Carol Chen is one female force. She has built five different companies on four continents and is now on a mission to create “The Best Face Masks in the World” in our new pandemic reality.
Her latest job, Mask, was quickly built from her apartment, just a week before a safety switch was introduced in April 2020.
She tried to put everything together on her own, and today Maskela has grown into a global brand. It is shipped to more than 15 countries around the world, and has earned more than $ 10,000 from just one day of online sales.
According to Carol, they are one of the first purely fashion brands of masks in Singapore the largest range of over 100 design styles, focusing exclusively on fashion masks and mask-related products.
She recently secured a contract to sell her masks to American luxury retailer Neiman Marcus, making Maskela the first Singapore brand to do so. Her masks have been seen on A-list celebrities, such as Lady Gaga and Sarah Jessica Parker, among others.
She always had something for fashion
At the age of seven, Carol was already there making dresses for themselves from blankets and safety pins. As a child, she spent all her free time sketching dresses or styling her siblings, so it was inevitable that she would graduate with a degree in fashion design.
“I love fashion as a means to express myself and help build self-confidence, but I’m not a big fan of trends or excessive materialism,” she said.
Growing up, she always felt insecure about her appearance and her abilities. She tried to overcome this by learning how to look complex, giving her best to everything she did and constantly looking for ways to improve.
This eventually led to many achievements that boosted her self-confidence, such as winning a beauty pageant, which helped her gradually feel more comfortable in her own skin as she developed her personal strengths and identity.
Carol succeeded last year beat Singapore Stories 2020, fashion design competition organized by the Textile Fashion Federation (TaFF). The victory rewarded her with a runway debut at Paris Fashion Week, an exhibition of her designs at the Museum of Asian Civilizations and a retail offering with Asian fashion-oriented retailer SocietyA.
Just as she started for Maskel, she also entered the fashion competition based on her immediate instinct. Although she is involved in fashion design and has been in fashion most of her life, she is not a full-fledged fashion designer.
Acknowledging her rusty design skills, she said she confronted reputable and talented fashion designers in Singapore. However, she was disappointed and continued to create beautiful designs from the upgraded fabric for the competition, which won the admiration and approval of the jury.
Together with Maskel, she has now launched her own eponymous label called Carol Chen.
Carol was born in the United States and came from a family of entrepreneurs, so her natural step was to be her own boss.
Her first job was a Los Angeles-based clothing brand that eventually shut down due to the weakening of the U.S. economy. The other was a fan uniform that is currently still advancing under the leadership of its co-founder. Then there was the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) brand she worked with her ex-boyfriend before they split up.
It wasn’t always easy, but it wasn’t hard either because I have a high tolerance for risk and discomfort. All you need is an optimistic attitude, lots of resilience and a firm belief in yourself.
Start-up capital can be brought by savings and investors, but I believe that if you have a good business idea and willpower, the way will open and resources will help you.
– Carol Chen, founder of Maskela
She explained that the reason she moved from her security bubble in her country to start a business in unknown places is that she believes the world has a lot more to offer.
Some moves were withdrawn out of love, some out of necessity, others just because she wanted a new adventure. There are so many amazing places and amazing opportunities around the world that she feels it would be a shame to just stay in one place.
Out of love, she moved to Singapore, but eventually fell in love with the country itself.
She said a friendly, efficient and reliable regulatory and bureaucratic environment in Singapore is very conducive to setting up and running businesses. She now plans to take up her business in the foreseeable future based in Singapore.
Maskela seemingly became a hit overnight
Just before Maskela, Carol ran Covetella in Singapore, a designer dress store that allows women to borrow and buy dresses or customize dresses. Unfortunately, Covetella had to suspend operations from March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She decided to close the salon and shift the focus to Maskel. Since the events were canceled last year, she explained that it made no sense for her to continue paying rent indefinitely when there was no demand for their services. In fact, she still has a lot of signature dresses that remain unused.
