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Creating a positive cycle
Kelly Keak – managing director of MTM Skincare
KELLY KEAK IS ON HER WAY to being the face that launched a thousand tips. Since she started posting on Instagram in late-February in response to the impending pandemic, Ms Keak, the managing director of bespoke skincare brand MTM, has used social media to promote her custom-blended products, support local brands and plug various charitable causes. She also uses her online presence to share thoughts on beauty and fitness.
The aphorisms flow thick and fast on @kellykeak, interspersed with photogenic poses (having a flawless complexion helps), reports on her pre-Covid travels and updates on her role as an active member of local society. In person, Ms Keak is thoroughly engaging and keen on spreading the gospel according to MTM, but she's also enthused about contributing to society in general.
"I want to be a resourceful woman, use my positivity to influence others," says the 35-year-old. "I grew up a timid and somewhat rebellious girl but now I try to be like water – soft but also able to flow through stone." As a young girl she grew up in her mother's salon in Serangoon Gardens, gaining more insight into the beauty business when her mother brought in the MTM brand from Japan in 2003. "This foundation taught me to be resilient," she says.
She started as a receptionist, later moving up to beauty consultant level. She remembers an encounter with a demanding customer who unsettled her by tapping a disapproving finger on her head. She was just 19. "My mother, who has been in the business for over 40 years and is great at customer relations, told me then: ‘The most difficult customers will also be the most loyal once you win them over.' I was reminded that nobody is ever perfect, and there are two sides to every person."
Another turning point came earlier this year, when the coronavirus forced her to re-evaluate the business. "People suddenly started dying and it really changed my thinking," she says. "I really must thank Covid.
I've never been very active on social media but when we started to hear news about the virus, I started an account to share beauty tips. I wanted to focus on helping local businesses in the food and fashion industries – it's important to support others."
MTM's online business was not notable at the time but when the Circuit Breaker was implemented, the company had to pivot quickly to pick up the slack. For more than two months, the only source of income came from online purchases. Sales from shopping platforms like Shopee and Lazada now account for a reasonable portion of the company's revenue. "One of our staff was moved from a creative position and promoted to handle online operations," says Ms Keak. "She's close to 60, can you believe it? Never underestimate people during difficult times."
She adds, "At the beginning there was so little information about the virus, and the health of our loved ones was at stake." She started a social media account in late-February, progressing from random posts about her daily routine to philosophical musings on skincare and fitness, with an emphasis on personal growth.
In one post she shares, "This Covid period has been a time of upgrading, learning, reflecting, recuperating, bonding and giving. It's a well-spent period of my life. No regrets!"
Working remotely, keeping in touch with staff and preparing for reopening was part of the process, but Ms Keak also worked on upping her social media game, conducting livestream events, virtual charity bazaars and offering free treatments for followers who reach fitness milestones, such as 60 consecutive daily 30-minute workouts. She's well past that number herself – today marks Day 98 of her regimen. "I try to encourage people to join me in fitness," she says.
"If everybody can keep fit and stay positive, they will have better immunity." Meanwhile, helpful hints on skincare routines remain high on the agenda. "This platform gives us an opportunity to connect with more people and I want to help people develop healthy habits for themselves."
During the Circuit Breaker, she also found time to improve her cooking skills, although her sixyear-old son is less than impressed where food is concerned. "My wish is for him to say that his mom can cook well," she laughs. "More importantly, I need to set an example for him and instil values so that he contributes to society."
Ms Keak's greatest role model is her mother Susan Teng, who ploughed her savings (and a significant bank loan) into starting MTM in 2003 and opening a concept store in Wheelock Place. "At the time, she told me, ‘If we don't make it a success, we're going to be sleeping by the roadside.' Luckily, it wasn't necessary."
During the course of her charitable activities and social projects in overseas communities, Ms Keak has added other skills to her resume, including calligraphy and playing Christmas songs on the ukulele. The irony is not lost on her. "There has never been a more fruitful period in my life than now, in work as well as my personal life," she says, adding: "It's about creating a positive cycle – if we don't change our mindset, it will be a wasted effort."
During the festive season, Ms Keak intends to continue her online fundraising efforts, focus on family, and keep her social media account up to date. "This year will be very different, but we can still bring awareness through celebration," she says. "Beauty is not something you can achieve overnight, it's not like hair." She adds, "For the face, you need time and effort. The earlier you start, the longer you preserve your youth." Or, as one of her posts aptly puts it, "Great skin doesn't happen by chance. It happens by appointment."