Kristen Kiong is Speech Therapist by day, owner of Illustration Business (@kristenkiong) by night, and full-time mummy to little Beth (incidentally born the day before IWD). As a speech therapist, she mainly assists patients with swallowing difficulties in the hospital. Outside of work, Kristen loves doing things with her hands, so anything creative instantly becomes a hobby for her - fun fact: she was even a drum instructor as a part-time job during her university days.
I work as a Speech Therapist in a public hospital, mostly with an adult population. Unlike what its name suggests, my bread and butter caseload involves identifying if a patient has swallowing difficulties. Just to name a few, it can be caused by a head injury, stroke or surgery near the head and neck area. The medical term for this is dysphagia. I help them to eat better by modifying their food or fluids (e.g. pureeing their foods, or thickening their fluids) or providing them exercises to strengthen their throat muscles.
I started doing calligraphy because I wanted to do my own wedding invites. This later transitioned to illustrations. As more people saw my work, they started to ask if I did commissions. Pricing my commissions was a very difficult thing for me back then, as most young business owners would know. Is it too expensive? Are people going to run the other way when they hear my prices? Am I good enough? That last question is THE question every entrepreneur has probably asked themselves at least once in their life.
My latest illustration project is: the Awesome Women Series is a book series started by Shawn and Priscilla - parents to a 4 year-old daughter. Shawn and Priscilla strongly believes in inspiring girls to be anything that they want to be from a young age, and empowering them to be role models of tomorrow. (https://awesomewomenseries.com/)
It’s a misconception that women are weak.
In the hospital, I work in a female-dominated environment where some of us have to take on roles that are not considered "stereotypically female" - if there are bugs, we catch the bugs. We women have to tech, and are very good at it. We sometimes have to carry stuff, can't be too emotional - literally everything about a woman you want to challenge, you'd see it play out here.
After 6 years of doing illustration on the side and setting up at fleas and fairs (such as Boutique Fairs) I’ve also come to learn that women are stronger than they look. It may come as a surprise to many, but behind the scenes of many women-owned small businesses is a lot of shifting of our stock. It's something I've always been proud of - that I can carry heavy things because I'm strong.
As a mummy now, I carry a 9.5kg baby everywhere I go. Even up to 16kg when out with the stroller... and I’m not the only one! Many moms do too! Because of that sometimes when someone tells me "That box is heavy", I think to myself.. "Is it really?".
Also just as a trivia point, do you know that women have a much much higher pain threshold than men do? Though that being said, I always let my husband help me - chores are honestly more fun when shared.
Time management has been crucial to balancing my career, passion and personal life! Knowing how much you can take on in either, and sticking to that. I am and have always been a busy person. Make use of all the lull time you have. While I'm on the bus or train, I'm thinking about what designs I'd like to do, sometimes I might be drafting them on the go. But this helps because once I get space to sit down and do some work, I'm able to hit the ground running.
Prioritise. People often tell me that I'm so creative that I could paint, do pottery, do florals, etc. But I've also learnt that doesn't mean that I can do it means I must do it. If I spent an hour a week on floristry, and another hour on pottery, that would be 2 hours a week that I could put into my work or personal life. Or 104 hours a year, it adds up!
Resting and being present. As a busy person this is incredibly hard, but I also cannot emphasise how important this is. As much as I say I do things on the go, make use of all my time, it's important to stop thinking and be present in your personal life (for me that's family). If you do need to, plan for a rest day. For me, I take more leave from my day job in December because that's the peak busy period for small business owners. Because an overworked person makes more mistakes, gets jaded and snippy and all that's not good.
Self-care to me is a good massage, or a long walk. For a mind that can’t stop moving, a massage is forced down-time because I can’t be on my phone. I’m have to lie face-down on a massage bed in semi darkness. I particularly enjoy long walks because I get to sweat a little and clock in some steps (especially after sitting for a long time). It also gives me time to appreciate the beauty we have in our little country - there are so many things to see, so many green spaces and park connectors to explore… I don’t think I could get bored here.
I would go back to my 13-year old self and tell her not to bother about that whole "try to fit in and be part of a clique" discourse. One day, rather than being the same, everyone will try to be unique, so just embrace the ways you don't fit in or the ways you are different.
Instead, invest in forming genuine friendships with good people - those who work hard, think creatively, and whose beliefs align with yours. These will be the people who'd be your friends for life. And work hard and smart. Make sure you put your 100% in what you do, and do it to the best of your ability.
We wear scrubs to work, so I don’t need to worry that much about work clothes thankfully. But I generally swing two ways with my dressing - either figure hugging silhouettes or loose/boxy structured clothes. I also have some ground rules - going out wear (other than shorts) must be knee length or longer, just because it makes me feel more put together
I think one thing I didn’t expect was how much pregnancy would change my body. It’s not about the weight that I put on or can be lost, but simply how our ribs and hips had made space for a baby and may not shrink again. I do plan to have more children, so with that in mind, I now am always on the lookout for fitting yet stretchy pieces that I know will fit me in every season. Also with little Beth moving into toddlerhood, this mom is going to have to deal with a child running through her legs, maybe trying to lift my skirt, I’m also always on the lookout for things that make me look good yet easy for me to grab my child and crawl under the table in. You get the gist. That’s what attracted me to the Elle Dress.
I’m inspired by the Singaporean entrepreneurs whom I've been blessed to meet along my journey. I get very excited by people who have brilliant ideas to beat the odds, and the circuit breaker really brought out some women whom have lots of grit. I’m constantly inspired by Elizabeth, from Wild Olive Branch. She’s also my distributor, and she does Make-It Bake boxes, which helped when home bakers couldn’t bake, and came in perfectly handy as an activity for the kids stuck at home. There’s also Sharon, the CEO of MothersWork. Their idea of a virtual shopping experience and curbside pickup when we couldn’t go shopping for baby things was brilliant.
Of course, my mum has been a role model in my life. She has been a stay-home mum ever since I was born, and now helps me to care for Little Beth as I transit from my year-long break back into full-time work. She was the sort of lady who'd make sure you showed up for something unless you were really sick. She also taught me to prioritise, that when I had exams and needed to study, I should still attend the things that were a commitment (to us that was church) and cut down on the time spent going out for dinner/hanging out with friends, and not bail just because exams are here.
This series is part of our International Women's Day piece where we catch up with amazing GOYA women to share about their career stories, challenges and advice for anyone developing their careers.
In the month of March, we have also joined hands with local NGO SEVA SEED that aims to empower young women from underprivileged countries. Checkout with code IWD21SEVASEED, and GOYA will donate 3 reusable sanitary pads to women in underprivileged countries. On top of the donation, you will also receive 10% off all GOYA apparel this month.