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Wellness without limits

SW1 Clinic brings its brand of wellness and beauty abroad; Ho Chi Minh is its first stop

'SW1 has always prided ourselves on being very people-centric. We devote a lot of attention to the people behind the brand. Our number one asset is our people.' - Dr Low Chai Ling, Founder and Medical Director of SW1 Clinic.

'LIVE without limits," SW1 Clinic's brand philosophy declares. It's a statement of what the aesthetic, plastic surgery and medical spa group aims to achieve for those that walk through their doors, but just as aptly sums up the action-packed 16 months SW1 has had since its launch.

Since SW1 opened its 8,000-square- foot flagship clinic at Paragon in December 2017, it has unveiled a second branch at OUE Downtown Gallery and will open another in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in April - its first venture abroad.

Along with that rapid expansion has come "phenomenal interest from investors", says Low Chai Ling, Founder and Medical Director of SW1 Clinic. Singapore Medical Group, a key investor in SW1's parent company, has drawn in the leading Korean healthcare group CHA Healthcare Co as a strategic shareholder, with the recent investment of S$50 million, on top of the initial S$15 million last year.

Dr Low is no newcomer to Singapore's medical aesthetics scene. She and her husband, Kenneth Lee, first founded in 2003 The Sloane Clinic - a boutique aesthetic practice which grew into a chain with several branches in Singapore and Malaysia.

Over time however, they grew to believe that the model of small solo practices could not best serve their patients' long-term wellness needs. Hence the vision of creating a "wellness village" that would offer patients the best of both worlds - non-invasive cosmetic dermatology and plastic surgery, and the collective expertise of multiple doctors and specialists - that led to SW1.

Named for the postal code of London's Kensington & Chelsea Borough where Dr Low spent time living as a student, SW1 Clinic is also symbolic of how her medical aesthetic vision has evolved and come full circle.

Unique concepts for Singapore

That vision grows ever broader. SW1 now has a total headcount of 60, locally and abroad, including 10 doctors, and brings in an annual revenue of more than S$10 million.

Since January, SW1 Clinic's second 1,500 sq ft outlet at OUE Downtown Gallery - designed to exude a "speakeasy" vibe - has been drawing in new clients.

"We believe that each of our clinics should be created unique, to reflect their different concepts and 'personalities', even as our aesthetic services and products remain the same across the board. We like to think of them as fraternal twins," says Dr Low.

There has been an encouraging uptick in patient numbers, especially in ones working in the central business district. "While we are encouraged by these positive numbers, our ethos remains to provide the best outcomes for our patients by keeping our service standards high," she says.

Excellence is, she believes, the group's greatest competitive edge. "Apart from an exhaustive and comprehensive training programme to ensure that our service team constantly surpasses recommended parameters needed to provide best outcomes, we also invest in innovative technologies, updating them regularly to keep up with new developments in the aesthetic and medical field."

SW1 says it offers a wide range of FDA-approved lasers, ultrasound and radiofrequency aesthetic technologies in Singapore. Its doctors are pioneers in the use of Fraxel, Ultherapy, Thermage and Silhouette Soft threadlifts locally, while its plastic surgery team specialises in cosmetic procedures and reconstructive surgery such as ear reconstruction and cleft lip repair.

That ethos of excellence is also why SW1 will stick to a judicious expansion strategy locally. Every single branch that it opens will undergo extensive consideration and planning, beginning with a unique concept, says Dr Low. "Should an opportunity for an excellent location arise, we will certainly consider expanding our Singapore operations then."

Relentless expansion abroad

The focus for now, however, will be on overseas growth - both in the form of standalone clinics as well as building strategic partnerships within the spa, wellness and healthcare industry.

Its next big milestone on this front will be the opening of SW1 Clinic in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in April. The 3,000 sq ft clinic sits within Ho Chi Minh's affluent expat enclave district 7, in close proximity to international schools. In line with its strategic expansion, SW1 also plans to expand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia this year.

"It features FDA-approved technologies to meet the needs of upper middle-class women who are a little more discerning about the treatments they receive," Dr Low says of the Ho Chi Minh clinic. Its priority: to provide treatments that are high quality, safe and effective.

The challenges of having to deal with and adapt to foreign regulatory and other business-related practices are par for the course with heading overseas. "However, thankfully, we have been able to smoothly navigate this with the help of local partners and our well-trained local management team," says Dr Low.

The group has also been approached by several parties who wish to bring the SW1 brand overseas and is studying these opportunities. But SW1 Ho Chi Minh is significant as the first step in SW1's plan to "spread SW1's brand of wellness and beauty beyond the shores of Singapore", she says.

That same goal is why SW1 is currently working closely with renowned Korean wellness centre, CHAUM, to find collaborative opportunities in wellness and the development of cosmeceuticals.

Having a wide network of partners also gives SW1 an added edge, not just in being able to expand rapidly but also in research and development.

A strategic partner such as Korea's CHA Healthcare, for instance, has afforded SW1 the chance to learn from, and leverage, its extensive network of clinics, research and training facilities, such as Cha University School of Medicine, an education zone with top-notch facilities for training future physicians and other health professionals.

At the centre, people

Amid the flurry of business plans and opportunities, SW1's focus remains on people - its own people and the people its offerings can serve, Dr Low says.

"SW1 has always prided ourselves on being very people-centric. We devote a lot of attention to the people behind the brand. Our number one asset is our people."

"As such, we also believe in giving back to society continually, as part of our company philosophy," she says. Its longest-running initiative in that vein is "Glow-up", which provides free consultation and treatments at cost to any student that holds a valid student pass.

"Our aim is to help young adults or teenagers who are on the verge of becoming adults, or entering the job market, tackle any skin concerns that they may have. In doing so, we hopefully foster their self-confidence and give them a leg up in navigating their entry into the real world as adults," says Dr Low.

Last year, SW1 also worked with several charities to regularly channel a portion of its proceeds to help disadvantaged children and women in need.

In March 2019, the charity of choice was Beyond Social Services, which focuses on helping children and youths from less privileged backgrounds break out of the poverty cycle. "Patients can purchase masks from our clinic, and 100 per cent of the proceeds go to purchasing daily essentials such as rice, canned food and cooking oil to meet the beneficiaries' basic needs."

"Beyond aesthetics, what I am trying to create is a space to foster authentic beauty. What I am trying to create is a celebration of positive change," says Dr Low.

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