Monthly Archives

April 2016

My personal vision for the Singaporean and Finnish bridal industry–Go global.

Commentary, Finland Wedding

This post is about my personal vision for the Singaporean and Finnish bridal industries. The same industry in both countries actually have more similarities than you think, and face similar challenges.

One thing is for sure: Both countries DEFINITELY need to expedite their globalisation process in bridal. I’d explain why later in this post but basically the point is that the population of 5+ mil is just too small. We have bigger talents than that.

Before I start this post, let me just take the time to thank TechinAsia for holding a successful and inspiring event. I would like to thank the team for inviting Yeow An (Of Starlight Productions) and our team at IKIGUIDE as part of media.

I think the main takeaway Yeow and I gathered is this: From TechinAsia, we understood what the beauty of an “ecosystem” on a foundation of being “nurturing”, instead of necessarily a warzone. For the former mentality, the belief is that the economic pie is big enough for all.

You know, I used to think that all ecosystems are based on the foundation of war–that is to say, you should never share your knowledge with people unless you are 10 steps ahead, and/or have PR value in sharing your knowledge.

Yet even with that sort of beliefs, I’d often been very blessed with kind business mentors around me. Raymond has been my business mentor for a while already, and he is one guy who is sometimes misunderstood. But if you take the time to listen to his “money philosophy”, he is actually very, very wise and kind. He just can’t be bothered with bullshit.

Recently I was also moved by a certain business leader (who’s a Finn) who recently moved to Singapore, and I think he is very kind, super successful yet humble, and has a heart for the Finnish entrepreneurial ecosystem.

And today I want to jot my thoughts about how I would want to market the Finnish bridal industry. Why am I sharing this? Answer: As part of recruitment, HAHA. If you have more resources and identify with my vision, feel free to recruit me. On the other hand, if you don’t have more resources and identify with my vision, do consider the possibility of having me recruit you eventually. 🙂

There are two aspects to Finnish bridal: One domestic market, one “international” market. Some say that there is no domestic bridal industry, which I agree to some extent, not because there is no talent, but because of low demand due to cultural and communication factors.

Currently, there is a gap in the domestic Finnish bridal market. Basically, here are some of the concerns I hear from Finnish brides:

  • “I can’t find a suitable gown in Finland–the dresses tends to be old fashioned.”
  • “I don’t think there is a bridal industry in Finland.”
  • “Finns are humble! It’s not right to spend so much money or effort on weddings.”
  • “I think brides get to decide everything for their weddings…? Grooms just agree to the decisions and don’t like to spend too much money.”

So let me ask you this question– Even in my 2 years in Finland, I’d met so many talented designers, photographers and very rich people. How is it possible that there is no bridal industry? What happened to all these talented people–did they all become hermits?

Next, how is it possible that people want to save money even if they want something memorable for their big day? I’m not equating “memory” to something “expensive”, I’m on the contrary equating “memorable” to “something close to heart”. Even if you DIY the heck out of your wedding and spent a total of 10euros, it’s still effort well spent.

I think what I am disturbed by is the society’s judgement that “you should not spend so much time and effort” on just one day.

So–this is the market gap.

The solution to the market gap is to storytell beauty, as is.

Now, let’s talk about the international market. The problem with the industry currently is that there are few English-only pages by bridal practitioners. And why not? Because firstly, most photographers may or may like doing copywriting in English, because they feel shy, or because they don’t see a need to, or because it takes too much effort.

So, those people who try to sell Finnish photography or pre-wedding photography to Chinese/ Japanese/ Korean/ Singaporean/ Asian couples tend to be from The Finnish Tourism Board.

That is to say, they don’t know the details of exactly what Asian couples want. They also don’t know how to address the fears and uncertainty of couples. They don’t have the benefit of knowledge or details as if a Finnish photographer were to see it.

For instance, do you know you can do your wedding photoshoot at Turku Castle?!? Do you know also that an elf lives there?!?!

Do you know you can take photos with white horses in Finland? And then go to the igloos up north to see the Northern Lights? Why isn’t anyone talking about the Finnish forests and all the possible LOTR-inspired weddings? And nobody ever talks about the high chance that you can do your wedding photos against pink or pastel skies?

How about a package where you can choose to do 3 of the above to make Finland a worthy destination? SEE? Nobody ever talks about the COMBINATION of these possibilities. Why? It’s because the tourism PR folks don’t know the hearts of Asian couples. At best, they can only guess. And it is not their business to sell more wedding packages–it is their business to do their job scope of highlighting what they think is special to couples about Finland.

So what if couples know? It doesn’t necessarily convert to sales due to a lot of practical factors.

