AKINN: inspired by the resilience of female business leaders
She greets each day with confidence and vulnerability.
She embraces uncertainties with boldness and tenderness.
She drives her goals with determination and humility.
Through it all, with uncompromising beliefs and a formidable sense of self.
Meet Charlene Low, an entrepreneurial woman who inspires AKINN.
Charlene Low, is the Business Director of Yixing Xuan Teahouse. A mother of three boys, age seven, five and two, the 39 year-old left a career in corporate banking after nine years to join her father in spreading their shared love of Chinese tea.
At Yixing Xuan Teahouse, the beauty of Chinese tea can be experienced through tea appreciation workshops, while providing a retail space for tea lovers to buy tea and teaware, which is carefully curated from around the world.
10 QUESTIONS WITH CHARLENE LOW
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the tea-appreciation business?
I’m a mother of 3 boys. I love stationary, R&B, reading biographies and fiction. This tea business was started by my father, Vincent, in 1989. I always thought that at some point, I would join him. It was only a question of when. In 2010, I decided to make the jump.
What were some of your struggles / triumphs when you transitioned into ownership of the brand operations?
As someone who fears public speaking, one of my biggest struggles was conducting the Tea Appreciation Workshops. These workshops were conducted from 2 people to 50 people. They were usually conducted in English but sometimes in Mandarin too. I practiced both versions over and over! To date, I have given 363 English Workshops and 125 Mandarin ones. Whew!
On running a business
Having left your job in the finance sector, like your father, and running the tea house alongside him, was it a natural decision for you? What led you to move into an entire different industry?
Yes, it was a natural decision for me. It was not easy, but it was natural. I believe it was always a question of when. I think love for my father and love for the tea industry made me move. Also, over the years, the more I’ve learnt about tea, the more I’ve learnt to love it.
Tea appreciation in tea houses are rare in Singapore. How did you find the balance to position Yixing Xuan Teahouse between traditional tea appreciation methods in modernized Singapore?
In everything we do, we aim to make our teahouse modern yet traditional. Our workshops are informational and humorous therefore interesting and easy to digest. We share the traditional ways of preparing tea and try to make tea relevant to the modern city dweller and business person.
The fact that Singapore is modernized also makes some people yearn for tradition and finding ways to slow down. I think traditional tea fits in very nicely here. For people who want convenience, we have provided an option for them too by serving loose tea in cups with filters. Guests that want to enjoy a cup of tea whilst tapping away on their laptops usually choose this option.
There are plenty of tea ware options now too for people on the go and people who would like to brew tea at work. We source and curate all tea ware ourselves and try to only sell things that we ourselves would love to use.
- Juggling both a business and your beautiful family, how do you find time for yourself?
I try to make use of all the support that I have. These come in the form of my dear husband, my parents, my sister and my father-in-law. I need all the help I can get! I think it’s important to ask for help when it’s needed. We can only be of value to others when we are in a good space physically and mentally.
On personal style
The practice of serving tea and its appreciation is a traditional legacy in the Chinese culture. Does the timelessness of tea translate into your fashion choices as well?
Absolutely! I tend to pick clothes that are timeless and classic. I don’t follow trends so much. There are many pieces in my wardrobe that I wanted to wear 10 years ago and still want to wear today. This has resulted in a bursting wardrobe as I rarely throw anything away.
From being at the tea house, to meetings with business associates, to chasing after 3 boys, the demands in your life are extremely varied! Often, all 3 (and more) takes place in a single day. what is your go to outfit in such situations that offers not only versatility, but importantly confidence to power through the day?
It will be an outfit that is simple, smart and comfortable. I often find that a pair of high-waisted trousers and a well fitted blouse does the job. Some simple accessories like a great belt and a smart pair of loafers help to elevate the look too.
When you dress up for a formal event, what’s your thought process like? Take us through your thoughts on deciding which dress/suit goes with which occasion.
I always like to think about who has invited me. What kind of people are the hosts? What kind of outfit will they appreciate? In any case, I would pick an outfit that I won’t have to fuss too much with and is hopefully comfortable.
Think back to Charlene 5 years ago. How have you fine-tuned your choice of style when it comes to dressing both for leisure and work?
My sense of style hasn’t changed that much. 5 years ago I only had 1 son though and my body has changed since then. I certainly wear more high-waisted trousers and jeans now. I also buy better shoes now!
If you could sum up your attitude and approach towards dressing and what makes you feel extra confident in a boardroom, what 3 words would you use to describe it?
My approach is timeless, comfortable, simple. If I could have a fourth word, I would add elegant too!