Their first impromptu business meeting was in a parked car in an open lot.
But the seeds of their partnership had actually started 20 years ago. Eileen Lee and Ng Ching Ching have known each other from their Sunday School days back in Seremban.
“I can’t pinpoint the time when we first met. But it was probably about 20 years ago when we met at church,” says Lee.
Hailing from different schools in Seremban, they would meet every Sunday in church. They participated in religious activities together, producing church plays, dances, and musicals as they grew older.
“Looking back, those activities were a blessing because they were good testing grounds of how our working relationship could last,” adds Ng.
Lee and Ng remember their first impressions of each other.
“I thought Eileen was a serious person but, boy, was I wrong. As I got to know her better, I realised she has a funny bone and we managed to connect on a hilarious level,” quips Ng.
Lee jokingly says, “I didn’t have any first impressions. All I remember is that she was the girl with the mushroom hair who could draw and sing very well.”
It is certainly not easy to keep a friendship going for over 20 years. Lee and Ng say their secret is seeing the absolute best in each other.
“Eileen is clever, caring and organised, but most of all, I love her sense of humour. She’s a wonderful friend who has been with me through thick and thin,” says Ng
Lee chips in, “We both click as we share the same value system. Ching’s plus points is she’s caring and helpful. I’ve always admired how artistically talented and gifted she is.
Lee used to work in digital marketing while Ng made and sold bags online.
But, there was always a desire to run their own business, and opening Maker’s Habitat, a sewing school, together, is the fulfilment of a long held dream.
Ng says the driving force behind Maker’s Habitat stems from their mutual love of sewing, and their desire to enable others to discover the wonders of the craft.
Interestingly, Maker’s Habitat started out as an inspiration from London-based lifestyle blogger and businesswoman Emily Quinton’s Instagram page.
“We were admiring Emily’s photos and posts. We commented how nice it would be to have our own sewing school, adorned with beautiful decorations and sewing utensils. That was the turning point, really,” Lee says.
Soon after that, they started acting on their wish. They found themselves viewing potential spaces. The planning of the project took just a few months. It was a whirlwind of e-mails and Line messages.
Their sewing school was launched in July 2017. The operating structure for Maker’s Habitat is straightforward; they’d both conduct the sewing workshops for adults’ and kids.
Ng designs the project patterns and teaching plans while Lee handles the operations and financial aspects.
While it may sound simple, running a business is no walk in the park. To learn about running a business, they read management books, and did some research on the Internet.”
“Being your own boss is often romanticised. We knew we had to be realistic to make it work. We had invested our own hard-earned money into it, and we had to prepare ourselves for the possibility of failing. Google helped a lot, especially in teaching us to manage finances,” Lee explains.
But if sewing had taught them anything, it was that sometimes, even when things didn’t go as planned, it did not mean all hope was gone.
“There can still be a way to work things around, a Plan B. To quote Tim Gunn, we can make it work,” adds Lee.
When asked the secret of running their business together without ruining their friendship, Ng says it boils down to separating the business side of things away from the personal.
“Every partnership needs a bit of ying and yang, so differences are okay.
“The important thing is to remain focused on the bigger picture and share the same values,” explains Ng, adding that they make it a point to catch up on movies or meals during their spare time.
“We support and make fun of each other. We also nag and cheer each other on. We have an unspoken understanding that we’ll try our best for each other, because we know the other person is trying their best too.”