There are times in life when we feel down and out, and it seems like there is no way to bounce back up from a rough period. Sometimes, it is devastating to realise that you cannot achieve your goals after living a specific part of your life thinking that it is attainable.
For some of us, adversity has undoubtedly played a part in paving a new route to success. I always believed that tough times don’t last, but tough men do. As cliche as it sounds, it holds a certain truth as pushing through failure makes success a sweeter victory. This is especially true for Elisa Lim, the 25-year-old founder of Will and Well, who developed her fashion niche catered to those who are disabled.
Elisa’s journey in the fashion world is something that I admire. Inspired by a difficult time in her life, she provided a solution for the disabled to integrate into society through the medium of fashion. I was intrigued by the unique fashion niche she has carved and how she has managed to shed new light in the industry with Will And Well.
Don Teo: What made you started Will And Well?
Elisa Lim: It was my third year during my diploma, and I was exploring how this craft could be used in a way where I could see more meaning which I resonate with. I did some research, and I felt that there was this need (fashion for the disabled) that could be addressed. That’s when I had a meeting with a doctor who wanted to make clothes for the elderly and bedridden patients at the hospital. It was a “divine appointment” as I did not expect anyone, let alone a doctor, to commission me to do the work. I haven’t even graduated yet.
It requires a lot more time than I expected in comparison to the typical design process due to the research that I have to undertake in order to understand the users’ needs. I felt that if I wanted to do something, I have to do it well. So I decided to dedicate myself full time to this since I have already spent so much time on the research. Furthermore, I do not have a business partner to support me, and I do not know much about the industry, so there is no way this could be a side job.
D: Before the injury that you suffered back in secondary school, was entering the fashion scene something you seriously considered?
E: I enjoyed art in my younger days. Although I became more focused on sports in the later years, it did not occur to me that I will head back to the art scene until my injury. My father persuaded me to pursue the art scene, and I guess it worked out as I realised that fashion design was something I wanted to pursue. As my dad was not ready for me to study fashion overseas as he was a relatively simple and conservative man, I decided to pursue it locally at LaSalle.
D: If you could turn back time and if that injury had not occurred, would you still be doing what you are doing today?
E: If I had not been injured, I would probably be pursuing ballet and netball competitively as I dreamt of being a netball coach or a ballet teacher when I was younger. It was hard to take back then as I have been working so hard in both fields. I was training for my ballet exam, and we were going to do a competition in Shanghai when I got injured in my semifinals game. That blew all my chances instantly. All the hopes and dreams that I worked so hard for was dashed. It was heartbreaking. Of course, there was no regret, and I will not trade anything in life or any experiences I’ve gone through for what I have right now. I think it was a blessing in disguise, as without the injury, I would not have tried sewing, and I would not have found the interest in which led me to where I am today.
D: What was the primary source of inspiration that made you take up sewing?
E: I remembered looking at my friend’s sister making their pouches, and it looked interesting to me. When that injury happened, I decided to give sewing a try. I always believed that if an older woman can do it so well, I can do it too. It then grew into a craft that I became interested in and something that I wanted to pursue. Initially, it was just a hobby until I realised that if I wanted to do more with the craft, I would have to take a closer look at the fashion industry. With readings from books and magazines, it slowly became something that I wanted to pursue, and I ended up building my portfolio in secondary school, which led to my application to LaSalle.
D: There was a fashion runway show that you did in your time at Laselle, and there was a poignant moment where one of your models who was wheelchair-bound ended up crying at the end of the show. How did that experience shape your dedication to this project?
E: She was moved by the fashion show as what we did then was not just another project where they are taken as a subject matter, but it was something that works for them. This made them feel good, and it warmed my heart. It made the two years I spent dedicating myself to research on this subject matter meaningful.
My peers were very supportive of my idea, and they wished they had something similar to do for themselves as well. They saw how challenging it was as it was an unfamiliar subject for my lecturers, and it was a risk for me to do such a project as it might affect my grades.
D: When financial worries start to set in, have you ever felt like giving it all up?
E: Whenever I feel down, I get reaffirmed to pursue this as there are different clients and experiences that I had which gave me a different perspective. They see this business as a ray of hope and a practical solution for them. Although it may seem small to me, this reminds me that what I am doing means a lot to them. When someone thanks me for helping them and their loved ones, that’s when I really see the value in this business. These experiences kept me going and it resonated with me a lot.
D: You have mentioned about the lack of recognition that this business holds because of its niche. How were you able to cope with this challenge?
E: For hospitals, they knew of this challenge, but they do not think that I am credible enough to do a project like this. Although the people on the ground, such as therapists and nurses understand and value the need for such clothes, there is a gap as they are not the main decision-makers.
I ended up looking for other channels that see the value and believed in me, and I came across raiSE — a sector developer and membership body for aspiring social entrepreneurs. They have offered me so much support, with workshops and grants made available. I am very grateful to them. Without them, I would not have known where to fit in when design industries and hospitals reject me.
D: Are your parents supportive?
E: Although my parents may not understand the totality of this business in the beginning, they have always been supporting me, and I think that they are proud of where I am at today. I believe they have reached a point now that they see how my solutions are benefiting people and how much I’ve contributed to society.
D: What is one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring people in their craft about perseverance?
E: I think that these people are very creative and as long as you have a love for a craft, whether is it in fashion design or graphic design, think about what your heart beats for and pursue it. We can do a lot of things with our creativity.
I think perseverance is essential, and you have to be good at your craft, so keep practising and exploring your options. You do not know what kind of pathway it will lead you.
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