CEO and Founder of Liht Organics, Ms Nerissa Low, discusses leadership, management, Covid-19, and local brand bias with me.
Living in Her Time, take the first letters of those four words and you get the acronym LIHT. CEO and founder of Liht Organics, Ms Nerissa Low shares that to her it signifies being beautiful inside out and through her brand, she aims to help women to radiate their inner beauty by being strong but also helps take care of their outer beauty through her chemical-free products.
Liht Organics products are made up of more than 90 per cent of natural ingredients that ensures that consumers are able to use their favourite make-up without having to worry about all the chemicals that would be harmful to their skin.
Liht Organics products are made of USDA-certified organic ingredients, have zero nanoparticles or harmful chemicals, and best of all, are vegan friendly, and cruelty-free. Check out my reviews (spread over this issue and Issue 4) on some of their make-up products.
Ms Low shares her journey, her views on management and leadership, the impact of Covid-19, and most importantly, her views on local brand bias.
Sadie-Jane Nunis (SJN): There is a constant debate that management and leadership are different. What are your thoughts?
Nerissa Low (NL): I think there is a clear demarcation between the definitions of the two. A good manager may not necessarily be a good leader, but a good leader definitely has to be a good manager. Being a good leader is about having a great vision, knowing how to choose the right members that share the same or similar vision, and then motivating everyone in the team to work collectively towards that goal. I see leadership as working with individual building blocks to achieve a bigger picture, and management is just one of those blocks.
SJN: What is your management or leadership style like?
NL: I generally give my team a lot of autonomy and I do not like to micromanage. I see myself more as a mentor to them than a boss per se and I believe that everyone who steps into my company must feel like their experience with Liht has been beneficial not just to their careers, but to their lives as a whole.
I also make it a point to listen to everyone on the team—I encourage them to share their thoughts and opinions constructively in order to foster a culture of creativity, expression, and growth because I believe that is how good ideas are born!
SJN: What strengths should an effective leader have?
NL: A balanced mix of empathy, communication skills, ambition, and direction. Leaders, to me, are like artists. To be able to visualise that final piece of artwork (beginning with an end in mind), work out the colours and brushes needed to achieve the optimum effect (choosing the right team), plan out the sequences and direction of brush strokes (creating a strategy), and effectively communicate to everyone involved exactly what the end result should look like (clear execution).
An effective leader takes time to learn about what makes their individual team members tick, and to align both parties’ goals on the same path so that everyone is motivated to not just do the job, but have the initiative to do more than is asked of them to achieve maximum results.
SJN: How do you stay motivated?
NL: I have always been more internally motivated than externally motivated. I have very big dreams about what I want to do for the planet before I leave this earth and that mission and life purpose constantly keeps me on my toes and reminds me that I am running out of time. The awareness that life is unpredictable and that time is something that, once passed will never come back, serve as a constant reminder for me to live every day as if it were my last.
SJN: How big is your team and how do you manage and motivate your team?
NL: Currently, the total team size is about eight core members; excluding the beauty advisers that we hire for our 31 stores in the Middle East, and our outsourced teams for social media and logistics in China, Middle East, and Singapore.
My team and I all share a collective goal for the brand that we truly believe in, not just for the monetary success, but because we each share a dream that is bigger than we are. All of us wants to do something significant for the planet—be it saving animals, building education centres for the underprivileged, or providing a meaningful journey for the elderly, and we know that this is a lot more achievable if we do it together.
That is why we are agnostic when it comes to the contributions that we make so that everyone gets a chance to be involved in a project that they are passionate about. This purpose drives the team to see their place in Liht not just as a job, but also as a stepping-stone towards fulfilling their higher purpose.
SJN: When and why did you set up Liht Organics?
NL: Liht Organics was incorporated in end 2017 and it was meant to be a vehicle for me to achieve what I really want to do in life—to set up/be able to work with various foundations to contribute to society and the planet. I knew I needed to build a business that would be highly scalable and with great potential because at the end of the day, I cannot give what I do not have. That being said, I also knew that whatever I put out to the world had to be something I truly believed in, and products that would be beneficial for the users.