You definitely can’t get the above combinations in Sweden, or Russia. Just on impressions alone, Swedes are “too noble and hence unapproachable” whereas Russians tend to be seen as simply suspicious. Finns are blonde and cute but they are also practical folks who dress down, so you don’t get the intimidating vibe.

And there’s one thing I feel that nobody ever talks about–and that’s how Finnish wedding photographers will probably kill themselves if they submit shitty or sub-par photographs to their clients. So far I’d never met a Finnish photographer who treats his/her client’s wedding as an “experiment” by charging lower. It’s either they charge what they think is reasonable, and do the job, or they simply don’t do the job.

At least for wedding photography, there’s no middle ground to Finnish photographers. What this means for Asian couples is that there is a peace of mind that your wedding photos don’t end up like the Singaporean couple in this case.

And nobody in the Tourism Board ever tells you how you can trust the Finnish wedding photographer easily. Because they aren’t very pretentious themselves, and go for substance. Okay I’m going to speak my mind here–between a Swedish photographer and a Finnish photographer, who will I personally choose as my wedding photographer if I only had two choices? Of course the Finn, because I will be more comfortable around him/her! I won’t have to worry about not looking as good as the Swedish person, hahahahaha!

Do you know why I feel angst all the time? It is because I feel that Finnish creative folks aren’t exactly communicating their strength and charm, which is sincerity and being genuine. Especially for wedding photography, this is very, very important. You should always choose a photographer you are comfortable with, so that in your relaxed state you can be photographed as naturally and beautifully as possible, unscripted and “as is”.


 

So that’s my perspective on the Finnish bridal market. For some of my perspective on the SG bridal market, please get the wedding book I’m doing with La Belle Couture. The team has been working very hard on that book in order to make the wedding preparation process less stressful and more meaningful for couples, and I think it’d be out before the end of this year. 🙂 So yes, please get it when it’s out and stay tuned to our book launch event!

My last point to this post is this–BOTH the Singaporean and Finnish bridal industry need to target global markets because the domestic market is too small. Not only that, we are facing competition from our immediate neighbours, who are not as rich as us. This means that services offered can be cheaper.

Take wedding photography for instance. Why would any Singaporean couple still take a Singaporean photographer, when they can easily afford a possibly better Malaysian photographer who charges 50% lower? (due to exchange rates and a lower price level in Malaysia).

The reason is because of a common Singaporean culture, familiarity, “vibes”, reputation in Singapore, and trust. But what if the Malaysian photographer can eventually gain the trust over time too? Then it becomes very clear that the Singaporean photographer will lose out.

Therefore, before that day happens, it is important to network with other photographers in other markets so as to negotiate win-win situations.

Because bridal is not fast fashion, we should be emphasising a lot on reputation, “common popular taste”, trust-worthiness and “vibes”.

In short, you trust people of the same culture and common knowledge, and that’s the only justification for price premiums. As long as the cheaper neighbour can bridge this gap, then the price premium gets narrower.

Finnish bridal industry faces competition from Estonia and Russia, the less well-off neighbours. Estonia in terms of for example, wedding wine/alcohol, and Russia in terms of for example, wedding dresses. Actually, maybe there isn’t even an acknowledged bridal industry because creative Finnish folks self-doubt themselves to death. They think unperfect creations should not see the light of the day and destroy them all.

So–Just think about it–why not go a bit further, be a bit more ambitious in doing bilateral businesses? Complementary packages always sell, and what’s left now is simply the good communication of trust. We have to make it easy for couples to trust us and ensure that peace of mind.

Actually I believe I can organize something to bridge that gap, AND I am writing this post to tell you that I will be testing the markets in both countries in the next few months. I hope you join me in it, too.

I hope Finnish creative folks in bridal see their own value, as is, as definite strength. And mark my words, I will go all the fucking way to communicate the beauty and passion you have behind your work, if only if you are willing. I will do everything within my means.

And for Singaporean bridal vendors…let’s make more Nordic ties. Actually another country that’s very interesting and exotic to work with is Norway. But HEHE my boyfriend’s Finnish so I shall promote Finland first ^^

Norway’s next, though. 🙂 And oh yes, communication is super underrated. You need to know what people know, or don’t know, and have a sense of what you know, or don’t know, know you know, or know you don’t know. 😀

"Finland should not globalise."

Commentary, Finnish Culture

Debating about “globalization” with certain Finns will always somehow lead back to the topic of “money is evil”, and that “rich Finns/ foreigners who own a lot of companies all over the world” are really greedy and suspicious.

