Written by: Charmaine Foo (Photos by: Vincent Ooi)
Interview with Vincent Ooi
Whenever I meet with entrepreneurs, I’ve always been interested to learn about what motivates them to wake up in the morning everyday. As I sat down with Vincent Ooi, founder of local fashion label, SOURCE Collections, I was immediately struck by how his faith has empowered him on this arduous journey.
In an interview with SELAH, Vincent shared with me the ebb and flow of his life story — from joining a gang to relocating to another country — and how He eventually found God in the process. I was reminded that our God is always invested in our lives, where each trial we encounter is intricately weaved into His masterplan for our lives.
Could you share with us your story of moving to Singapore?
I grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, with my family. As my parents wanted to provide for my siblings and I in the best way they knew how, they enrolled me in a Singapore school when I was about to enter secondary school. This meant that we had to wake up daily at 4 am to travel to school, and this became the norm for many years of my life.
Were there any difficulties adapting to Singapore culture?
When I was in Secondary One and Two, I adjusted fine and even managed to attain good grades. However, I fell into bad company when I was in Secondary Three; my grades started to fall drastically and I partook in many vices — smoking, drinking, visiting nightclubs, being part of a gang, experimenting with drugs, and more. My grades plummeted to the point that I was supposed to retain a school year, but thankfully, my teacher allowed me to drop a couple of subjects so that I could graduate.
My parents had no idea about these activities I was engaged in. They only knew that I had played truant and stopped attending church. Looking back, I got involved with the wrong crowd because I was curious and mischievous, craving the experience of things that people my age wouldn’t have.
What made you decide to give up such a lifestyle?
One fine day, my elder brother gave me his frank opinion, “Whatever it is that you want to do, don’t bring it home. Our parents don’t owe you anything. They’ve spent so much time and effort on you; they’ve given you a good education, sent you for tuition, piano lessons, and so much more — just so you can have a good life in the future. Your parents have already given you the tools, but it’s up to you to decide what you want to do. Do not hurt them.”
This took place in the early 1990s, when gang fights and killings were a common occurrence. It was a serious social issue in Johor Bahru and even in Singapore. With this in mind, my brother added, “Have you ever considered what would happen even if you were to be a gang leader someday? Always engaged in drugs, fights, being on the run, or perhaps getting caught one day and ending up in prison; is that the lifestyle you would like to lead?
As a 15-year-old, my brother’s words left a huge impression on me. I love my parents deeply and didn’t want to hurt them more than I already have, knowing that they had sacrificed so much for me. By God’s grace, I turned over a new leaf and started working hard again. However, I still did not return to church.
You have an engineering background; how did end up in fashion?
With a Diploma in Engineering, I naturally landed my first job in an engineering firm. However, after working for three years, I knew that this wasn’t my calling as I had no interest in it.
I wanted to travel and explore the world, hence I started looking out for a job that would enable me to do so and continue to build my skills and experience in business development. Eventually, I joined a local high-end jewellery manufacturing company that required extensive travelling around the world. Unknowingly, this job served to be a stepping stone into the world of fashion and lifestyle, due to the exposure to related fields — from production to design.
What made you decide to relocate to Hong Kong?
Over time, my company wanted to set up an office in Hong Kong, and I was tasked to form a team there. However after three years, I decided to leave the company due to certain business practices, a toxic work environment, and employees being under-appreciated.
I was grateful to have found another job shortly after leaving, especially one that had to do with watches (something I loved); required me to travel from occasionally; and would allow me to continue to hone my skills and experience in design, manufacturing, and business development.
How was this transition for you?
Without prior experience in the watch industry, it was a steep learning curve for me, plus the work culture was very much different compared to the previous company. During my first year in the watch company, I didn’t meet my KPIs and faced immense pressure from my boss. Whenever I felt depressed and alone, I would pray. Somehow, I would feel peace in my heart and that God was with me, telling me to be strong.
I managed to push through and, after some time, began to excel in my work, and built a close relationship with my boss beyond the confines of work. Through this job, I came to understand myself better and deepened my knowledge and understanding of running a business, which eventually contributed to the foundations of starting SOURCE Collections. My time spent in Hong Kong wasn’t easy, but I’ve been blessed with how everything fell into place unexpectedly.
What caused you to return to Singapore and start your own business?
After spending eight years in Hong Kong, I grew tired and missed my family. Seeing my parents get on with age, I wanted to live closer to my parents to be able to spend more time with them as well as my siblings and their families.
When I moved back to Singapore, I knew it was the time for me to pursue my passion, something that I’ve always wanted to do. Being in the manufacturing industry for more than a decade, and having visited countless factories, and meeting and speaking with the people who work relentlessly behind the scenes, it never fails to leave me fascinated. I’ve always hoped to be able to share these stories.
Coincidentally during this time, I came across Honestby and Everlane — global fashion companies that have adopted transparent business approaches. I was motivated to do even more. Building on my love for fashion, coupled with my experience in manufacturing, design, marketing, and business development, I eventually made the decision to create SOURCE Collections.
What is your vision for SOURCE Collections?
Better quality, transparency, and sustainability form the core of the brand. I hope for the brand not only to be a leader in offering better quality products but also a platform where we can share stories of what truly goes on behind the scenes.
On the consumer front, many of us may not be aware of how our buying decisions affect the world. It’s admittedly a complex process to dissect. However, I think that consumers should be educated on the reasons why they should invest in products of better quality whilst practising sustainability in little ways.
Ultimately, I hope to be able to heighten the curiosity of consumers, find creative ways to connect people with the places where their products come from and the stories of the people behind the scenes, and hopefully inspire everyone to make better decisions for sustainability. In this way, making a positive impact in lives of others and the world.
You returned to church after 20 years. What was this process like?
When I moved back to Singapore, I started going to church only because I followed my family. I didn’t pay much attention during sermons. After moving out to live on my own, there was a church next to where I lived and I started attending church on my own. Over time, I realised that the sermons not only gave me much peace and happiness, but they also guided me in my thoughts and way of life.
Due to my inquisitive nature, I started reading the Bible, listened to podcasts, and read books on Christianity. I began to see how there was so much to the Christian faith, and more importantly, I had missed out on knowing God earlier.
For people who are unfamiliar with Christianity, the Bible exhorts us to follow Jesus and live like Him. Many may think of this statement as preachy and legalistic. But when you dive deeper into God’s word, and know who Jesus is and what He represents, you’ll come to learn how much He loves us and how He can transform us from the inside out.
How has your renewed faith impacted your life?
I used to face a lot of doubts when I first started going back to church and never felt worthy to be loved by Jesus due to my sins. Thankfully, I found encouragement when a brother from church told me that God’s love is so huge and that as long as I acknowledge and repent of my sins, He knows and loves me no matter what.
Having been away from God for a long time, I’ve come to learn how precious this relationship is to me. I’m grateful to Him for all the trials and tribulations of my life — through the bad days, my perspective on life has widened. I know how ugly those days were, hence I cherish my life even more now and have learnt what it means to love and respect others around me. After tasting and seeing the goodness of Christ, I began to see how things always fall into place when I choose to follow Him. I’m still very much a work-in-progress, but God has changed me through the years. He is truly the source of life, and I look forward to living and to continuously learn and follow Him.