Wendee Lee has luscious black hair and clear skin. It's the look of a carefully-coiffed beauty fanatic, but the 35-year-old insists she doesn't care much about the latest fashion, nor is she crazy about makeup. Reading history books and planning her next hiking trip are what count as her idea of a good time.
Yet the former advertising executive has spun a money-making business out of Biconi, a range of skin and hair-care products, which she started with her mum, Blan. The products, which include shampoo bars, a skin cleanser bar, facial serum and pure oils are sold online, as well as in shops in Singapore and Malaysia.
Biconi is a fusion of words with the BI honouring Blan, CO for coconut and NI for noni. Coconut and noni are the main ingredients used in their products.
Ms Lee and her mother started out making a small batch of soap blended with their homemade noni enzyme to help her father with his chemotherapy treatments. "The noni enzyme helped ward off Dad's skin infections and hair loss," says Ms Lee. Sharing their surplus of soap bars with friends and families, they were soon getting calls for more.
Fuelled by demand, Ms Lee realised the potential of Biconi. She quit her advertising job, took soap-making classes, and also obtained an Advanced Diploma in Organic Cosmetic Science, from Formula Botanica, a leading UK online school specialising in natural cosmetics.
The family have their own noni plantation, with over a thousand trees, about an hour's drive outside of Kuala Lumpur.
Apart from the initial investment in the noni farm, they have invested about S$100,000 in the business. Biconi's soaps and hair care products are made in Malaysia, while the oil-based products, such as the facial serum and baby massage oil are made in small batches by Ms Lee in Singapore.
Ms Lee's journey as a beauty entrepreneur hasn't been an easy one. She used to depend on manufacturers to produce Biconi's products, but was never sure if the ingredients were genuinely natural or safe. But armed with her diploma, she is now able to formulate Biconi products while ensuring that no harsh chemicals are used.
Then there was also the need to get the word out. "Starting a new business in this hyper competitive industry is an uphill struggle, especially in Asia, where conglomerate beauty brands can afford to pay top dollar for maximum exposure," she says.
"Biconi goes against the grain. Instead of advertising, we focus on getting the products into our customers' hands" so that they can experience the product's effectiveness and generate interest through word of mouth.
Another problem she faced - the Singaporean consumer's perception that imported goods are of superior quality over local brands.
"We challenge such assumptions by focusing on the benefits of our star ingredients, namely noni and virgin coconut oil; using local ingredients that have a long proven history and ensuring that our products are manufactured using high quality ingredients without any harsh chemicals," says Ms Lee.
Next up for Ms Lee - new product development, and getting Biconi stocked in more stores across Singapore and Malaysia. She will also be shuttling between Beijing and Singapore as her husband is moving to the Chinese capital for work. "I definitely want to set up Biconi in China," she says.