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SINGAPORE, April 21 — For Singaporean millennial Marilyn Chew, a tiny pursuit in the arts and a personal gesture while she was abroad later morphed to become a Singapore-based business she started on her own called Eterate Calligraphy.
Her studio has worked with luxury labels such as Japanese cosmetic brand SK-II, Italian fashion brand Bulgari and premium pen-maker Montblanc. Last September, Eterate Calligraphy was named one of Vogue magazine’s six best bespoke wedding invitation designers in Singapore.
For her tenacity and efforts in carving a path for herself as an entrepreneur and calligraphy artist, the 27-year-old found her name among this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list — one among 32 Singaporeans from 28 organisations here featured in the sixth edition of the annual list put out by the financial publication.
The list, announced yesterday, comprises 300 young entrepreneurs, leaders and trailblazers across Asia who are under the age of 30.
Forbes describes them as “bright and innovative millennial and Gen Z leaders”, with 30 honourees selected for each of the 10 categories in the list.
The 10 categories are:
- Entertainment and sports
- Finance and venture capital
- Media, marketing and advertising
- Retail and e-commerce
- Enterprise technology
- Industry, manufacturing and energy
- Healthcare and science
- Social impact
- Consumer technology
Chew, who was mentioned in the arts category, told TODAY: “It was definitely unexpected, I’ve not won any national awards here, so with my first being an Asia-wide one with so many trailblazers in their respective industry, it will definitely be one of the greatest achievements that I will look back on in the future.”
When she moved to New York City for a one-year internship in 2014 as an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Chew decided to dabble in different types of art forms through experiential workshops.
After taking a modern calligraphy workshop while she was in New York, she started to write letters back to her family and friends using what she learnt.
“I found it very therapeutic and I can practise for hours. I was hoping that when the letter arrived in their mailbox, they might feel my heartfelt greetings through the handwritten calligraphy,” she said.
Recalling some of the challenges when she first started the business here in 2016, she said that she had no starting capital.
She saved up the money earned from commissioned projects and selectively invested in writing instruments, inks, books and training to continue pursuing calligraphy.
When the opportunity to attend a calligraphy conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the United States came in 2018, she was forced to start a crowdfunding campaign among her friends and family to raise US$2,400 (about S$3,200) that was needed for the trip.
Now, as part of her business, Chew creates commissioned handwritten calligraphy pieces for companies and destination weddings.
For example, she has addressed envelopes for Christie’s Auction House in New York and has collaborated with destination wedding planner The Wedding Atelier.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, she also carried out live calligraphy events where she wrote in-person for guests. She had also conducted calligraphy workshops in Singapore, Argentina, Canada and New York.
“My calligraphy pieces have been featured in the media but, as an individual, this is my first so it feels different and special. The journey to start and build Eterate Calligraphy since my university days at NUS has its highs and lows, so this brings a lot of encouragement,” she added.
Honourees from the Forbes list are selected from more than 2,500 nominations, researched by Forbes journalists from across the region and vetted by industry veterans and a panel of accomplished judges in each category.
The criteria for honourees making the list include their demonstration of leadership, how they embody the entrepreneurial spirit, and their potential of success in their industry.
Other factors such as innovation, disruption, and size and growth of their ventures in some categories play a part in the final outcome.
Among those featured on this year’s list are K-pop singer Ji-eun Lee “IU” and actor Nam Joo-hyuk from South Korea, table tennis player Chen Meng from China who is ranked world number one for women’s singles, indigenous rapper Danzal Baker “Baker Boy” from Australia, Hong Kong singer Jackson Wang and Indian teenage influencer Jannat Rahmani.
Those from Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Malaysia, among other countries, have also been featured.
Chew said that she is looking forward to being part of the Forbes under-30 community and is most excited to be connected with the global under-30-listers across all years.
She added that being able to start conversations and learn from them will aid in her growth as a calligrapher artist and business owner.
“Additionally, I hope to encourage fellow Singaporeans with a passion for art and no formal design education to carve out a path of their own and explore career paths through unconventional ways. I hope that more people will be interested in the traditional art of penmanship,” she said.
The youngest from Singapore across all categories is silat athlete Sheik Farhan Sheik Alau’ddin who was featured under the entertainment and sports category.
At just 23, Sheik Farhan is a three-time world champion in silat, after winning his third championship in 2018 at the World Pencak Silat Championship held in Singapore.
Sheik Farhan, whose father is a two-time silat world champion, told TODAY that he was introduced to the sport when he was around three years old.
“My father was always enthusiastic about silat. He took my siblings and I for training on Sundays. This continued till I was older and silat turned into a competitive sport for me,” he said.
“I feel shocked but am pleased by the news. I’ve always thought I could reach great heights in the sport but I’ve never thought it would come with such an honour as the Forbes 30 Under 30 list,” he said.
Another Singaporean, Jay Lim, 28, who made the finance and venture capital category, told TODAY that he received an email saying he was shortlisted for the semi-final round a month ago so he was “kind of expecting it but still quite surprised”.
“But yes, I wanted to get on it and have something new for my parents to be happy about,” the venture partner at Global Founders Capital said.
Global Founders Capital is a global seed and growth fund with a multi-billion dollar portfolio.
Lim is humbled that Forbes recognises the efforts of Global Founders Capital in Asia and is happy to see various other Singaporeans mentioned as well, as “it shows our collective effort to help build Singapore a vibrant startup and innovation hub”.
“Being part of this community would definitely help me find more (options for investment) and, perhaps, help other investors find me when I build a startup in future, too,” he said.
In the finance and venture capital category as well is Singaporean Chia Jeng Yang, 27, principal at Saison Capital, the venture arm of Credit Saison, one of Japan’s largest consumer credit companies. It invests in funds and startups globally.
“It was definitely a very pleasant surprise today, waking up in the morning to all the WhatsApp messages that I was on the Forbes list. It almost made me feel like I could take a break and enjoy a long lunch today,” Chia quipped.
He said that the Forbes listing is helpful because it puts him in touch with a great community of other builders, founders and investors who all have their own areas of expertise and knowledge.
“I look forward to improving the way I think about startups, business models and investments through interacting with my current, past and future cohorts of Forbes nominees,” he said.
“It is certainly one of the highest honours I have earned. And I am really grateful to Forbes for its continual efforts to highlight people who are doing interesting things across a wide variety of industries in Asia.” — TODAY