Stories of Resilience: Phuay Li Ying
Editor’s Note: In this series, we explore how resilience shapes a person’s character, how it affects our emotional and psychological state and if there are times when we become more resilient to challenges, setbacks and failures.
To me, resilience is the strength to have clarity and make decisions in difficult situations. It is the determination to find light in times of darkness, and the ability to own up to mistakes and make changes. In many aspects of my life, I believe this word has demonstrated itself, in completely unexpected ways. Ultimately, no problems are unsolvable.
I think I never knew the power of resilience up until 3 years ago. I have always been blessed—I have an amazing family, a great circle of friends and led a happy life. After ending a corporate career in a bank and subsequently, another job in a start-up, I officially started Ying The Label in early 2015, a womenswear brand that advocates the marriage of art and fashion. Young, impulsive and hot-headed, I was like a tyrant at work. I made decisions on impulse, refused to listen to any critics, and did everything my own way. I also took on a separate job in another company, doing corporate development, and I remember being asked by many then: why take on 2 jobs? Isn’t it crazy?
I needed stability, and it was only logical.
Well, the truth is, it was crazy. When I first started the business, I did not focus on having a sound business plan. I ignored and neglected any criticism, and committed to more than I could handle. My designs were not consistent, sales were nowhere near fabulous, and I exhausted my initial capital within months. I had a long discussion with my parents, and told them that I had faith that the business would work. Without asking any questions, they loaned me a sum of money to keep Ying The Label going.
With the injection of capital, I ordered large quantities of inventory, believing that they would sell and be a big hit, even in a challenging retail market. As time went by, I burned through the money without making much headway.
In this same period, I was still working hard at my corporate job. I initiated new ideas, concepts and projects, with the ambitious heart to take on more. On bad days, my temper flared like a volcano, impacting the people around me negatively. Yet, I never saw my faults and felt that I deserved their understanding and empathy for juggling two jobs.
Wasn’t I being resilient by holding on and not giving up? Couldn’t they see the level of stress I was going through?
The turning point came in 2016, when I was in my second year of operation. I had about $10,000 left in my bank account, and that gave me a huge reality check. My mind was everywhere; I started to panic and was frustrated, and overwhelmed. It took a toll on my relationships and everything seemed to be falling apart. I had boxes of ageing inventories that were not moving, and still had more stock coming in. On top of that, my accounts were in a mess. I was always in tears and I had no idea what to do next.
My so-called ‘resilience’ had failed me.
I reached a breaking point when I knew that I had to confront the hard truths. I sat down for a long time and thought through every single piece of criticism that was given to me. One of the harshest comments was that I was no different from a ‘headless chicken’—simply doing everything and anything with no direction. With a fresh perspective, I went back to the drawing board. I reconsidered our business model, ended contracts with departmental stores, and re-branded. I also pushed for more marketing and learnt to say no by becoming more selective. I was desperate for change and determined to make it work. Gradually, things turned around and the business became profitable.
Resilience wasn’t just about holding on or persevering. It was the courage to have the clarity to see what was going wrong, admit to mistakes, and work on a strategy to change for the better. If something is bad, what good would it be to keep on pursuing it? Stubbornness can ruin you.
Now that Ying The Label is growing at a healthy pace, I still want to keep both of my jobs. Why?
I love doing both. One gives me the courage to make mistakes, seek new opportunities, and to never be fearful of rejection; the other teaches me structure and progression. I enjoy challenges, and I embrace every hurdle that comes my way.
Sacrifices have been made along the way, but learning to balance them is also part of staying resilient. Having balance gives you the emotional strength to move forward and do better.
Having passion alone, does not work. You need vision, a sound business plan, focus, support, and most importantly, RESILIENCE. It is the constant push from the inside to prevent you from being fearful, and the perpetual voice in your head reminding you to face problems and solve them; it serves as a reminder to why your life is worth living.