SJN: How long did it take you to gain recognition and credibility for Liht Organics?
NL: We are very blessed to have landed our Middle East opportunity right after our launch in March 2019. I had been in talks with our partners there in February 2019 using prototypes because our products were not even ready yet. By November, we had launched in our first 15 stores across Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and that number doubled within three months.
We also have plans in place to launch in another 50+ stores including some very prominent, globally recognised retail spaces as soon as the Covid-19 situation stabilises. As much as it is a quickly becoming a world of E-commerce domination, the physical presence does help with building credibility for the brand as people can now see it, and experience it first-hand through our omnichannel business model.
SJN: Where can we find Liht Organics?
NL: In Singapore, we are currently at Astique The Aesthetic Clinic located at Shaw House, or they can visit our official website www.lihtorganics.com. We emphasise on creating the best and most personalised online experience for our customers, so do feel free to contact us any time you have questions! Our professional makeup artist is also available online to assist with advice and recommendations for colour matching, and to ensure that our customers make the best choices for their Liht products!
For our friends who are visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi after the travel lockdowns are lifted, do check us out at BLSH stores at the locations listed on our website!
SJN: What do you see as the potential growth in the organic makeup industry, not just in Asia but globally?
NL: The organic revolution has been growing rapidly over the past few years, but the recent onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has definitely propelled awareness and interests surrounding health and wellness to a completely new level. Consumers, especially in Asia, are starting to cultivate an appreciation for quality products and see the importance of going chemical-free through choosing safer alternatives that do not harm their health.
SJN: Why do you think natural organic cosmetics will be the new norm?
NL: I certainly hope so! It will be for the greater good if everyone reduces the use of chemicals, not just for their skin and bodies, but for the environment as well. The more educated and empowered a consumer becomes when making their purchase decision, and the more aware they are about how these choices affects their own wellbeing and the environment, then the more obvious the answer becomes as to why we should go organic/natural.
SJN: Any personal favourite projects that have come out since setting up Liht Organics?
NL: I love the current project we have with the Marine Conservation Institution, where proceeds from the sale of our newly launched Dusk to Dawn Liquid Liner will go to MCI in support of securing permanent, strong protection for the ocean ecosystems worldwide.
It is not just a meaningful initiative, but also an educational one for our customers. We chose this particular cause because mercury contamination in the oceans has been a big contributing factor to the declining state of marine life. So it is appropriate for us to take this opportunity to let our customers know that mercury in regular eyeliners is not just harmful to themselves, but to the environment as well.
SJN: What are your views on the economic situation currently due to Covid-19?
NL: I think Covid-19 has made structural changes in the economy with the same impact as other major financial downturns like the Great Depression. People are shifting their habits, perspectives, and outlooks completely, not just temporarily, and I see a whole a new world emerging from this pandemic. As with every adversity, there is opportunity, and it is all about being able to step out of the whirlwind to see where is the next window of hope and opportunity to ride this wave instead of drowning in it.
SJN: How have you and others in your industry been impacted by Covid-19?
NL: The impacts are most obvious where it concerns the travel/international lockdowns. It is difficult to manage our businesses abroad the way we were used to doing now that borders are closed across the world, and even deliveries to other countries have become a problem. The lockdowns of public areas have also affected our physical stores, but that being said, we are lucky that we have an opportunity to cut our costs and redirect our resources to rebuilding and enhancing our online platforms and backend supply chain systems.
SJN: What have some of the challenges faced by local companies pertaining to the current economy that has been disrupted by Covid-19?
NL: The loss of business and general uncertainty in the market sentiment that might affect buying habits has definitely affected companies especially those in the retail space where they have challenges juggling between the high operational costs and a drop of more than 50 per cent in revenue.