Speaking about Maskela’s birth, she said that at the beginning of the pandemic masks were not mandatory, but that she still wanted to wear one to protect herself.
Surgical masks were the only option at the time, and as a fashionista she felt ashamed of wearing them because they were so unsightly. So she came up with the idea to cut out some of Covetella’s unused dresses to make aesthetically pleasing face masks.
About a week later, Singapore announced a switch and she was trying to get everything she needed to build a business out of her apartment as soon as possible.
All fabric shops and factories were closed at the time, so it was extremely difficult to get suppliers of raw materials and increase production.
Maskela was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done because I was stuck at home and the state was closed. But out of pure will, it still managed to happen.
– Carol Chen, founder of Maskela
She then went on to employ three trainees, who worked alongside her from her living room. It took her only four months from the switch to achieve a six-figure income.
They also had a lot of corporate orders that brought in significant revenue. Asset management company Frasers Hospitality has ordered thousands of masks for all its global hotels. Other big clients are Bulgari, Skin Inc, 1880, Design Orchard, TaFF, Tindle and Neiman Marcus.
Today, Maskela has become the most comprehensive mono-brand mask that sells everything related to the mask: mask chains, mask clasps, mask disinfectants, mask filters and gift mask sets.
Which is why it has achieved such success
True to Carolina’s commitment to building socially and environmentally responsible businesses, just like Covetella, Maskela’s origins are based on sustainability. Their initial masks were upgraded by cutting old Covetella dresses.
Even today, most of their styles are made from scraps of fabric, which means that once the fabric is done, they can’t produce more – this makes their limited masks really rare.
I had the right product at the right time. I was one of the first brands in Singapore to make fashion masks in March 2020 and I was constantly working to ensure that it was the best mask I could make in terms of quality, comfort and design.
I also spent time building the brand myself so it had value too. There are a lot of masks, but you don’t see a lot of masks like Maskela, and our high rate of repeat customers proves that we’re doing something right. We also pack masks as gifts to encourage people to buy them for their loved ones in order to be safe and elegant.
– Carol Chen, founder of Maskela
She also shared tips on her successful consumer marketing strategies. The first is to create a superior product and service that will speak for itself. When people like it, they will place it for you word of mouth.
The second is to launch a digital marketing campaign through social media, engaging influence, creating content, as well as using traditional marketing strategies through public relations and partnerships
For Maskell, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) were not actually available as an option since Facebook and Google initially banned anything related to personal protective equipment (PPE), so they had to rely on other creative ways to kick your brand out there.
She has invested in hiring a reputable PR firm in the United States to have her masks worn by A-list celebrities and influential people. This is important in order to establish the image of a luxury brand for its target audience.
The goal of the A-list and the elite is to ensure higher profit margins that will make its business pay off more.
Climbing to the top of the luxury mask in the world
According to Carol, her goal is Maskela to become the top brand of luxury masks in the world.
It plans to expand its offering to a larger market and more different uses, citing examples such as masks for men and children. She also wants to offer more brides, mask accessories, as well as present more customizable options. The list is endless for her.
Even when the pandemic is over, Carol feels that people will still be aware of their health, so they are looking to launch a line of hand sanitizers and travel kits, as well as the installation of other protective products such as sunglasses.
For now, Carol wants to do things step by step, but she has absolute faith in herself that when the time comes, she will know what to do, as she has proven to herself over and over again.
“I get into situations where I know I can shine. Any job is hard, so you have to play where you can win. To make up for my weaknesses, I surround myself with people who are better than me and try to learn from them, ”she thought.
Her advice for other women around the world who want to do their own thing is simple: start small and take one step at a time, but never wait until you feel “ready,” because you’ll never be.
Just follow your heart and know that if it fails, it’s not the end of the world – you’ll only have a few good stories. Don’t be afraid of failure, but accept it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Life is short, so you better do what you can while you can. I also believe that if you intend to do something, you should do it well and give your best. Otherwise, why do it at all?
– Carol Chen, founder of Maskela
Shown image: Carol Chen