BloomBack, a social enterprise offering eco friendly preserved flower and lifestyle gifts is the brainchild of our Founder Hazel Kweh. The interns managed to catch up with her during her lunch hour to have a casual chat about her background, the inspiration behind BloomBack and her memorable experiences.
Q: What was your life like before becoming an entrepreneur?
I grew up in a low income single parent family with my partially disabled sister and a brother who had depression. My mother struggled to make ends meet and it was not an easy childhood for us.
I took on multiple jobs while studying to support myself. Hard work paid off; I managed to work in MNCs such as SIA and Prudential. During my time in Prudential, I received multiple awards including the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table being recognised as an outstanding financial planner and quickly rose to a leadership position. I gained valuable life skills throughout my career which helped me to kickstart my entrepreneurship journey.
I was leading a high life as my career was at its peak. However, I felt like something was amiss. Deep down, I felt incomplete. A lot of time was spent on my career at the expense of relationships, and I drifted apart from my family. While money issues had been solved, new problems crept in which made me reflect and realign my life goals to fix things that were close to my heart.
Q: When did you realise that you wanted to start your own social enterprise?
My sister, Faith fell into depression as she was having difficulties finding jobs due to her disabilities and facing the harsh reality of a broken marriage. To cheer her up, I brought her along to my friend’s wedding, where she fell in love with all the flowers that were used for decoration. Thinking how wasteful it is to throw them away after the event, we thought of repurposing the wedding flowers into bouquets and giving them away to bless lonely elderly in rental units at Beach Road. They were thankful for the flowers and it made all our effort worthwhile seeing them all smiles. One very memorable moment was when an old lady teared joyfully because she reminisced fond memories of her mom.
I saw the happy and cheerful Faith once again after a very long time, which made me realise that a simple act of kindness can be a life-changing event for someone. Faith decided to pursue floristry seeing how she has benefited from the floral therapy and making a positive difference. She believed that this skillset can help impact more lives instead of dwelling on her unfortunate circumstances. I believe there are many other marginalised women out there who, just like my single mother and sister, are struggling silently. I told myself that I should do my part for those with similar challenges. I followed God’s calling and made up my mind to put aside my successful career to establish BloomBack in 2017. I believed I could contribute and achieve a lot more as an entrepreneur by honing my management and leadership skills, while making a difference in people’s lives.
Q: What’s special and unique about BloomBack?
I would highlight 3 things that are unique about BloomBack.
- We offer eco-friendly and high quality gifts crafted with love. We are a market leader in designing exquisite flower arrangements with preserved flowers in our glass domes, bluetooth speakers and bag charms which are long-lasting and eliminate the need for maintenance. They reduce carbon footprint and wastage which is in line with our vision of making a difference through socially and environmentally conscious gifting.
- We empower marginalised communities. We believe the gifting industry can employ not only creative talents but also those with special needs. About 30% of our workforce comprises of marginalised individuals with physical impairments, medical and mental health issues. Our goal is to be the most thoughtful brand where people can trust us to help spread their love and hope through conscious gifting while integrating our social mission of empowering marginalised individuals.
- We champion a movement called Bloom It Forward. We believe in the proven health benefits of flowers and continue to give event flowers a second lease of life by repacking them into bouquets and donating them to elderly in homes and patients in hospices to plant smiles, just like what Faith and I did which led to the birth of BloomBack.
Q: What was one of the most touching experiences that you encountered?
There was once a lady who hugged me and was in tears after knowing that I’m the founder of BloomBack. She shared that during her lowest point in her life, when her grandma passed away, seeing the good work that BloomBack was doing uplifted her mentally and emotionally, and inspired her to be involved in our cause. This is one of the most memorable experiences for me as it gave meaning to what BloomBack has been aiming to achieve: to spread hope and love with flowers, and inspire people to do the same. Such experiences also keep me going amidst the challenges faced in social entrepreneurship.
Q: What are some of BloomBack’s achievements you are proud of?
When people ask me what business am I in, instead of saying we are a flower business, i will say we are in a life changing business using flowers as a vehicle. Staying true to why I started BloomBack, we managed to impact close to 4000 lives with our repurposed flowers. We created training and job opportunities for 10 marginalised individuals with limited funding, which helped to uplift their dignity and self confidence.
I am also proud of growing it to where we are today without any prior knowledge or experience as an entrepreneur with the support of my committed team. We managed to build a like-minded community in a short span of 2 years who are either part of our team or engage us through online shopping, unique corporate gifts, corporate workshops or volunteering activities. We have been featured in various media channels sharing our story and our contribution towards helping communities. Top brands like LVMH, corporates like Far East Organisation and the public sector trusted us in their gifting and workshop needs.
Q: What will be your word of advice for interns and fresh graduates who are looking for a meaningful career?
The first thing is to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. The ‘why’ will keep you going when you are faced with challenges, especially in a new career. In my opinion, joining a social enterprise is a good move as it is very rewarding knowing that you are changing lives, which will then motivate you to perform well at work.
We had a fresh graduate on board when we first started BloomBack who was willing to work for a lower salary as compared to MNCs just so she could contribute to helping the community while learning multiple skills in a fast-paced start-up environment. She grew the business with us and rose quickly to a managerial position handling various aspects of the business and being a role model to new team members.
I am happy to say that since then, we have had many interns who have joined us for the same reason. We have imparted valuable skills in them which was reflected in their quality of work. I am certain that these skills and experiences will stay with them throughout their career. I believe in the saying, ‘teamwork makes the dream work’. With the right people with the right mindset striving towards a common goal, social enterprises such as BloomBack will continue to flourish amongst the sea of new businesses.