“Is this like Vogue’s 72 questions? I’d better get rid of this dead cactus!”
Laughter fills the small studio as Caroline, 22, welcomes me into her studio. It’s a small space – smaller than a usual single bedroom, but it is evident that she has made that place her second home.
Warm ambient lighting nestles the room, and an acoustic R&B playlist plays softly in the background. I recognise the scent in the air; it’s the same cedarwood freshener I have at home.
This is the newly opened studio of local artisan jewellery brand, 3125. I sit down with Caroline to find out more about the greater story and vision behind her brand.
It was 2014. 18-year-old Caroline was working on a school project that required her to come up with her own fashion brand and product line. Something that could be sold at an actual pop-up market. Caroline, then a final year fashion design student in LASALLE College of the Arts, was struggling with the project.
“The entire process of getting approval from my lecturers and digging for ideas was very tiresome,” she shared.
“I realised I was trying to do everything on my own and not seeking God — our actual source of creativity.”
Caroline then decided to take some time out during class and went to the library to pray. What happened next sounded incredibly unbelievable.
“God showed me these 4 digits: 3125. And no, it wasn’t for 4D! I wish,” she laughs.
She didn’t quite know yet what He meant back then at that moment. But she remembers heading to the cafe downstairs in school right after. In the washroom hung a frame with the Bible verse: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the future without fear.”
“I went back to Google where that verse came from, and spooks! It was Proverbs 31:25!”
Caroline headed back to class with this new God-given vision and pitched an entirely different proposal to her lecturers. To her shock, everything went smoothly from then on.
Looking back, she believes that God’s intent was to give her the opportunity to share His Word everytime someone asked her what 3125 meant.
It is not conventional to have someone at Caroline’s age to start a venture from ground-up.
“After I graduated, I was actually involved in quite a few freelance projects – some design projects here and there, creating a fashion line for the disabled and working at a local jewellery brand,” she tells me.
Like any other fresh graduate, the thought of looking for a “real job” also crossed her mind multiple times as well.
“I knew that I wasn’t as ready as other entrepreneurs.”
But she couldn’t ignore the question that kept tugging at her heart: If not now, then when?
She gives credit to her freelancing experience for sharpening her vision and helping her to know better what she wants to do.
“I found myself more inclined to set up my own business and work for myself. It’s not that working for others is bad or working for myself is any easier, but I just wanted to take this risk with God. If all else fails, I am not afraid because He is with me.”
I asked her if she’s ever felt lonely running the business on her own. Afterall, it’s a one-woman business and she usually spends her days alone in her studio crafting new designs and working on new orders.
“I think I struggled the most when I was transiting from student life to this. It was fun managing the business while schooling back then. But as I pursued this full-time, there were many things that I didn’t know that I had to know! Like business registration and bank accounts … Figuring out all this adulting stuff alone was really tough.”
That wasn’t all. While any friend of hers might think that she’s got it all together due to her funny and outgoing persona on social media, she reveals that she’s faced some internal battles over the years too.
“I struggled a lot with self-confidence. You can’t tell at all from the outside, but frankly a lot of times I can’t help but to compare my works with others,” she says.
“People have more following, more business going on, more mentions … But I find a lot of comfort when I am reminded that God works in His perfect timing. My ‘best’ cannot be compared with others because we all have our own battles to fight and our own race to run.”
Thankfully, Caroline’s family has been more than supportive of her venture. I have seen for myself over the years how her parents and siblings would come down and help out at 3125’s booth during the pop-up markets that she goes to twice to thrice a month.
Besides helping to tend the booth and even doing sales, her family members have contributed their own strengths to value-add to the business.
“My dad is more of the business guy. He reminds me to do my PNL (profit and loss), finances and operations. On the other hand, my mom is more of the creative person. Recently, she learnt a bit of jewellery-making just so that she can help with the production. She follows me overseas for material sourcing too.”
Besides just crafting trendy minimalist jewellery, 3125 is also committed to larger causes. Caroline shares with me that she’s been involved in projects revolving around entrepreneurship, volunteering and community work since young.
“When I decided to study fashion, I somewhat knew that I wanted to do something different in this industry. Apart from just producing beautiful jewellery, I wanted those products to actually mean something to someone.”
3125 currently gives 10% of their sales proceeds to Tamar Village, a daytime restoration centre for people affected by or involved in the sex trade. Interestingly, it wasn’t just a random choice.
“I came to know about Tamar Village through three friends who completely didn’t know one another — one of my clients Jin Yong, Amanda from SELAH and then my friend Elisa. I guess when God has reiterated something thrice, it means something right?”
Spurred on by this thought, Caroline reached out to Tamar Village in 2016 and shared with them the possibility of a partnership. Ever since then, 3125 has been giving financially to support their ministry.
In December 2017, 3 years after that school project, 3125 moved into its own brick and mortar space at Sultan Plaza. Tucked away in a corner of this deserted strata mall, Caroline got to know of the available space through a church brother who runs a tailoring business a few doors down.
It’s an unconventional location for young businesses and business-owners, she acknowledges. Human traffic is minimal and many shops have their shutters down even in the day. The washrooms in the building are dingy, and Caroline admits that she’s heard of strange rumours about the building. But the bubbly 22-year-old is undaunted.
“I think the studio and showroom is a great testimony of how a beautiful space can exist in an old and forgotten building,” she laughs, recalling the times that her family and friends have reminded her to watch out for her safety.
Caroline hopes that the doors of 3125 will see more people coming in for a different kind of retail experience. Besides being her own workspace, the studio also retails products from other local brands.
“This space is small and cosy, so that people who enter into the shop don’t feel pressurised to buy anything. I am more interested in building relationships and making meaningful conversations actually!”
She has one more dream for her studio – to hold a live worship session here one day.
She reflects on her journey for the past three years, and tells me that she has learnt many lessons big and small along the way.
“Although it can get tiring sometimes, but it taught me a lot about building your spiritual stamina. If I can invest so much time and effort into an interest of mine, how much more should I in Kingdom affairs?”
“God has really blessed me with a lot of mentors too, from fellow entrepreneurs I met through the markets to lecturers, and really supportive friends who are not just interested in the business but yourself, as a person. Sometimes you really need to hear from others and communicate with them, just to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing.”
I ask Caroline how long does she envision herself doing this. She ponders, and tells me that she’s taking things one step at a time.
“I trust that this is just one of the many things that God has given to me to steward. Should there come a time when it’s time to move on, I hope that I would gladly move on to the next season God is bringing me to.”
3125 is a local artisan jewellery brand dedicated to empowering women. 10% of their proceeds goes to Tamar Village, who supports the street women of Singapore by providing job opportunities, training and workshops to improve their livelihood. Besides crafting regular product lines, 3125 also does bespoke jewellery.
Their studio is open strictly by appointment only. To make an appointment, click here.