In parts of Asia, men continue to be seen as more driven, accomplished, and business-minded. Unfair gender roles and inequalities in education and employment opportunities persist, however, an increasing number of Asian women are proving these stereotypes otherwise. By starting their own businesses, Asian Female Entrepreneurs manifest that women are just as capable of becoming leaders and innovators as their male counterparts.
Not only is entrepreneurship an additional source of income, it is also a creative outlet for Asian women to share their artistry and talent. The following is a list of 7 Asian Female Entrepreneurs who are stepping up to the challenges that society has placed before them and are carving their own paths through entrepreneurship.
Joee Cheong Creative Studio (Malaysia)
Joee Cheong’s passion for making watercolour artworks and empowering others to explore their creative side were the motivations behind her art business, Joee Cheong Creative Studio. Joee tells us, “I was once afraid to dream, but I’ve taken the step of faith to pursue what seemed impossible 4 years ago.”
Based in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Cheong’s art shop has a vibrant selection of handmade art supplies and stationeries such as watercolor sets, mini flower palettes, ceramic palettes, stamp collections, journaling sets, sketchbooks, and brushes. All of these products are sourced from sustainable suppliers and are eco-friendly like her unique Dot cards which come with six pigments that are placed on recycled papers.
Her artisanal watercolors have a natural beautiful granulation from being hand-poured using top-quality pigments and mixed with a watercolor binding medium produced from the sap of acacia trees. This uniqueness and high quality sets her art products apart from factory-made watercolors. Besides selling her thoughtfully curated art supplies, Cheong teaches watercolor and calligraphy tutorials online and holds in-person workshops and “art jam sessions” at her studio. She also mentors new entrepreneurs by guiding them in building and growing their small businesses on Instagram. Until now, Cheong has inspired over 800 students and collaborated with numerous brands and prominent companies.
Bakuran ni Mama (Philippines)
Bakuran ni Mama, which translates to “My Mom’s Backyard,” is run by a Filipina mother-daughter duo. Kyll Trinidad had plenty of ideas about starting a small business, then realized she wanted to create a brand that is interesting, practical, and cost-effective. In the midst of Covid-19 lockdowns in the Philippines, there was an increase of people who became interested in taking care of plants in their homes. Since her mother already had a collection of various plants, Trinidad went on to joke with her about starting a plant business. However, after a while, Trinidad started getting more motivated about the idea, and eventually got her mom on board.
While Trinidad manages the digital marketing aspects of their business, her mother is in charge of the propagation process of the plants. Bakuran ni Mama offers lush and strong-growing plants such as Anastasia, Bichetii, Golden Pothos, String of Pillows, Red Siam, Spider plant, Wandering Jew, Snake plant, and many more. Trinidad shares, “It’s not yet as big as I hoped it would be, since I did just officially launch this March 2021, but I’m happy [with] how it turned out. I am so thankful [for] how supportive my mom was, and now it feels like a mother-daughter business.”
The Doodle Club (Pakistan)
Maheen Cassum, a stationery and art addict, created The Doodle Club after years of dreaming to own a stationery shop. By honing her artistic skills and finding inspiration on Instagram, she launched her own line of products with handmade customized and printed doodles, such as calendars, weekly planners, to do lists, journals, cushions, t-shirts, tote bags, keychains, phone covers, baby onesies, travel mugs, and more. As graphic design and illustrations became more popular, people started requesting for Cassum to make individual doodle artworks for their friends and loved ones as gifts.
While starting her company, Cassum faced many setbacks, for example budget constraints for social media marketing and issues in working with vendors. However, her persistence and patience helped her company to survive and thrive through these adversities. Cassum tells us, “Starting a venture comes with its challenges but that’s what makes the journey valuable. The right time is not next year or next week, it’s now. You’ll never know how to be good at it unless you do it.”
Jade Handmade Bath & Body (Sri Lanka)
Gayani Hemapala was searching for skincare products that were effective and did not contain harmful additives. While living and studying in England, she learned the art of making natural bath products as a personal hobby. Hemapala struggled to find the same quality of skincare essentials when she moved back to Sri Lanka, so she decided to make her own skincare products and started Jade Luxury Handmade Bath & Body.
After years of researching and testing natural ingredients and their effects on different skin types, Hemapala formulated a line of nutrient-rich skincare products that are beneficial for both your skin and the environment! Jade’s many product offerings include facial and body bars, body butters, body scrubs, foot soaks, lip moisturizers, face masks, cuticle and nail conditioners, and bath bombs. All of which are handcrafted with skin-safe ingredients and are cruelty-free. Gayani shares, “I couldn’t be more excited or proud to own a successful business producing a product that [is] good, healthy, and a true benefit to people in the way that I always envisioned it.” During 2020, Jade received prestigious recognition as “The Best Export Marketing Plan” by the Sri Lanka Export Development Board.
Harugadalgona (South Korea)
Harugadalgona, which means Days & Sweet in Korean, is a cake shop owned by Won Young Lee and her brother since 2015. She was inspired to create delicate buttercream flowers and bean cream rice cakes due to her fondness for these treats called Baekseolgi as well as her desire to share them with her community. Won and her brother’s skills in Photoshop and graphic illustrations enabled them to design their own logo and stickers for the cake toppers.
Harugadalgona offers a variety of flavored rice cakes adorned with colorful flowers, which can be enjoyed during any celebration or occasion. Aside from selling her sweet creations, Won also holds flower cake workshops for aspiring bakers who want to start their own dessert shops.
In building her small business, Won was met with several challenges, but was determined to push through them. She advises aspiring bakers to “prepare fresh ingredients every day and pay attention to new items every season. You have to make new flavors and designs every season.” From grinding rice for their own rice cake flour, to adjusting the texture and sugar level of the cake recipes, Won has been able to run her shop smoothly and successfully.
Palm Lights (United Arab Emirates)
Bhawna Sehra is the founder of Palm Lights, based in the UAE, which specializes in natural candles made with sustainably-sourced palm wax and aromatherapy-grade essential oils. As a candle-lover, Sehra had trouble finding non-toxic and non-paraffin candles, so she began pouring her own candles. She found palm wax to be very suitable in the UAE’s hot weather, and then she spent months searching for reputable and sustainable suppliers. She also opts to only use plant-based essential oils when creating different scents.
Sehra shares, “The candles were designed to be used in my home [and] around my children, so I wanted the absolute best.”
Currently, Palm Lights has thirty in-house candle blends, candle care accessories, incense collections, and wax melts. Among Bhawna’s achievements are creating UAE’s first Chakra Meditation candles used in Yoga sessions, while they are also the sole manufacturer of crystalline palm wax candles in the country. She has also made long-lasting pillar candles that have a burn-time twice that of Paraffin candles.
Wandering Crafter (Qatar)
Wandering Crafter was created by Ashie Gill, an imaginative artist and traveller who enjoys hand making multicolored dream catchers. Through her childhood passion to create artful pieces combined with her love of arts & crafts workshops, Gill was able to develop her talents. She says, “I would make what I learnt and give them as gifts to family and friends. They loved it! I explored with colours and ensured the quality was good.”
When she moved to Qatar, Gill created various arts and crafts to fill up her time while searching for jobs. One day, she decided to make an Instagram page where she could upload her creations. She then began participating in markets and bazaars, renting booths to sell her pieces. Besides the popular dream catchers, Wandering Crafter also sells customized macramé wall decors, plant hangers, bookmarks, beaded jewelry, holiday ornaments, and hair accessories.