From her days as a hairstylist to the stars, to her years as a businesswoman and mentor to youth, her new book The Elim Chew Story reveals how one of Singapore’s most prominent entrepreneurs and changemakers was made.
It was a day of several milestones for social entrepreneur Elim Chew.
On Sep 13 this year, she launched her biography, The Elim Chew Story at The Tree Top at *SCAPE and celebrated her 50th birthday—all on the death anniversary of her father, who passed away when she was 21.
For one who has led a life as inspiring as hers, this book has been a long time coming, and yet, could not have been published at a more opportune time. In July this year, Chew wrapped up a chapter in her life with the closing of 77th Street, the streetwear retail chain she famously founded in 1988 which has been widely credited as the brand that brought street culture and fashion to Singapore.
The biography charts her early days as hairdresser to the likes of top models Ethel Fong, Jackie and local rock stars John Molina, and how this led her to start 77th Street. It was while running 77th Street that she came into contact with many young people, which took her down the path of social entrepreneurship and youth mentoring. Among the issues she champions passionately is the awareness of depression.
But while 77th Street has come to an end, the passion remains. Chew has involved herself in other projects including a number of food and beverage businesses, one of which is the popular Korean hotpot GoroGoro Steamboat and Buffet. The restaurant has been a hit among office workers and students with its affordable prices.
Along with this is @elimchewtv, a YouTube channel through which Chew showcases good works done in society by ordinary folks through their businesses. The channel also helps bring to light social issues from helping at risk kids and educating special needs children, so as to create awareness and, Chew hopes, jumpstart change.
She has also launched FastFast, a mobile app for speedy courier services. The idea was modeled after Uber’s courier service, Uber Rush, which allows for courier pickup and delivery anywhere in Manhattan, New York. Apart from profitability, Chew’s other objective for FastFast—one that is very close to her—is to create employment and provide opportunities to those in need to have a source of income in today’s unstable job market.
Among her myriad accolades, she has been named Montblanc’s Businesswoman of the Year in 2002 and Forbes Asia Hero of Philanthropy in 2010. She was also recognised at the inaugural international Women’s Economic Forum 2016 in Delhi, India.
While the book is written by creative director and author Loretta Chen, it is generously peppered with first-person quotes from Chew, which lends a wholly candid and personal voice to the whole narrative.
In the book, Chew talks about how her staunch Christian mother, affectionately called Mama Chew, steered her back to God from a slippery slope of late-night parties and drinking in the ’80s and ’90s. She started attending a “youth club” called Ekklesia Ministry, which grew into what is, today, City Harvest Church.
It was a chance encounter in the lift with the leader of this ministry, Kong Hee and his wife, Sun Ho at Far East Plaza, where Chew’s hair salon was located, that led to her turnaround.
The sermons preached by Kong gave her insight into living a life of significance, and till today—even as the church, and Kong himself, has come under intense scrutiny in the last six years for misuse of church funds—Chew is steadfast in her support of the City Harvest family.
This is a book for those who are interested in building businesses to achieve not just financial gains but social impact, and he who wants to be a changemaker—be it through a non-profit initiative, a new business or through charity and mission works, all of which Chew will passionately encourage others to pursue.
As the emcee of the book launch, presenter Danny Yeo jests, “It’s dangerous to drink coffee with Elim as you may find yourself starting a new project right after!”
As Chew writes in her book, “There is a greater purpose to what I do. You give these young people a purpose so that they can drive themselves to impact change…as changemakers, we want to see if we can bring people together and change the community for the better.”
The Elim Chew Story retails at $23.35 (excluding GST) and is available from all major bookstores.