These Finns will always argue that Finland as a country should NOT globalise, because the outer-world is evil and greedy, that foreigners always like to come in to take advantage and cannot be trusted.

Why should Finland even globalise? “We have a lot of forests, beautiful nature and we are self-sufficient. We have enough!” These wise Finns say.

So today, I’d been enlightened.

Yes! Foreigners are indeed very, very suspicious. And let me quote a Chinese fable to illuminate my point. This poem is “桃花源記” by 陶淵明, written in AD421. I’d included first the original version, then the translated version.


桃花源記

晉太元中,武陵人捕魚為業;緣溪行,忘路之遠近。忽逢桃花林,夾岸數百步,中無雜樹,芳草鮮美,落英繽紛。漁人甚異之。復前行,欲窮其林。林盡水源,便得一山。山有小口,髣髴若有光。便捨船,從口入。初極狹,纔通人。復行數十步,豁然開朗。土地平曠,屋舍儼然。有良田、美池、桑竹之屬。

阡陌交通,雞犬相聞。其中往來種作,男女衣著,悉如外人。黃髮垂髫,並怡然自樂。見漁人,乃大驚。問所從來,具答之。便要還家,設酒殺雞作食。村中聞有此人,咸來問訊。自云先世避秦時亂,率妻子邑人來此絕境,不復出焉,遂與外人間隔。問今是何世,乃不知有漢,無論魏晉。此人一一為具言所聞,皆歎惋。

餘人各復延至其家,皆出酒食。停數日,辭去。此中人語云:「不足為外人道也。」既出,得其船,便扶向路,處處誌之。及郡下,詣太守,說如此。太守即遣人隨其往,尋向所誌,遂迷,不復得路。南陽劉子驥,高尚士也。聞之,欣然規往。未果,尋病終。後遂無問津者。

 


Translation– The Peach Blossom Spring. (Source)

Towards the close of the fourth century a.d., a certain fisherman of Wu-ling, who had followed up one of the river branches without taking note whither he was going, came suddenly upon a grove of peach-trees in full bloom, extending some distance on each bank, with not a tree of any other kind in sight. The beauty of the scene and the exquisite perfume of the flowers filled the heart of the fisherman with surprise, as he proceeded onwards, anxious to reach the limit of this lovely grove.

He found that the peach trees ended where the water began, at the foot of a hill; and there he espied what seemed to be a cave with light issuing from it. So he made fast his boat, and crept in through a narrow entrance, which shortly ushered him into a new world of level country, of fine houses, of rich fields, of fine pools, and of luxuriance of mulberry and bamboo. Highways of traffic ran north and south; sounds of crowing cocks and barking dogs were heard around; the dress of the people who passed along or were at work in the fields was of a strange cut; while young and old alike appeared to be contented and happy.

One of the inhabitants, catching sight of the fisherman, was greatly astonished; but, after learning whence he came, insisted on carrying him home, and killed a chicken and placed some wine before him. Before long, all the people of the place had turned out to see the visitor, and they informed him that their ancestors had sought refuge here, with their wives and families, from the troublous times of the House of Ch‘in, adding that they had thus become finally cut off from the rest of the human race. They then enquired about the politics of the day, ignorant of the establishment of the Han dynasty, and of course of the later dynasties which had succeeded it. And when the fisherman told them the story, they grieved over the vicissitudes of human affairs.

Each in turn invited the fisherman to his home and entertained him hospitably, until at length the latter prepared to take his leave. “It will not be worth while to talk about what you have seen to the outside world,” said the people of the place to the fisherman, as he bade them farewell and returned to his boat, making mental notes of his route as he proceeded on his homeward voyage.

When he reached home, he at once went and reported what he had seen to the Governor of the district, and the Governor sent off men with him to seek, by the aid of the fisherman’s notes, to discover this unknown region. But he was never able to find it again. Subsequently, another desperate attempt was made by a famous adventurer to pierce the mystery; but he also failed, and died soon afterwards of chagrin, from which time forth no further attempts were made.


Get my point? Foreigners simply cannot be trusted, in spite of all the hospitality given by Finns.

Why did this fisherman “make mental notes of his routes” when the kind folks in the peach blossom place told him not to mention his experience to anyone in the world? More importantly, why was this fisherman “never able to find this place of peach blossoms again”?

The cold hard truth is both sides don’t trust each other. 😛 One side wants to exploit, the other side is simply suspicious. The outer world operates on lack, whereas the inhabitants of their hidden, beautiful land operate based on a mentality of abundance and trust.

So tell me again–why on Earth should Finland globalise? I think maybe Finns should listen to these really wise, enlightened Finns who argue against globalisation. Because foreigners simply cannot be trusted! They’d just come in to spoil the entire ecosystem of trust that Finland is in, with their mentality of “lack”.

