SONAM UTTAMCHANDANI-NANWANI is the founder and CEO of Founders Beauty – a plant-based and cruelty-free natural skincare brand. She talks to us about integrative health and wellness, business development and being a health coach and entrepreneur in Singapore.
Sonam in Brief: Business development in Singapore
Sonam is the corporate social responsibility director and vice president (VP) of business development at Esquire Financing Inc., a leading financial institution in the Philippines with offices in India, Singapore and around the region. She is also VP of the HELP Foundation, a microfinance institution aimed at reducing poverty in the Philippines. In addition, she has her own natural skincare line, Founders Beauty. Sonam is also a health coach with a BSc in psychology and certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She recently graduated from Insead’s management acceleration programme and is engaged in its global leadership programme.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in the Philippines by incredible parents who were originally from Mumbai. I’m Indian by race, Filipino at heart, and now a Singaporean too! I truly appreciate the beauty these three cultures have to offer.
What brought you to Singapore?
Halfway through studying for my psychology degree in London, I was diagnosed with a liver autoimmune condition. I came to Singapore to receive treatment. To save time, I completed my degree here. I soon began to love this country and its people – I’m a little biased, though, as it was at this time I met Vishal, my Singaporean husband-to-be.
How did you find adjusting to life here?
It wasn’t too difficult. Singapore is clean, safe, diverse and so full of energy! There’s always something new: from food to theatre, and from art to experiential activities.
What I do still miss is my family, who are all in Manila. So I’m truly grateful that the doors are now open for travel and I can go back and forth to see them.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Saturdays are when Vishal and I tend to relax. You’ll find us at home building our Lego collection, out at the driving range, watching a movie or spending time with friends and family. Once in a while, we try to book something fun and interesting, generally arts-related.
Tell us how you became an entrepreneur in Singapore.
It’s truer to say that I was born into it. My dad is an entrepreneur, and he taught me everything I know about business development.
In my gap year after high school, I joined the family business, Esquire Financing Inc., and launched its CSR programme. I still work actively across multiple parts of the business, including our HELP Foundation.
What does the HELP Foundation do?
It’s our microfinancing arm, where we work to empower women to become entrepreneurs in Singapore and beyond by teaching them principles of supply and demand and business development. Once they are up and running, we support them to become clients of Esquire Financing – the leader in growth-stage financing in the Philippines.
What started your interest in health and wellness, and in becoming a health coach?
My health journey began when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition at the age of 22. Suffering from fatigue and severely jaundiced, I was unable to use anything to treat a painful bout of adult acne.
With a newfound interest in health and wellness as well as natural treatments, I started spending time in the kitchen, ensuring that whatever I put in my mouth, on my hair – and, of course, on my skin – was natural. This was how I started to find my true passion – creating effective products from purely natural ingredients.
From there, I went on to become a certified health coach and also received certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I am still constantly reading books and journal articles, or listening to or speaking with dermatologists and other experts on health and wellness.
Tell us how Founder’s Beauty was born.
Initially, skincare was something I did for myself. I loved creating different formulations based on all that I had read and learnt. My husband would see me in the kitchen and wonder whether I was cooking up something to eat or to put on my skin!
It was he who encouraged me to launch something in skincare. On our honeymoon in New Zealand in 2017, I discovered some amazing formulations and wondered if I should just curate a line of great natural skincare products. Call it fate or destiny, but the first call I made took me to a formulation lab. And they said: “If you have the formulations, why not try creating a product yourself?”
I’m not sure what came over me, but I decided to go for it. Nine rounds of formulation and testing later, I received the first batch of my first natural skincare product: The Creamy Clay Concentrate. Then it hit me: this was what I was meant to do. That was the beginning of Founders Beauty – gentle yet effective, dermatologist-recommended, plant-based and cruelty-free natural skincare.
What are you looking forward to right now?
I’m working to bring my brand into the Philippines this month. We’ll be launching our signature Founders Beauty Facial at the iconic wellness retreat The Spa at The Farm at San Benito, and also starting the process of stocking our products with retailers in that country.
Do you have any advice on business development for would-be entrepreneurs in Singapore?
Be persistent. I think it was Thomas Edison who said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Even when things don’t go your way, keep at it with the same zeal you started with. Most importantly, do all that you do with love and you will succeed.
Finally, any tips for new expats on living here?
Singapore is a great place to be; there is so much going on. So get out there, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
From a skincare point of view as a health coach, if you’re from a different climate, do look after your skin and don’t forget to wear sunscreen! And if you’re struggling with your skin, just reach out to us. We’d be happy to help you build a skincare routine.
Lastly, if you’re looking to set up a business, Singapore encourages you to do so. I highly recommend joining the right networks to help you with becoming an entrepreneur in Singapore.
This article first appeared in the May 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy! Read up more on health and wellness here.
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