When you first meet Grace Chow (BBA Class of 2015), she strikes you as an unassuming twenty-something girl next door. She has 57,000 Instagram followers and lists among her clients Chanel, Christian Dior and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Her client list, which reads like the who’s who in the fashion industry, are enamoured with her designs that incorporate real flower petals to create works of art. They engage her to illustrate for their products as well as to perform live drawing and art-making at events and exhibitions.
She has always liked drawing. Although she had never had professional lessons as her parents did not think drawing would bring a steady income, she doodled. She started posting her drawings and fashion illustrations on her Instagram account. The initial reach was not high. Then one night as she sat drawing, she noticed that a rose a boy had given her was withering.
She laughs and clarifies – it was not from her boyfriend; it was Valentine season and classmates were giving each other flowers. She thought it was pity something so beautiful would soon be lost so she decided to immortalise its elegance. “It so happened that I was drawing a red dress, so I plucked off the petals and added them to the illustrations I was composing and to my most pleasant surprise, they turned out pretty decent!”
She posted it, her friends loved it, it went slightly viral, garnering a lot of likes. Encouraged by the good response, she continued, with orchids, then gerberas. These first three floral creations, posted over a period of 3 weeks on Tumblr, were picked up by both local and international websites like Mothership.sg, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and New York Daily News and in those first few months, garnered 30,000 followers. And in its wake, calls and assignments from international brands such as SK-II and Coach.
There are those who say Grace was just lucky – she stuck a few petals onto a dress design, and accidental, instant fame.
Grace spoke of the long nights. She had just graduated and was doing an internship in a bank. She would only work on her illustrations at night as a hobby, and out of passion. Some nights, she only slept for two hours. It was during this period that her illustrations became noticed.
She also talked about the unexpected trajectory that took her to where she is today. She had gone to business school knowing she wanted to start a business, but did not know with what product or service or even in which industry.
While in second year at Business School, she signed into the NUS Enterprise’s iLead] (innovative Local Enterprise Achiever Development) programme, which offers a 7-month stint with a local start-up or high growth company. Those months she spent in a local food setup gave her exposure to business development, marketing and community involvement – and sealed her conviction.
But it was the two-week overseas study mission that re-ignited her passion. While based in Netherlands, she travelled around the rest of Europe and remembered standing transfixed, watching the street artists at work. When she returned, she started painting again, something she had stopped doing when school got too busy.
Looking back, she is glad she stepped up and out and put her hand up.
When you step outside your comfort zone, you get to explore possibilities, experience a different life and find out new things about yourself. It may surprise you where it may finally lead you.
Finally, the last question. How do you keep them interested? 57,000 followers is a lot of hungry mouths to feed.
Grace knows she has to work very hard. She has made a commitment to herself to put out three new posts every week and a minimum of five new artworks every month. “I owe it to my followers to keep creating.”
She puts a lot of thought into showing her best work. For example, she no longer uses her iPhone to shoot and post. All her creations are now professionally photographed. She has set up contacts with florists to obtain the flowers she needs, especially for those that are out of season. She has had to figure out her market niche in what is already a saturated market, and the price point at which to pitch herself – as a huge commercial success or to serve a smaller niche market? All of which requires market research, planning, sacrifices and resources.
And pure hard work – selecting flowers, taking time to create, marketing them, updating her portfolio and website, blogging, meeting clients… Plus, she keeps an eye out for opportunities. For example, for Mother’s Day, she created a series of mother-daughter floral illustrations which sold very well.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Keep walking, Grace!