India may not be the first destination that comes to mind when planning for a vacation among average Singaporeans, but as it turns out, one traveller experienced a trip there so life-changing that it inspired her to start a business at the age of 19.
We spoke with May – founder of jewelry store Tessellate.Co – as she shares how an eye-opening journey to India led to interesting series of events that culminated in her cause for social entrepreneurship.
A Trip Filled with Serendipity
May always loved India for its mystery, colour and chaos. She used to watch documentaries about the local culture and people, and have always wanted pay this intriguing locale a visit.
The perfect opportunity came when she was studying in the UK. “It was constantly on my mind while I was still in school, and eventually I decided to travel there during my summer break,” she explains.
Armed with an appetite for adventure, 18-year-old May then embarked on a solo backpacking trip to India and never looked back.
Through navigating the country on her own, one particular shop changed her life forever. It was a small jewelry store near one of the hostels she was staying at, and as she walked past it everyday, she began to immerse herself in the local culture and people.
“I started to hang out there because they were very friendly to me. From there, I slowly learnt about gemstones and also starting creating pieces.”
Perhaps it was written in the stars, but it was these very serendipitous encounters with the locals that sparked her passion in jewelry – now manifested as a swanky retail store in Wheelock Place.
Journeying the Path Less Travelled
May’s love for gemstones grew, and she began toying with the idea of putting a pause on her education to start a business creating travel-inspired pieces. However, as a Law and Business Management undergraduate, most of her family members felt that she was giving up a good education.
“I felt that if I had waited, I wouldn’t have took the leap of faith in the end. My parents expressed concern and preferred me not to go, but they didn’t stop me from making the choice. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t change my decisions just because of what other people said,” she reflects.
Tessellate.Co was thus established online in mid-2014, and opened its first brick-and-mortar store in December 2017. As the business developed, May felt that it was about time she went back to school to complete her undergraduate degree. She is now enrolled in Singapore Management University School of Business – an apt course for the young entrepreneur.
Being a Young Entrepreneur
While brainstorming for the name of her business back in 2014, the word ‘tessellate’ continuously harboured in her mind. For the uninitiated, tessellate refers to a pattern created from a single shape – but May shares a deeper meaning with the word.
“In fact, a lot of people have asked me this question! But tessellate signified to me the creation of something beautiful from something simple – and that was what I wanted to do.”
Of course, May’s blossoming business did not come without its challenges. Coupled with the sacrifice of putting a hold on her university education, she was struggling with a whole load of uncertainty – especially in areas like sales and production.
But she has her team and supportive loved ones to thank for as she sailed through these tough times. When opening up the retail store, she turned to them for help with insurance, renovation and furnishing – and eventually got it up and running in less than a month.
Tessellate.Co has now grown from a one-man show to 3 full time staff, a couple of part-timers and approximately 5-10 craftsmen in creating their beautiful pieces.
Giving Back to the Community
Apart from sharing her love for gemstones and jewelry through her business, May takes heart in making a difference in someone else’s life. This has led her to champion social causes and incorporates them into Tessellate.Co’s brand values.
She used to collaborate with fair trade, independent artisans that worked from their homes. These professionals are able to decide and receive the full amount of the price paid for the product – as compared to receiving a much lower salary working in a factory. When she started to work with bigger factories, May also took it upon herself to visit these places to ensure that the working conditions were decent.
Apart from working with fair trade artisans, Tessellate.Co is also the proud partner of Fior Di Loto – a non-profit organisation in Rajasthan, India, that has helped to improve lives of hundreds of girls. They provide the less privileged with free education, medical services, food programs and other social helping activities.
Tessellate.Co has been donating part of their profits to Fior Di Loto and is currently sponsoring education and offering food aid to 3 girls and their families. Emphasising on the importance of education, May shares how partnering with the organisation has enriched her sense of purpose with the business.
“Singapore is really lucky that every child has the right of basic education. It develops one’s ability to think and see things differently. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in India, which is why I feel so strongly for the cause and believe that education will truly make a difference in the lives of these girls.”
She even points out that some of these girls have graduated to become teachers and nurses – which would not have been possible if it were not for education. Through it all, it certainly is heartwarming to see how May and Tessellate.Co have impacted them for the better – even from thousands of miles away.
It’s safe to say that May’s fascinating journey through her early 20s has been filled with nothing but insightful experiences. And given how that one trip to India led to her building a successful business and finding meaning in helping others, it’s not surprising how the country will always remain a special destination in her eyes.
“Going to India has been a beautiful and life-changing decision that allowed me to become who I am today, and there remains a lot of fond memories and experiences which I still hold close to my heart.”
To check out beautiful travel-inspired pieces by Tessellate.Co, visit here.