I'm with the brand: Prep Luxe
Four years ago, when Prep first opened its doors to the public in Singapore as our sunny island's first blowout-only bar, we were stoked. There was a lot of buzz surrounding the concept, especially since it was started by three young women with no experience whatsoever in the hair industry. I remember having a long chat with them — Yishi Lian, Jacelyn Soh and Jacqueline Chang — in their cosy salon at Mandarin Gallery. They were full of drive, wide-eyed enthusiasm and unbridled excitement for their new baby, which would soon become the place to go before a significant event or a night out with the girls.
Today, Prep has evolved into Prep Luxe — a full-service salon offering blowouts, cuts, colour and hair treatments. They've also moved from their first home to a sleek, airy space at the heritage Capitol Piazza. Lian and Soh have taken more of a backseat role, and while they still are involved in building the business, Chang now runs the day-to-day operations on her own. You'll often find Chang behind the light-filled reception area, chatting to customers with a warm smile. I've always thought of her as one of the kindest and most insightful people I've ever met.
Prep Luxe has come a long way. I sit down with Chang over coffee to chat about where Prep Luxe is at, four years on, and the heart behind her business — the people. "When I look back, I think we were a bit crazy. When you first interviewed us, we had no background in hairstyling and we were launching a new business that had never been done before in Singapore," says Chang. "We have learnt so much, and I am most thankful for the people we have met along the way. Whether it's our customers, employees or even amongst ourselves, it's always people that teach us the greatest lessons."
From Mandarin Gallery to Capitol Piazza, from Prep to Prep Luxe — were the last four years how you envisioned it to be?
Not at all. When we first started, we were a blowout-only salon and wanted to expand the business to incorporate many different blowout-only outlets. But when we opened our second outlet, we decided that it had to be a full-service hair salon. That decision was made purely to cater to market demand, and it wasn't what we had planned. For example, we are now looking for potential investors as the business is expanding. When it comes to running a business, you learn to deal with many things that are beyond your control and to make the best out of any situation. This is something I've learnt to extend to all parts of my life.
Let's go back to the whole concept of blowouts. Back then, what made you decide to launch a blowout-only bar?
Four years ago, we were aware of the [blowout bar] trend. You know, you have Drybar in America and these blowout-only salons in Canada and Europe. There were none in Asia the year we opened. To us, having blowouts brought us back to our grandmother's era where nobody would step out of the house without getting their hair done. The importance of hair goes beyond so many things. It's linked to politics and history, and is also intrinsically tied to music and fashion.
What does Prep Luxe stand for today?
Before we launched, we had vastly different ideas. We thought, "This is the Prep Woman, this is what she stands for." But I've come to realise that salon time is simply quality time. For some people, they enjoy coming in to chat to their hairstylist, or dedicate that time to themselves so they can unwind for an hour. Frankly, the market competitor for blowouts is not just other hair salons, but any other business that offers that one hour of respite. It might be one hour at a cafe, or a one-hour manicure or massage.
You've launched a new Ashley & Co blowout, which is Prep's first all-natural blowout, as it comes without sodium laureth sulphate, parabens, mineral oils, colourings and synthetic fragrance. How did this come about?
I met Carmen [of Ashley & Co] at an event. I had no clue what Ashley & Co was or what it stood for, but I loved hearing her speak with so much passion about the brand and how it's sustainable to the environment. People like her know the why behind the what they're doing. It was only later that we decided to collaborate after identifying a market gap — from customers telling me we need an all-natural shampoo and conditioner for pregnant mums and young kids. I believe it's about understanding why people do what they do before collaborations or partnerships will come about. I mean, with any business, we exist to provide solutions for people. On the flipside, if we talk about money and how we need to make money for this and that, it doesn't bode well in the long run. That's the very contrived way of doing things. You might get immediate profits, but if you take away the business from you, what do you stand for?
You're someone who changes your hairstyle fairly often. What do haircuts and colouring your hair mean to you?
Personally, I change it often because I want to walk the talk. People think that when you change your hair colour often, it's bad and damaging. To me, if you use the right products and work with the right stylist who cares about your hair, it's fine. If someone came to us and asked for a perm and dye at the same time, we would never allow it even though it means double revenue for us. That combination kills someone's hair right away.
What are some of the greatest challenges that come with running a business with friends?
The greatest challenge happens in your heart when you feel utterly torn. When you're agreeing on things, it's easy. It's when you disagree with them, but also have empathy for them because they're your friends and you can see where they're coming from, now that's tough. It's hard because you know their hearts are in the right place. I'm one and the same person personally and professionally, so I can't say that on a professional basis, I behave one way and be void of emotion, while on a personal basis I'm someone with a warm heart. It doesn't work that way.
"I'm one and the same person personally and professionally, so I can't say that on a professional basis, I behave one way and be void of emotion, while on a personal basis I'm someone with a warm heart. It doesn't work that way."
Have you found the answer or a solution to it all?
I don't think I've found the answer, but I think it's about shifting perspectives. If I only focused on the last four years and dwelled on how would I would have done things differently, I would be very hard on myself and the people around me. But assuming I live till 120, then what is four years in the grand scheme of things? When I talk about relationships and wanting the best for other people, it really is about that bigger picture. It ties in with the way we hire people. Things that are fundamental to us are teamwork, honesty and being able to celebrate the success of others. Are people within the team able to lose well? Losing well is very underrated in Singapore — as we are only taught to win — but I think that's one of the most important things in life.
Tell me about some of the most invaluable lessons you've learnt on your Prep Luxe journey.
One of the things I didn't expect is that running a business means talking to a lot of people all the time. I'm not a person that talks a lot so if you told me before starting a business that I had to talk to people daily, I would not have done it. On hindsight, I'm thankful for all the people I've met and who share their stories with me. I don't take that for granted. It's also little things like when people bring their mum in [to Prep Luxe] for the first time and you see the joy on the mum's face. It's not about the cost of the blowout, nor is it about the branding that every business tries to build, but it's the very simple fact that a daughter is happy bringing her mum in, and a mum is so happy that the daughter brought her in and they spend one hour together. The most valuable things in life have nothing to do with money or branding.
Prep Luxe is at #01-62 Capitol Piazza. Learn more about Prep Luxe online