Adapting quickly and being grateful for what you have with Carol Chen of Maskela
Describe Maskela in a few words?
Saving the world, one beautiful mask at a time.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
When the pandemic first started in Asia, I wanted to wear a mask but I didn’t want to feel embarrassed. Someone actually told me I looked “scary” because I was wearing a surgical mask, so it inspired me to make fashionable masks that didn’t make me look scary. I figured that if we have to wear them, we might as well look good in them!
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I’ve pretty much always been an entrepreneur. After college, I had a fashion line in Los Angeles. Then I co founded a uniform company in Dallas and built a factory in China. After that, I created a mixed martial arts brand in Hong Kong and launched a designer dress rental company in Singapore. Now I’m working on having the best face masks and mask accessories in the world.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Yes. My parents immigrated from Taiwan to the US and had to build themselves up from basically nothing. I watched them build business after business, suffering and succeeding, but having autonomy being their own boss and making an impact in their community. Growing up in that kind of environment really influenced me, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s definitely not the easiest path, but to me, it’s the most rewarding.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I started Maskela at the beginning of April 2020 so I was very early to the game (before face masks were mandatory). I posted a photo of myself wearing a bright red sequin mask on my social media accounts and everyone loved it. Most of our early strategy involved just creating content on Instagram/Facebook and sending products to influencers and friends. It worked relatively well and we were able to grow very quickly in a short amount of time.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
In my previous business, Covetella, I took my eye off the ball in our 4th year. We were very established in Singapore; we had dressed the stars in “Crazy Rich Asians,” was just featured in the Netflix reality series “Singapore Social,” and was voted Best Formalwear in the country. I figured that with a team in place to run the daily operations I could focus on other ventures, so I spent most of the year absent. During that time, a lot of other competitors came into the space and we lost market share. Then the pandemic hit and we eventually had to shut down since all events were cancelled indefinitely and the demand for formal dresses was gone.
I learned that you cannot rest on your laurels – if you’re not growing, you’re dying. I learned you need constant communication to keep your team motivated and good systems in place to keep them accountable. And I learned that a lot of external factors can affect a business so it’s important to anticipate what the world needs next and adapt quickly.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m proud of a lot of things my teams and I have been able to accomplish, but recently I won the “Singapore Fashion Award” and was named Designer of the Year after not designing for almost a decade. I was featured on Vogue and won the chance to debut my own brand at Paris Fashion Week with a fully sponsored show. So I’m really looking forward to that next adventure!
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I always ask, “What is your dream?” It’s important to me that whoever I’m hiring is not just working for money but working to achieve their dreams (which is why I usually hire aspiring entrepreneurs). Whatever they want to do should be aligned with what we are doing, so that the experience is relevant to them and their heart is in the job. You can always develop skills but you can’t train passion. It’s also important to me because my favorite thing about building companies is not making money but being able to add value and change lives.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Maskela started because of COVID so I guess it’s my Quarantine Baby! It was incredibly hard to build a business during lockdown from my bedroom with limited resources, but it also gave me something to focus on that gave me purpose and kept me sane.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
While I do hope that we aren’t forced to wear face masks forever, they are a great way to prevent the spread of germs and hope that people will continue wearing them whenever they’re sick. It’s been our mission since the beginning to make it so no one has to feel embarrassed while protecting themselves and others, so we will continue to make beautiful masks that people can feel proud to wear.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Adapt quickly and be grateful for what you have.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
By staying productive and building something meaningful that helps others. Also, by having an amazing partner and circle of friends and family that have supported me through it all.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I’m definitely a “work hard, play hard” type of person. I think it’s important to take breaks to avoid burnout and to also enjoy the journey along the way. The best advice I can give is to do something you love that gives your life meaning, and work hard not because you have to, but because you want to.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
Even though I’m in fashion, I don’t spend that much on fashion because being a serial entrepreneur has forced me to be very practical. My fiancé always jokes how my glamorous Instagram (@lifebycarol) can look so different from my reality while I’m in the grind.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
Set up your environment so you can focus, prioritize what really matters, and stay healthy so you can perform consistently.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It means creating value for the world, lifting and empowering others, and living your best life with purpose.