We talk to DIANE HALL about her life in the region, her adventure into entrepreneurship. How she had to take a different direction because of the pandemic and changes to the LOC here, which affected small business in Singapore. It ended up pushing her to embark on something even bigger.
Diane, where are you from, and what led you to Singapore?
I’m British, from a small seaside town in Kent. My expat story started in June 2000 when my partner, now husband, Steve was offered the opportunity to help finish the Changi MRT extension on a oneyear contract. We had just two weeks to organise ourselves, and with it only being a short contract we were keen not to miss any time. Little did we realise it would turn into a 22-year adventure!
Tell us a bit about the early days, and your other postings in the region.
We were excited and anxious about moving to Asia, a part of the world we hadn’t been to, so we had no idea what to expect. We’d been offered a three-bedroom furnished apartment in the east of Singapore, and we left the UK with just two suitcases. It certainly wouldn’t be two suitcases anymore!
We felt right at home here in Singapore. We made friends quickly – locals and expats alike. We got married at the ROM (Registry of Marriages) the following March. Steve finished the job in less than a year and was offered a two-year position in Thailand.
So, a new adventure began, smack bang in the heart of Bangkok. It was so different from Singapore – busy, dirty and fun, and a true culture shock, but we loved every moment of our time.
After 24 months, we moved to Taiwan. Again, so different! Back then, Taiwan was not geared up for expats and it was a lot harder living there. We learnt basic survival Chinese to enable us to get around and order food. It was always better to find a restaurant with photos in the menu – otherwise, we had no idea what we were getting to eat! Taiwan is a beautiful country to visit, but not as easy to live in as Singapore.
Then, 2004 brought the best news, that we would be returning to Singapore – where we’ve been for the past 18 years! We definitely call Singapore home; it has given us so much and we were fortunate to adopt our first child Brandon in 2010 and our daughter Chloe in 2013.
How have you kept yourself busy here?
My kids and hubby (our two dogs too!) are the most important things in my life, but I also wanted to explore my creative side, while still keeping a happy balance between home and work life. In the UK, I had been working as an assistant manager for The Oddfellows friendly society, a non-profit organisation that helps its members forge friendships and offers assistance in times of need.
Initially, I set up a one-woman business for handcrafted, themed celebration cakes and cupcakes. For nine years, I was whipping up bespoke cakes for loyal customers all over the island. It was such a personally rewarding experience, baking and decorating cakes, but it is unbelievably timeconsuming, and I was spending far too many hours in the kitchen and away from my family. Eventually, I decided to explore other creative business ideas.
What were some of those ideas?
I had wanted to have my children’s handprints made into a necklace. But there was no option for doing this here in Singapore. So swapping my oven for a kiln and fondant for silver clay was a fun and natural move for me, and in early 2017, I became founder and designer of Little Prints (little-prints.com): the only silver print company in Singapore.
I love what I do – creating a unique piece of jewellery for my clients. And I work with the Children’s Cancer Foundation in Singapore, giving a lasting gift.
When COVID hit and the news came of LOC changes being put into effect, it was time to get creative with how to move forward. The good thing that came out of the difficult situation was the family time we had together. Brandon and Chloe got to benefit from us being home together, seeing us work and brainstorm ideas.
That’s when I came up with the idea for Singapore Charms (singaporecharms.com): hand-etched crystals with Singapore icons. I have since extended the range and now offer tea towels, absorbent coasters and a full collection of icon gifts. These have become very popular as leaving gifts and souvenirs. And I still have some new ideas in process!
What are the latest steps on your entrepreneurial journey?
I love where all this has taken me. In May last year, Wendy of Firefly Living Collection offered me a spot in her store, which has helped my business gain momentum; she was extremely encouraging with ideas, enabling me to meet the criteria on the new LOC rules (which included being a bigger shareholder and employing a Singaporean). None of this is easy to organise but Expat Consulting have also been incredible in helping to set up all the necessary steps.
I’m super excited moving forward with the newest developments, including a brand new lifestyle collection, A Raft Of Otters (araftofotters.com). It’s a collective, collaboration and community of strong female-led brands in Singapore. The new store is in the former space of Firefly Living Collection at Tanglin Mall.
A Raft of Otters is at #03-102 Tanglin Mall; see our next issue for the latest!
This article first appeared in the June 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!