Right? 

I’d leave it to you to ponder if this post is a satire. =)

The Garden of Eden: An analysis of why Singaporeans and Finns think so differently.

Commentary, Finnish Culture

Have you ever thought about why Singaporeans and Finns think so differently? I’d thought about this before, and in the end I concluded that it’s because of the differences in attitude towards nature.

So today I am going to use the Garden of Eden as an analogy to illustrate the differences in premise/ foundation of thought by Singaporeans and Finns. Some other day this week I will write about this poem 桃花源記 by Tao Yuan Ming, to give an analysis of why Finns might be in general suspicious of foreigners.

“What exactly is the garden of Eden”, you might ask. Here is a biblical description of it:

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. —Genesis 2:9

So let me ask you a simple question:

What is the function of the garden of Eden?

Did God create the garden of Eden for human beings to nurture each other, or did God create the garden of Eden for human beings to fight each other, such as life becomes the survival of the fittest?

Seriously, just take a moment to think about it. Why did God create the garden of Eden, and why did God include a stupid tree of the knowledge of good and evil there? What’s the function of the tree? Is it to celebrate the beauty of free choice and will, or is it done purposely to cause Man to sin?

Most Finns will answer that the garden of Eden is created with the intention to nurture. There is no need to worry, because you can find all you need in the garden. There is no lack of food, water and clean air. People help each other out. Singing, dancing, relaxing in the sun, watching leaves fall from trees are appreciated. Basically you do things because you feel like it.

Are you suddenly unemployed? No worries! You’d be employed soon, because the garden nurtures. You’d somehow get help from nature, or from the community. There’s no need to worry that you’d die from poverty–the state provides and nurtures.

On the contrary, most Singaporeans will answer that it doesn’t matter what the garden of Eden is created for. Just look at the garden now–what is–the modern day earth. It IS a battle of survival of the fittest, there is lack, you can’t anyhow sing in this damn garden because it doesn’t make you money. We should chop down trees to build more buildings to generate more money and profits just in case we lack in future!

The continual propagation of “Singapore only has natural resources” contributes to this “lack” mentality of self-reliance. You have to earn your own keep here. There is no such things as “unemployment benefit”–you have to work to get something. If you are poor, you seriously won’t be able to survive with a peace of mind in Singapore. A wise way to progress is to be elitist and really be very, very rich. Basically, this implies that what is more prized is when you do things even when you do not feel like it. Along the way, if you do too many things you don’t feel like doing, but society expects you to do because it is “progress”, then you will lose a sense of what you like and who you are.

The analogy of the garden of Eden explains why “progress” to Singaporeans is interpreted as “greed” to Finns. Both Finns and Singaporeans work really, really hard. But when the average Finn work hard, the motivation tends to be intrinsic. When the average Singaporean work hard, the motivation tends to be external.

It’s very simple. If you see the garden of Eden as nurturing as a typical Finn would, then a person taking more flowers for himself “just because” is interpreted as Greed. But to the average Singaporean, if I take more flowers for myself, it is because I fear that I would run out of flowers in future and die. So I have the ability to stock up, and it is therefore progress.

Why is there mistrust between Finns and Singaporeans sometimes? It’s simply because they don’t recognise this difference in the premise of thought. And as there is more and more lack in Finland, due to the shit economy, more Finns are starting to even doubt the original “nurturing” intention of the garden of Eden. Does intention even matter, or should Finns play by the games of “survival of the fittest”?

I had this professor at Aalto, and he once said that “Nobody is against the welfare state system in Finland, we just have to find a way to fund it.” I had always found the phrasing very weird, and thought it was bullshit. You see, this sounds like a typical public-relations statement to justifying elitist sentiments, and disproportionate wealth.

But after understanding the differences in premise of thought, I think there is great wisdom to what he is saying. He is probably saying, “We should always keep in mind that the garden of Eden is to nurture, even IF we are facing lack due to the current prolonged recession. We must think hard of how to get additional revenue for the country.”

The simple answer to this additional revenue is via exports market.

Why hasn’t Finns tackled the exports market much yet? The answer is because (1) Finns are in general suspicious of foreigners; (2) Finland is located at a rather isolated area in Europe.

I will write about exactly how to to tackle overseas expansion more quickly in my next post (when I have time this week), by analysing the Chinese poem 桃花源記.

P.S. If you ask a Singaporean about trees, an average Singaporean will tell you that “trees are trees”. But if you ask a Finn about trees, I think they can tell trees apart, even by names.