Although the journey has been a rocky one, Emelie Hedén is now fulfilling her dream of bringing antique Scandinavian furniture to Singapore. Susannah Jaffer chats to the bubbly Swede about how she learnt to enjoy the ride, and her passion for vintage décor.
Emelie Hedén flits around her showroom, fresh-faced and buzzing with energy. The 2,200-square-foot space for Möbler, her furniture company, is housed in an industrial estate behind Balestier Road. All high ceilings, natural light and pockets of cute interior arrangements, it feels cosy and welcoming.
It’s clear from her ready smile that this is Emelie’s happy place and where her passion lies: in restoring and giving vintage furniture a new lease of life. Her entrepreneurial path so far has been filled with adventures, too – from ones she went after, like successfully crowdfunding her start-up, to ones she didn’t see coming, like struggling to make ends meet in one of the world’s most expensive cities, and facing a lawsuit that nearly shattered her business dreams. In the end, with hard work, faith and a good dose of self-motivation, she has developed greater self-belief and an unquenchable positivity. “If your heart is telling you to go for something, just go for it!” she says.
From Stockholm to Singapore
Emelie grew up in the northern suburbs of Stockholm. She fondly recalls the old yellow wooden house, built in 1921, where she lived with her parents, her brother, her sister, and cats and dogs.
In 2008, she dropped her nursing studies at the age of 25 and moved to Singapore with her long-term Swedish boyfriend. Unfortunately, the relationship did not survive long, and after six months she and her adopted stray cat found themselves looking for a new home. Determined not to let this hiccup spoil her adventure in Asia, she decided to improve her employment prospects by signing up for a business degree at James Cook University. She was inspired, she says, to follow in her father’s footsteps by one day starting her own company.
As a student trying to survive on little income, Emelie remembers how she struggled to make ends meet. “To be honest, I was poor. I stayed on friends’ sofas because I couldn’t afford rent, and sometimes couldn’t find the money for a meal of chicken rice from the hawker centre.”
The Lightbulb Moment
After graduating from her degree in 2011, Emelie found a job in recruitment and life became more comfortable and stable. Now she lives in her own apartment – one that’s filled with home furnishings with character.
“I like to mix antique Scandinavian elements with modern designs, but I couldn’t find anything locally that suited my tastes,” she says.
Emelie explains that her fascination with antique craftsmanship goes back to her childhood, and visits to an old family home in the south of Sweden. “I remember spending a lot of time rummaging through the basement, poring over some amazingly beautiful items from my grandparents’ era.”
While hunting for vintage designs in Singapore, she found a local dealer with lots of retro items stored away in his warehouse. Emelie’s eyes light up as she recalls visiting the space for the first time – “I had found a treasure trove!”
After purchasing and restoring a few pieces, she asked if she could try to sell some for him from her apartment on a commission basis. “He agreed, so I cleaned up my chosen pieces in his bathroom and photographed them in the makeshift studio I’d set up in a small corner.”
That was the moment, she says, that she realised her calling: to help people in Singapore rediscover vintage furniture, and to show them how it was possible to create a cosy, unique home without spending a fortune. “Buying pre-loved refurbished goods is also more eco-friendly,” she adds.
This side project turned out to be a big success, and customers were asking her about bringing in items from Sweden. Her dealer, too, saw a gap in the market for Scandinavian antiques, and loved the idea of sourcing them from Emelie’s homeland. A potential venture was at hand, but the excitement for it was soon dimmed by the harsh fact that they both lacked the cash to finance it. “I had to put the idea on a back burner,” she says.
Still quietly determined to make her dream a reality, she left her recruitment role to join a furniture company as a marketing manager, in order to hone her skills. Two years later, in 2013, she resigned and temporarily moved back to Sweden to find business partners and funding for her blossoming idea.
A Downward Spiral
Excitingly, she signed a deal with a Swedish investor at the end of June 2014 and was ready to start work on Möbler. “According to one of the clauses in the contract, I would earn a small salary from the company, which would enable me to support myself back in Singapore. There was also a non-competition clause, meaning that if the business were shut down, neither of us would be able to start a similar company for 36 months.”
All seemed to be going well until her investor, realising that the container due to leave Sweden for Singapore might have exceeded their initial budget, reneged on the contract and, to save costs, refused to pay her salary.
“I was devastated. We had a big argument, and then he went silent on me for months. Bound by the non-competition clause too, I saw my business slipping through my fingers.” Consumed by stress, Emelie spiralled into depression and was eventually diagnosed with severe exhaustion, which took her seven months to recover from. “That was a really dark time,” she says.
The Game Changer
After her recovery, Emelie joined an employment service in Sweden that helped her rework her business ideas, and then received a financial grant to restart her business. Through networking, she got connected with the team at Venture Cup, an organisation that runs an entrepreneurship competition in Scandinavia.
Realising she was still in time to enter the contest, she got busy with her pitch. “I worked like a madwoman and managed to deliver it on time. When they called me to tell me I’d qualified, I couldn’t believe it!” She went on to win her category: “That was a huge confidence booster, and it reignited my sense of self-worth after what had been a rather bleak period.”
Another hurdle lay ahead. Though she had won the competition, investment interest had dwindled, so Emelie decided to try crowdfunding – not without reservations, given her previous experience with investors! Thankfully, she was able to decide how involved each individual would be with the company, so she went for it. “I reached my funding goal in 30 days. In the end, crowdfunding turned out to be the best thing for me.”
A Lesson Learned
Now fully funded, she was able to start building her business again. With the help of her younger sister Ellen, a graphic and packaging designer by trade, she set up a website and branding; and after the shareholder agreements had been signed, the two set out together to find stock.
“We had a fun time driving around the Swedish countryside and meeting different furniture dealers. It took two to three months to purchase, clean and photograph 500 items.”
At the end of their successful sourcing trip, Emelie learnt that her previous investor was filing a lawsuit against her for violating the non-competition clause. “The matter has now been settled out of court. Ultimately, this process has taught me the importance of getting to know someone well before you go into business with them.”
With Möbler now off the ground, Emelie has started a new chapter in her life and is busy building the brand here in Singapore. She admits that being a solo entrepreneur can be lonely. “You shoulder a lot of issues yourself, and often avoid chatting to friends and family about your venture because you don’t want to bore people!” she laughs.
But at the end of it all, building her company has been extremely fulfilling. “I wake up every morning with a renewed sense of purpose. The fact that the success of Möbler depends solely on me means there’s a lot at stake, but I also like that I’m in control and accountable.” This experience has taught her to handle stress better, too. “I’ve learnt that every moment spent worrying is a waste of time. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is definitely a choice.
The Joy is in the Journey
Her tips for those taking the entrepreneurial path? To have integrity and stand up for your beliefs, to do proper market research, to listen to constructive feedback and to find your source of motivation – but above all, to enjoy the ride.
“Relish the small moments; those are the ones that count. The journey is what will shape and fulfil you.”
Finally, always remember to be thankful. “There were many moments along the way when I felt sorry for myself, but I’ve kicked that habit. I remember to be grateful, despite obstacles. At the end of the day, if you want something enough, ups and downs are worth it!”
PHOTOGRAPHY MICHAEL BERNABE
HAIR & MAKEUP ZIANA ZAFFER
STYLED IN WILLOW & HUXLEY & STONES THAT ROCK