When her mother was first diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2014, Amy Ang, 36, was stunned. Yet, she refused to succumb to sorrow and instead set out on a massive lifestyle overhaul.
“My mother was not a smoker, so we didn’t quite understand how it happened,” she recalls with a tinge of sadness in her voice. “But I’m a very action-oriented person. I did research because I believed that information was key, and we wanted to do everything we could to help her.”
Changing consumption and lifestyle choices - factors that tend to be associated with cancer risks - was one thing she could control, and she did.
“One thing became very clear: I don’t want to feed toxics to my family,” says Amy, who is married with a four-year-old daughter. “You start reading food labels to see what you’re actually eating. You look out for whether the taugeh (bean sprouts) are bleached. Even simple household products like laundry detergent can contain harsh and artificial chemicals that are harmful to our health and the environment.”
She eventually lost her mother to the cancer in 2016, but she held on to her own little mission: to help spread awareness about the importance of caring for the environment.
In December 2017, The LaLa Lokal, a Singapore-based eco-friendly store that sells plastic- and chemical-free products, was born.
“The LaLa Lokal is all about making the little changes in our lives - to go chemical-free, to use sustainable products, and to reduce our own waste,” she says. “And all of this will go towards benefitting our future generations, including my daughter, her children, and their children."
The business sells a curated range of items on its website – such as organic soapberries (a natural alternative to laundry detergents) and beeswax wraps (an eco-friendly version of plastic cling film) – which Amy sources from countries such as Thailand and Australia, and tests out herself.
She plans to start selling her own reusable facial cotton pads as well as chemical-free lip balms and deodorants in the next few months - all made by hand and HSA-registered.
“It’s very easy to buy something cheap like facial cotton pads, use them once and then throw them away,” she notes. “But many facial cotton pads are synthetic, which means not only can they irritate the skin, but they are also bad for the environment because they take hundreds of years to break down.”
The road to entrepreneurship has not been easy. She has found that running her own business while holding down a day job as a supply chain team leader in a multinational company means having to give up on many things. This means no more television, and having to stay up late at night, or waking up at 5am to work on her business before heading to office.
“There are only so many hours in a day. I’d be happy enough if I have time to wash my hair,” she says, laughing. “Doing this actually gives me a lot of joy and satisfaction. Being able to help create a change or awareness in the people around me - it gives me a lot of energy.”
And then there were the technical aspects of setting up an online store for the very first time – which she knew nothing about. “Every time I ran into a problem with my website or didn’t know how to do something, Shoptiq’s customer service always got back to my questions in a couple of hours, within the same day. And they didn’t judge me for knowing absolutely nothing, which was something I appreciated,” she says.
Still, the biggest challenge for her to date has been dealing with scepticism. Going down the eco-conscious route, she admits, can be a lonely journey. After all, the concept is still relatively new, and it takes time to change mindsets and habits that have been around for decades.
But The LaLa Lokal is “not about making a quick buck”, she stresses. “It’s about helping other people make better and more informed decisions for themselves. It’s about empowering people to make the change.”
Slowly, her efforts have been paying off. Her friends and colleagues are gradually weaning off straws. Some vendors at the eateries she frequents are also warming up to how she whips out her own food container for takeaway fish soup or asks for her kaya toast to be packed into a beeswax wrap.
And she is optimistic about a greener and more sustainable future. “Things will change. Just look at healthy eating. A few years ago, most Singaporeans probably didn’t know about the benefits of eating oatmeal. But you can easily find all sorts of oatmeal in supermarkets now, and eating well has become a huge part of people's lives,” she says.
“So when it comes to building a sustainable, zero-waste lifestyle, things will also change.”
Her business not only gives her a social cause to campaign, but also offers her a memory of her late mother. What started in grief is turning into a good cause.