Meet Savina Chai, Founder and Creative Director of Eight Slate. A resilient go-getter, a compassiona
There is something about Savina that draws you to her – perhaps it could be her distinct impeccable style and on point make-up, her steady gaze on you as she studies you while paying close attention to the conversation, or the conviction in her voice as she shares how she kept going on in her entrepreneurial journey. One thing is for sure, she is a lady boss who is relentless in pursuing her dream.
At 23, she already has several achievements under her belt. A woman with a strong work ethic, she launched Eight Slate, her very own contemporary womenswear label, at 19 while completing her final year as a student at Temasek Polytechnic (TP). She also wears many hats as a full-time style influencer with a following of 78.3k on Instagram, as well as a stylist, digital strategist and photographer. Now, she is even guest lecturing fashion at TP. Just over the few years since her launch, she has faced numerous obstacles, including naysayers, business challenges and serious medical conditions. However, she is not one to let any obstacle stand in her way, and in fact, these only served to make her stronger and more resilient.
Not wanting to look back on life with any regrets, Savina is highly driven to keep pushing herself harder and makes the most of her time to work towards her passion and goals. Even during her downtime or when she is on the go, she continues to keep herself updated with the latest fashion news, reads books across different subject matters or watches informative videos like Ted Talks. “I don’t feel tired spending my breaks on these, I am just curious. Knowledge is power too. The more you know about different things in life, the more you can educate yourself.”
What are your days like as an entrepreneur?
I am quite a workaholic, and I generally like to jam pack my schedule every day as I think that every hour counts. When I was younger, it used to be a never-ending work cycle, and the only time I would end work would be when it was time to sleep. Eventually, the long work hours caused me to suffer negative impacts. So this taught me to slow down. In the past year, my New Year resolution was to stop work by 7pm, and I try as much as possible not to do any work over weekends unless it is an emergency. This made me happier, more productive, and efficient, and I am glad that I made this choice.
What do you do outside of work?
I exercise a lot. Over the past few years, working out has made me become a disciplined and stronger person as it helped me build physical and mental resilience. I believe that if you can push your body to endure even the most gruelling exercises you set for yourself, you can achieve anything else you put your mind to. I found a different type of strength and courage to push through my business through these workouts. Of course it also makes you look good!
What motivates you to push yourself so hard?
I do not want to disappoint myself. If you disappoint others, you still can apologise. However, it is harder to disappoint yourself because you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life. Also, when I was growing up, many people told me that I would not be able to make it in life. I have always wanted to prove them wrong, and to reach my full potential. I believe that I have a lot of potential and I do not want to live in self-regret because of what I did not do.
Over a person’s entire lifespan, there are bound to be a lot of obstacles not just from yourself but also from your family, your friends and your partner. If you let yourself crumble over any of these obstacles at this early stage, how would you then be able to overcome bigger obstacles and achieve more in your life?
How do you know that you would achieve what you want?
I tend to think and analyse a lot, so I think up many processes in my mind to conceptualise how I can achieve what I want. It helps to study many different types of business models, including those from different industries to better understand how businesses can be run. When I started at 19, I hardly had any connections, so I gained most of my ideas and solutions through reading.
You started your business at quite a young age. Did you face any particular challenges because of your age?
My main challenge was cash flow, which creates another set of problems because it means you must bootstrap and do everything yourself. Another challenge I faced was hiring staff. I started out hiring staff older than me, and this caused issues due to the age gap. As it did not work out, I began to hire staff who were either younger than me, or older staff where both of us had common mutual respect for each other.
Is there a particular strength you had that helped you in your business?
I was stronger in marketing and design, mostly areas related to the creative process. On the other hand, I struggled with doing the finances and accounts which was a steep learning curve for me.
Is there any person that you admire?
I admire strong independent women, especially those who have created successful international businesses and a legacy around their passion. I really look up to women like Sophia Amoruso, who is the founder of the womenswear retailer Nasty Gal and author of #GIRLBOSS; Phoebe Philo, a talented and amazing British fashion designer and Creative Director of fashion house Celine; and Katherine Power, co-founder of global fashion media brand Who What Wear.
What do you think makes a good leader?
I think a good leader is able to give hope to their staff and empathise with them, and I believe that compassion is what will separate a good leader from an ordinary leader. I see my staff as family, and I am very touched that they are willing to put a hold on everything they want to do so that they can be part of my team to build my dream. As I have worked with people who were not very compassionate before, it made me realise that this is not how I want to treat the people who are playing a big part in my small dream. I also want to build something for all my past and present staff such that they can be proud that they were part of this company and in contributing to my dream.
How do you mentor your team members?
I believe in tough love. While I am a nurturing and compassionate person and I want my staff to grow, I do not accept any excuses when it comes to getting things done. I like to take the time to understand what my staff want to achieve, where they want to go in the future, and what their plans are for their career. From there, I will do what I can to expand their skill sets so that when they leave, they would have grown much more, and would know that they have a lot of potential. I will also push my staff to get things done, and would support them if they are unfamiliar with the task at hand, but at the very least I would still need them to try. At the end of the day, this is for their own good as it is very hard to survive in the creative industry if they do not improve their work.
Do you champion any causes?
I advocate strongly for eye health and mental awareness as I almost lost my eyesight two years ago. I had juvenile glaucoma, which is when the eye pressure in your eye goes beyond a normal range. By the time I realised that I had glaucoma, I have already lost most of my vision. This led to an arduous two years of medication, surgery and plenty of negative side effects like double vision, headaches and nausea. It was very difficult to function normally and run my business, and I could not attend events, photoshoots and interviews despite being in the public line during that period. While vision loss from glaucoma is permanent, a recent surgery helped to stabilise my condition. Looking back, this entire episode helped me build even more character and resilience. This experience also made me realise that with any extreme health issue, it also brings about emotional and psychological impacts. This is the reason why I champion both mental illness and eye health.
How do you intend to help these causes?
I do documentaries and interviews to share and raise awareness on glaucoma and eye health. Hopefully, over the next two years, I can share more about eye health to increase the understanding and compassion for people who are visually impaired. It is also great that I can inspire people that whatever obstacles you have, it is not the end of the world. For younger people especially, some tend to take obstacles very hard. However, life is so small, and so are those obstacles. Through sharing the vulnerable side of me and the obstacles I face, I also hope to show that even though I am an influencer, I do not have a perfect life and that things are also not that easy for us.
What is one quote that you live by or motivates you?
Dreams do not work just because you dream, but because of hard work. Being a fashion designer was my childhood dream, but when it happened, it was no longer a dream – it is hard work and a long process. I could have given up a long time ago, but I did not. I always found another way out. I think it is all about perseverance.
How did you feel when you achieved your dream?
I have not achieved anything significant in my life yet, but I would like to believe that I am the process of getting there. While everyone has different definitions of success, for me, it is more about personal success in achieving all the goals I set for myself in life rather than just attaining status, fame or fortune. If fame or money comes along with that, that is a bonus. If not, it is fine. Ultimately, I would like a comfortable life where I am self-sufficient enough to provide for myself and for my family before I reach 40.
What is the one piece of advice you would have for young women?
It is important to be kind to everybody because you would never know when you would cross paths with everyone again. After all, the world is so small.