We chat with entrepreneur Hoang Linh, who is Vietnamese but has lived in Singapore for 15 years with her French husband and daughter (7). She tells us about her business Anaïs An, which offers gorgeous baby and children’s clothes and shoes, and her life.
Where are you from originally? What do you miss about it?
I grew up in Hanoi, surrounded by bustling streets and smiling faces. Life is at ease there, and the food is always great. I spent a huge amount of time doing arts and crafts and cooking with my mum, which we both loved.
Now, looking from the outside, I see Hanoi as a cultured city with a heritage of traditional crafts and creative hardworking people. It’s a place where not all is available but everything is possible. I miss the lakes, the flowers on bicycles and the changing seasons a great deal.
What brought you to Singapore?
I’m an architect by training, and after several years practicing architecture in a French company, I wanted to expand into project management. My compelling options were the US and Singapore. I chose the latter as it’s a step closer to home and I longed for the sunshine and a cultural melting pot.
Tell us a bit about what you do here.
I used to work as a project manager for Singapore government projects, building hospitals, schools, a train depot, a museum and a town hub. Through this job, I learnt to love and appreciate Singapore’s values. I decided it is a safe, good, modern and friendly place for young international families like ours.
There was always a calling for design and creation in me. Upon the birth of my daughter, I wanted to make something that was imaginative, rich in materials, elegant in design, “ergonomic” and personal that both kids and adults could relate to. I decided on mums’ and children’s clothes and footwear that includes interactive and convertible wear incorporating embroidery, lace and other handmade items.
With my skills from childhood, I made the first prototypes of my designs for children’s clothes, tested them on my daughter and collaborated with tailors in Vietnam to launch the first batch of clothes in 2017. We currently have three small stores, some loyal patrons and a passionate team of in-house artisans. Shoppers like our quality and comfortable story-telling apparel, accessories and the DIY wearable drawing T-shirts for kids.
There are so many ideas I have yet to fully express. However, even to now, the journey has been thrilling, rewarding and, most fortunately, allowed me to spend time with our girl, invest in her childhood and build her unique cultural identity.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
I usually start my day by the beach for cycling and physio exercises while brainstorming my daily tasks. That gives me good vibes. Sometimes, I stay longer to clear the sketches and emails but most often I’m seen running around the shops, greeting customers, hand-making accessories and more. Afternoon is the time the team in Vietnam checks in with me, and twice a week I stay in the shop until closing hour. I am a bit lazy on admin and accounting matters otherwise!
Any particular surprises or challenges you’ve found living and working in Singapore?
Starting up a company in Singapore is easy and very much supported by the government. However, maintaining it in a tight labour market is challenging. Overall, the extended daily working hours across the sectors make me review our Singapore work-life balance options at times.
What are a few things you like to do in Singapore when you’re not working?
I enjoy organising playdates for children, trying out new hangout venues with my girlfriends, catching up over sports, picnics and sometimes ladies’ night. I believe as women we should come close and support one another. My Singaporean and Vietnamese friends take good care of me and in turn I share the experience with my international gang of friends.
What are you looking forward to most for 2023?
The new store in Katong is time- and energy-consuming and I’m looking forward to growing it to its best in 2023. I also hope to have at least a month travelling with my family.
What are some of your Singapore recommendations for eating and drinking?
Casual restaurant? We go try places around Duxton, Telok Ayer and Chijmes when in town, or more frequently Pasta Fresca Siglap, or Joo Chiat’s Braseiro steak and fries, and Lap for Vietnamese.
Date-night restaurant? Again, there are so many options, but La Brasserie has been the place of many of our special dates.
Bar? The Long Bar – being in Raffles, that exemplary hotel that appears on every architecture books with its tropical, vintage air, and sipping a Singapore Sling, is like a mini getaway for me.
Local food? I love chilli crab and a very humble-looking Hokkien and Cantonese restaurant, Gim Tim. They are catering experts, from family-sized gatherings to event banquets.
Favourite thing to do with visitors?
I love taking visitors to Fort Canning, Fort Siloso and Pulau Ubin, where nature and history combine. When in town, it’s Chinatown, Joo Chiat and the Botanic Gardens. All these places show how keen Singapore is on keeping its heritage. (And, when you’re in Joo Chiat, do pop by the Anais An store! You’ll find handmade lacquer art, clay jewellery and other perfect small gifts from the East.)
And what about your favourite nearby holiday destination?
I am pro Vietnam for that! The destinations I choose are usually family-friendly, ranging from budget to private, secluded six-star resorts. In autumn, winter and spring, I like mountainous places like Dalat, Moc Chau and Sa Pa. Or areas with changing water levels like the Mekong Delta or Phu Quoc. In spring and summer, I like Ha Long Bay, Con Dao, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Hue, Hoi An and Tu Lan Cave for cool dry weather and calmer seas. And, of course, I’m biased to say, Hanoi has its charms all year round for long weekend trips!