It is sad to see that some businesses will not come out of this alive, especially since it is a rather extreme scenario that occurred suddenly, giving business owners little or no time for preparation, with no certainty of where and when that light at the end of the tunnel will be. However, we are very blessed to be supported by a government that is so willing to step up and assist in the survival of businesses through the many initiatives that have been rolled out.
SJN: What are some of the positive outcomes that have surfaced of Covid-19?
NL: The work from home culture has certainly made us all very much more efficient since time is now spent more productively instead of having to travel to-and-fro for meetings. I found that we got a lot done during this period that would otherwise have been shelved because of hectic travel plans and other active projects that might have taken precedence. We have used the time effectively to take care of the things that are important but not urgent, and this has helped to lay out a much stronger foundation for the company and our operations. We were also forced to brainstorm new initiatives that would better prepare us for what is to come ahead of time so we will be ready to take on any waves that we might expect in the next quarter or even year ahead.
SJN: Does local brand bias exist? Please elaborate.
• Positive: We have certainly gotten a lot of support by the media and customers here, being a local brand. Customers know that we are accessible as we are physically present here, and are always within reach to support and assist them in anything they may need. The “Product of Singapore” branding also helps us with overseas partners as they view Singapore as a country that is admired for its integrity in relations and high quality standards.
• Negative: We have received orders from western customers who have cancelled their orders after learning that we are headquartered in Asia even though our products are US-made. Unfortunately, there is still a certain level of ignorance and racism that still exists in the world today despite us living in a 21st Century.
SJN: Based on your years of experience, what are some of the misconceptions locals have about local brands?
NL: That perhaps our product quality is not as good as say US or European brands. There is a misconception, or a lack of understanding about where the product is made versus where it is packaged. With our line, you get the best of both worlds—authentic organic ingredients certified by one of the authorities in organic certification (USDA), along with the high standards of reliability and quality in terms of safety and user-experience. Add to that a line curated by an Asian for Asian skin types, and you have perfection in a bottle for this region.
SJN: How can the government help local companies and the like to increase positive brand bias?
NL: One of the areas that I think can be improved on is our overseas representation. When we attend tradeshows and expos, some countries have a government-sponsored elevated pavilion of booths with a collective design theme to showcase unity, cohesiveness, and glamour that positions the brands well. These pavilions are widely publicised with aggressive advertising and massive, visually captivating banners to attract potential customers and distributors. This is key to standing out in tradeshows as there are thousands of exhibitors and there is a constant need to grab the attention of attendees.
Another way is to increase our budgets for overseas launch projects as these are extremely costly and a lot of capital is required to create the impact that is truly needed to standout in a crowded marketplace, especially being a new brand. The rest of the world has always seen Singapore as a financial or medical hub, but not as a leader in the beauty space for example, and more can definitely be done to show how versatile and innovative our people can be to standout and compete on a global platform.
SJN: What is your opinion on Singaporean customers’ ability to see the potential in local brands?
NL: I think it is getting better as the years go by. We have seen successes with some local brands on a global scale and there have been extremely successful brands that have surprised us when we find out they are actually local! Singaporeans are starting to realise that there may not be that much difference in the quality that local brands roll out in comparison to their foreign counterparts and the fact that we are closer to home and within reach actually reassures them more.
SJN: How is Liht Organics working towards adapting to the new economy / potential recession?
NL: We are constantly enhancing our consumer experience to provide our customers with the convenience and efficiency of online shopping combined with the confidence and assurance of still being able to have access to good customer service. In the age of E-commerce and artificial intelligence, our brand stresses on the importance of retaining the human touch wherever possible so that our customers still have a personal experience during their online transaction.
That being said we are also constantly on our toes, pivoting and moving in tandem with the changing times to be ready for what is to come. I think the strength of having a core team that is lean, flexible, and agile enough to adapt quickly and seamlessly as the tides of change bring us in different directions at a rapid pace.
PHOTOS: LIHT ORGANICS
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