Who are you?
I’m Aussie born Designer who is currently living on the Island of Borneo in a rather small city called Kuching, AKA “Cat City.” I moved here after marrying my high school sweetheart and have two boys, Benjamin who is four and Kingston who is two. Next year would be my tenth year live abroad.
Tell us about your work or creative pursuits?
After graduating from UTS with a degree in Design in Visual Communications I started my own company called The Playground Sydney which specialised in branding and cosmetic packaging. I worked ferociously for four years building up my portfolio and worked with brands that included Decleeor, Bare Minerals, True Solutions, KORA by Miranda Kerr and LUMA by Jessica Hart.
In 2009, a year after I got married and a year of juggling my clients from abroad I started crafting on the weekends with my best friend Sereni Linggi. It was this love for creating actual objects that lead us to create headbands. What started as a DIY project to make hair accessories to wear to parties and events lead to an accidental business.
We started very small with a tiny investment to kick start our business. We figured that if we failed we would sell our raw materials in a flea market. Luck was on our side when we landed a collaboration with Lancome less than a year after we found the brand Sereni & Shentel. It was that on collaboration that gave us world wide acknowledgement and cemented us into the headband business.
A year after I co-founded Sereni & Shentel I created another brand called Bowerhaus with my sister Elizabeth Lee. She also just happened to be a graphic designer and with the knowledge of S&S on my side we were able to create a line of jewelry that focused on bringing pearls back to an affordable everyday accessory. Growing up we always loved our mothers pearls. She only wore them on special occasions and she always looked so elegant and chic.
Elizabeth and I wanted to create a brand that would enable women to buy pearls without having to mortgage the house. Bowerhaus started with a very small collection that was all hand made by my sister. When we launched the collection a buyer from Peters of Kensington came and placed an order that catapulted the brand from a tiny circle of friends to the entire Eastern Suburbs. We always are so grateful for that iconic Pink Building and the Peter’s family because they really gave us a foot in the door.
What inspired you to get started?
I grew up in a creative family. Both my parents encouraged us to pursue anything that we dreamed of. If we were keen on cooking, we went to cooking school. If we were keen on tap dancing, they were the first to help find us a teacher. I truly believe that they taught us that we could do anything we wanted so long as we were genuinely keen and interested in it. It is something that has stuck with me till today. If I want to do something, I am the kind of person who isn’t scared to give it a go. I’m not afraid to fail, I’m more excited about the journey of the experience.
For my two accessories business I really found inspiration from my years of designing for my clients. Helping them create their brands made me want to start my own. It wasn’t until I partnered up with my co-founders that I had the excitement and drive to pursue this dream. Inspiration is everywhere but sometimes the greatest spark it’s in people. Sereni and Elizabeth both inspire me daily to keep designing and to keep wanting to do more for our brands.
What is your biggest goal?
Right now I am working on a CSR low cost housing initiative with the company ELICA. We are creating and giving away container homes to needy families in East Malaysia. My goal is to to keep this project alive and going beyond my years. We are still in our infant days and going through the struggles and teething issues a new concept has, but it is all for such a worthy and needy cause. We have given away three homes to date with four more planned to be placed by the end of the year.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
I think motherhood has been my greatest achievement to date. I struggled with infertility for years and underwent IVF for both my children. It was a longer journey than I anticipated and If I could go back to my younger self I would have checked my fertility sooner so I could have forgone the many years of self doubt and internal pressure I put upon myself.
What was the key for you to overcome a challenge?
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to admit when you are in a tight spot and can’t figure it out on your own. I am a huge believer in picking up the phone and having a chat to my mum or best friends when things are not great. I really believe talking about it somehow helps us to process things and help us to work out ways to overcome our challenges. That being said sometimes the challenge can be so huge that you might just need to admit you are defeated and to take this fail as a life lesson. Believe me I have have many in my life!
Have you ever had a disappointment that ended up leading you to something wonderful?
I think all disappointments lead to something wonderful. It’s that low and experiencing it that make us human. We can’t always get what we want in life. One of my greatest disappointments was losing a baby during my second attempt of doing IVF. Just typing it now already brings back a really dark level of sadness. At the time I didn’t think I would ever stop crying. My husband and I both experienced the greatest form of disappointment together. I thought the sadness was only within me but seeing him cry and knowing that he felt all the same emotions as well was probably the reason I chose to keep going.
After lengthy discussions about whether we had the strength to keep going knowing full well we could be unsuccessful again we did pursue further and did IVF again and was so lucky to be able to have my second son Kingston on my third attempt. He was that “wonderful” that came from months of disappointment.
During the times when you feel lacking in motivation, what helps you get motivated?
My staff keep me motivated. Right now there is no time to stop and smell the roses. We have overheads, bills and commitments to not only our online and physical stores but our stockists too.
I have my days when I wake up and wish I could just stay in bed but I snap out of it pretty fast when my youngest son tells me he needs to go potty. Nothing gets a mum more motivated to get her ass to work then two boys tearing your home down. I thought work was hard until I had children. Sometimes I think I work even harder now that I am a mum because I love being able to be in control and get things done at work. At home my boys are the boss and it is near impossible to get anything done.
Creating a collection at work is so easy compared to getting my sons to share their ipads. The amount of times I have had to “Throw” their ipads in the bin is almost comical now.
What is your favourite song for getting motivated?
Dolly Partons…. 9 to 5 and Britney Spears Work B**CH! I flip between the two depending on the day.
Who inspires you?
My parents inspire me. I think like a lot of people who become parents themselves your relationship with your folks change. You never really understand what sacrifice and hard work is until you take home a new born baby with zero instructions. I depended on them both when I had my first son Benjamin and they showered me with so much love and affection at a time when I was most vulnerable, that I feel like I will never be able to show them the same amount back. They inspire me to keep pursuing my dreams and to keep pushing the boundaries of my craft. They always instilled in me a confidence that if I wanted something hard enough that I could achieve it, so long as I worked hard and was truly passionate about it.
I have the most supportive parents in the world and my only dream is to be able to shower my boys with this same level of unconditional love and inspire them to find their happy purpuse in life.
If you could live in any era of fashion, which would if be?
1960s. All the high waisted dresses and bright bold colours and prints speak to me on sooooo many levels. That being said I would skip the whole tie dye phase.
What item in your wardrobe would you say you cannot live without?
My Mary Katranzou dresses. I have the same cut in 4 different prints. It’s my go to dress for nearly any occasion. I have worn it to work, birthdays, weddings and many holidays.
What is your life motto or positive affirmation?
If it were easy everyone would be doing it!
What do you like to do with your free time?
If I can get quality free time I love to travel with my entire family. It’s the greatest luxury in life but I find it re-energises me to want to keep going back to work and creating. I love seeing new things and eating local flavours. Living in a small city I find I need to get away and escape to a big city from time to time.
Shentel Lee Designer