Ashley Soh is the owner of Blow+Bar, a trendy hair salon that specialises in customised makeovers, balayage and frizz control. A naturally driven individual who helmed the well-known lifestyle brand for nearly a decade, taking its early success to multiple expansions overseas. A private no-nonsense person who appreciates spending time with the people she loves, enjoying good food and wine, while balancing it with regular exercise. She is an adoring mother to two teenage boys aged 10 and 13.
Ashley shares with us how family support played a crucial role in her early struggles as a working mother within a highly competitive MNC, and later starting successful lifestyle grooming bar Blow+Bar. However, business success was nothing without family. Re-prioritising and re-organising her business while it was at its peak allowed for Ashley to create better balance between her business and her life.
I'm a high achiever and strive for a spirit of excellence in everything I do. There was a stigma that working moms can't commit as much, so after the birth of my first son, I shortened my maternity leave by a month so I can be back at work quickly.
I didn't want to fit into the societal stigma of not being able to perform at work after having kids. I wanted to be the best mother I can be while excelling at work; unfortunately, my health took a hit and I developed hyperthyroidism due to lack of rest and high stress levels. I thank God that I was well after battling it for 3 years. Many people do not really understand the sacrifices and immense stress that working moms go through. We are expected to know how to care for our baby, cook, clean, perform at work, all while looking good! Not being able to lose the pre-pregnancy weight quickly was also another pressure you face as a new mom.
You tend to get passed on for promotions when you fall pregnant and even during the first year after giving birth. People imagine that you are unable to be as involved, or work as hard compared to those who do not have children. I overcame it by working even harder to prove that I still have what it takes, if not more. I believe it is important to speak up for yourself and your ideas, which was what I did.
I also learnt to multi-task, and when it came to dressing, I found that comfort and clean lines were key for me. I enjoy wearing clothes that are classy and flattering, while concealing my flaws!
I always wanted to be my own boss and the concept of Blow+Bar was born during my second pregnancy. My husband, who always believed in me, encouraged me by providing funds and support. He is my greatest cheerleader till today. The first store was opened a few months after the birth of my second son. In 3 years, the business grew in Singapore and expanded to Jakarta and Beijing. Being a mompreneur, you have to bear all the risks, make all decisions big and small, do everything, sacrifice sleep and precious time with family. I recalled the many times I was pumping milk in my car, grabbing quick lunches and taking power naps because there is simply not enough time to get everything done.
My business hit a huge roadblock when my founding partner suddenly quit right before we opened the first Beijing store. All the responsibility fell on my shoulders and I felt as if I had gone through a very messy divorce. I pride myself as one who has high integrity, I refuse to throw in the towel, thus I bite the bullet and take on all the roles for the China expansion.
I experienced gender biasness as a woman in Beijing and had to fight my way to prove my worth. There was once I had a meeting with the manager of the mall and he refused to look at me while talking to me! He was looking at my male Chinese partner while answering my questions. I felt stupefied and insulted and constantly felt the need to prove to others that working moms are capable too!
I was based in Beijing and shuttled back and forth every month for a week. Whenever I'm back in Singapore, I have to immediately assume the multiple roles of a mom, wife, daughter, friend and lead my local team. People don't realize how hard and mentally exhausting it is to juggle work, kids, marriage, me-time and stay sane. I really salute all mompreneurs as we all know how much tears and sweat we had to put in to get to where we are.
Strong family support and my helper played the biggest role to care for my growing children. Those were challenging times as my firstborn just started Primary school and was struggling in school due to his ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Mom guilt killed me daily, the demands and changing roles of being an entrepreneur in China was so intense that my mental health took a hit.
I’m blessed to have the support of great women like my mom, mother-in law, sister-in-laws, and my close group of girlfriends, who love me, stood by me and cried with me during those times. One of the wisest women in my life told me, I can always come back home and start over. Quitting does not make me a failure. I still hold those words close to my heart till today.
Success is sweeter when you are in balance between work and personal life. At my lowest point, I burnt out several times and felt depressed knowing I was unable to give to the people I love.
Defining my priorities to align with my values made my decisions clear. I learnt that loving myself means being able to say no, even to the people I love. I stopped chasing further expansions, and instead focused on developing my team and giving priority to people I love and care about.
At present, I set up systems and processes that allow me to prioritise my family, and let me plan my work schedule around them. I also allow myself time to unwind, reflect and catch up with loved ones. With my new priorities, I am able to give my fullest and remain present whether it is for my business, or for my loved ones. Life is too short to be all about work!
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos c/o Sabrina Wee
This series is part of our International Women’s Month where we catch up with amazing women who live, as intended. With many amazing women in our community, As Intended will be celebrating an entire month to feature amazing women to #breakthebias of Working Mothers.
As part of this celebration, As Intended will be donating 10% of proceeds from purchases made in the month of March to Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT), to help raise funds for low-income working women in need of child minding support.
Daughters of Tomorrow is a registered charity organization with IPC status in Singapore whose mission is to facilitate livelihood opportunities for underprivileged women, and support them in achieving financial independence and social mobility for their families.
The lack of childminding support can be one of the biggest factors preventing a woman from being gainfully employed. Singapore Tote Board will match dollar for dollar for donations made and Tax Deduction Receipts (TDR) will also be issued for donations above $10. You may like to learn more, and choose to donate directly to: https://www.giving.sg/campaigns/as-intended