinvent the local industry as a whole requires a certain kind of tenacity. Fortunately for other budding entrepreneurs looking to follow in Kim's footsteps, she has shared the driving force behind her success:
Editor / sarah hani jamil
text & creative direction / Redzhanna Jazmin

photography / Edmund Lee | One3Four Studio
videographY / DENNIS KHO
makeup / Xiao Bai for Cocodry
HAIR / Yi Teng for Cocodry
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