Welcome to our first interview series on #UnconventionalWomen. In this article, we will be interviewing Diana Chan, founder of Amber Swim.
In another life, Diana Chan might have reached the pinnacle of her law career. Instead, this former corporate lawyer in one of the biggest law firms in Singapore chose to strike it out on her own and create Amber Swim, a swimwear line that thoughtfully interlaces rich velvet fabric with delicate rose gold hardware. Noticing a gap in the market for sophisticated swimwear that looks good effortlessly and empowers women, she drew inspiration from her experience of going from a stable and lucrative law career into the uncharted and stormy seas of running her own swimwear line - the Amber identity, she says, is ‘a reflection of all I've been through and where I landed at.’
I first found Amber Swim through Instagram, and was immediately drawn in by the juxtaposition of her subtle, understated pieces and her strong message of empowerment. There’s nothing loud and attention-seeking about her designs, the pieces are stylish and never overdone. Diana models her own swimsuit line with both ease and confidence, like a truly empowered multi-hyphenate would. Her designs are just as multi-faceted: the ‘Haley’ - one of her most popular designs - comes fully lined with a built-in shelf bra that allows it to transition seamlessly from swimwear to top when paired with a high-waisted denim.
Impressed, I reached out to Diana, who was more than game to speak with me. We soon discovered that we launched our brands at around the same time, which meant that we were pretty much in similar boats. We quickly bonded over familiar topics: our shared drive to do the best for our brands, our ever-expanding collection of business battle scars, and the realisation that - as founders - the buck stops and starts with us. Here she shares with us what it’s really like to run a swimwear line, and what Amber means to her.
What were you doing before you founded Amber Swim? What inspired you to start your own swimwear brand?
I was a corporate lawyer in one of the biggest law firms in Singapore - plenty of sleepless nights and running hard and fast on caffeine, adrenaline and pure ambition. It was a highly stressful period in my life - in addition to challenging client demands and work hours, there were several deeply personal matters which I had to deal with during this period. I was left very emotionally drained and disenchanted by my life as it was.
These experiences crystallised my decision to embark on Amber, and the Amber identity to me is a reflection of all I've been through and where I landed at. We design and sell swimwear, but in the process of doing so, I want to inject a sense of appreciation for all the great things each of us has achieved and to say: you deserve a break. Take one. Swimwear was the perfect way to connect with women with hectic city lives; women who work hard and play hard, with strength, intent and purpose, yet understand and value the need to recuperate and take time out for themselves.
Running your own gig is no walk in the park - what was the hardest part about starting your business?
No kidding! For me, the proverbial leap into the unknown and unconventional after years of toiling in a stable and highly regarded industry took me lots of courage and very blind faith. I had to consciously and constantly remind myself of why I decided to do what I do and quieten any niggling doubts I had. I wanted to craft a brand I have complete ownership over and create an identity women like me can resonate with. And so go big or go home.
Notwithstanding that, I do occasionally falter and undergo crises of anxiety and pessimism (which may be disproportionate to reality). When that happens, it helps that Lem, my partner and co-founder, who is the more technical and logical one, encourages me to be positive by reconciling my emotions with logic and reality.
Describe the perfect bikini in three words.
Sophisticated, effortless, comfortable. If your flight's taking off in two hours and you have twenty minutes to pack on a Friday night after a crazy work day for a tropical weekend getaway, that's the kind of swimsuit you reach for. We design our swimwear with this in mind!
What is the best thing you’ve ever heard about your brand?
We've gotten lots of positive feedback and reviews since launching and there are generally two types of reviews I appreciate. One is in relation to the quality, fit and design of the swimwear. The other is when our brand identity resonates with the customer. Both give me fuel to do more and better and honestly, these days nothing feels better than hearing we've gotten the product right and that we're slowly but surely creating an Amber community.
And the worst?
The absolute worst thing was probably when Lem and I were in Spain attending a friend's wedding a month or so after our launch and a customer DM-ed us regarding her swimsuit which had gotten badly stained in the wash. We had to frantically contact our manufacturers and figure out why the stains were emerging. I remember we were in our hotel room in Barcelona hoping this wasn’t an issue that afflicted the entire production batch (the horror!). The time difference did not help. We eventually concluded after a long testing process that it was likely an uncommon reaction to the detergent she used and processed an exchange out of goodwill. Thankfully, we have not experienced a similar issue since then.
Do you have any advice for other budding entrepreneurs?
I think it's crucial to have realistic expectations and to anticipate the emotional intricacies that come along with the job. The odds of disappointment and disillusionment are pretty high for entrepreneurs - the very nature of the job requires having almost hubristic pride and optimism in a business which may turn out unsuccessful and the assumption of risks which may come without reward. This is why manic depression is termed the entrepreneur's disease! Much like what Amber stands for, we need to consciously take time out for ourselves and give ourselves a break when needed.
Having a strong support network and being open and frank with the people you love about the issues and doubts you're facing are also absolutely crucial - the last thing you want is to be stuck in your own self-perpetuating cycle of gloom and doom.
What’s next for Amber Swim?
We're developing our next collection, which should be ready for launch in the next few months. We're also simultaneously working on multiple collaborations with more established brands in order to further our reach, and thinking up new ways and campaigns to connect with our audience and community, with our brand ethos in mind.
Now that lounging around in your bikini is considered work, how do you unwind?
Ha great question! I don't get to travel and lounge around in bikinis that often anymore save where it's Amber-related or for shoots - the downsides of owning a swimwear label! These days, I take time out to focus on my yoga practice or connect with loved ones over wine. I find that in moments of stress, it always helps to look outside of myself and focus on other people and things (or not dying during a hot yoga flow class).