Young Ambition is a feature series in which wildchild invites young adults to share their passions, grand plans, and pipe dreams with us.
In this edition, we speak to Qi Wen, a 24-year-old Singaporean who quit her first full-time job to strike out on her own. Her brand, Qwerky Colour, offers semi-permanent hair dyes and other hair care products that are plant-based, cruelty-free, as well as free from harsh chemicals. Read on to find out more about her entrepreneurial journey thus far.
Can you recount the moment you decided to create your very own brand and was being an entrepreneur always on the cards?
The idea for Qwerky Colour came to me spontaneously one night, when I was thinking about the next hair colour I wanted. Although I was about to fall asleep, I got so excited that it kept me awake. As I was weighing the pros and cons of buying different brands of semi-permanent hair dyes on the market, I realised that there was always something that was less than ideal about the brands that I was considering. It was at that moment that I decided to try to make a product that I would personally use and love!
The next day, I did some research about starting this venture and things just took off from there. While I didn’t really dream of being an entrepreneur, I did always try different projects for fun, like selling handmade jewellery and stationery. So from a young age, I had an entrepreneurial spirit.
Why were you dissatisfied with the semi-permanent dyes available in the market?
I tried many semi-permanent dyes across the years of dyeing my hair but had yet to find the perfect product. Some were marketed as non-damaging but made my hair feel really dry. Others had intolerable scents or colours that faded too quickly. Sometimes, the bottles of dye slip out of my hands when I squeeze them. After taking all these criteria into consideration, I made sure that Qwerky Colour’s dyes are non-damaging, hydrating, long-lasting, vibrant, customisable, and smell good.
Our dyes also come in a tub instead of a pump or squeeze bottle to make the user experience as pleasant as possible. Customers can leave their tubs on the counter and scoop the dyes straight from the container — this also minimises product waste since every last bit can be easily reached. The tubs can also be repurposed after they have been washed.
How did you get Qwerky Colour off the ground?
I did a ton of market research right from the beginning. I put together a focus group that comprised people in my target audience and they helped me decide on my branding, the shades to sell, the price, etc. From the get-go, Qwerky Colour was created with my customers’ best interests and preferences in mind.
Even today, I still involve my customers in the decision-making process whenever I can. For example, they recently helped me decide on my newest packaging design and we all love it so much. I would like to believe that this is one of the reasons why my customers resonate with and choose to support Qwerky Colour. In addition, I take them along my journey through social media and keep them informed about my progress with new products.
My main target audience was young adults who are trendy, experimental and like to express themselves — especially through their hair colour. But that has grown to include a larger group of people after I launched our new Suck It Up Colour Locking Hair Mask. Now, anyone looking for high-quality hair care at a reasonable price falls within my target audience.
It must have been quite a transition as you shifted from being a consumer to a producer. What was it like to delve into manufacturing hair dyes and was there anyone that you could turn to for guidance?
It was quite eye-opening. I learned many things along the way through trial and error and also by doing my own research. My dad has some experience with starting businesses in Singapore, so he helped me navigate things in that aspect. As for moving from a consumer to a producer, I felt that it was quite a smooth transition as I already knew what I wanted and had a set of criteria in mind — I just needed to make sure that the final product is what I envisioned.
What are your thoughts on the general perception that brightly coloured hair is unsuitable for working professionals?
This is quite an unfortunate sentiment that is still being held by many working professionals and it’s one of the reasons why I did not want to work in a corporate job, especially one that doesn’t let me dye my hair. While I do agree that it does apply for certain sectors, like for government officials in the civil service, I feel like many industries can afford to be more open-minded in this aspect.
I believe that what is important in the workplace is your work ethic, dedication, and capabilities — these qualities are not impacted by what colour you choose to dye your hair. Colouring my hair brings me joy and allows me to express my personal identity, which in turn brings me confidence. When you’re confident, you’re able to perform better and I feel this can even impact your work positively! To me, the quality of your work speaks for your professionalism, not the colour of your hair.
The way you style your hair also plays a part in making it look professional. If you can style red or blue hair in a way that looks professional and classy, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be allowed in a workplace. Having coloured hair may even be a good thing because it helps to leave a lasting impression.
In Singaporean culture, we lean towards more conservative and conventional career paths — kids are encouraged to study hard, perform well and then ultimately, secure a stable job. However, in today’s world, the work landscape is much more varied than that. People, such as myself, are finding success off the beaten path by following their passions and doing what truly makes them happy. With the growing acceptance of self-expression, I’m sure the perception of coloured hair will start to shift too.
At what point in your trajectory did you decide to quit your day job and work on Qwerky Colour full-time?
I started my business in end-September 2021 while I was working at my full-time job. I left in February 2022 to pursue Qwerky Colour full-time, which was about five months after I started. Qwerky Colour was growing quite quickly and it was getting harder for me to juggle it alongside a full-time job and maintaining my personal relationships.
Since I could only work on Qwerky Colour at night and on the weekends, I sacrificed sleep, time with my loved ones, and personal health to keep up with the growth of my business. Although I still had the capacity to keep on going, I decided to take a leap of faith and quit my full-time job to pursue my dreams — and I have no regrets to date.
It was a scary decision for me because that was my first full-time job after graduating from university. So compared to my batch mates who have jobs at prestigious companies, I am considered an outlier. I’m also at the age where I’m learning how to be an adult and I have more financial responsibilities now than ever, so I’m just doing my best to make sure I don’t regret my decision.
What are the best and hardest parts about running this business?
One of my favourite things about running Qwerky Colour is interacting with my customers and receiving feedback about how much they love my products. That is why I started the company in the first place: to help people and give them an accessible outlet for self-expression. Seeing my customers’ coloured hairstyles is also super cool.
One of the hardest things that I’m facing is blocking out the self-doubt that creeps into the back of my mind. Since I am working alone most of the time and don’t have much experience running a business, there are times when I feel unmotivated, disappointed in myself, doubt my decisions, or have imposter syndrome. But I am usually able to snap out of that state after a while.
Overall, starting Qwerky Colour was really one of the best things to have ever happened to me and I am eternally grateful to the customers who support me. I can’t believe this is my life now and it doesn’t even feel like work because I’m living the dream. I have a lot of autonomy in what I do, a flexible schedule, and work-life balance — things that I always wished for myself since a young age. So I’m always going to strive to do better for the people who have supported me and given me the life that I have.
Love you all, xo. — Qi Wen
Photography by Qwerky Colour; cover collage by Sherryl Cheong