Entrepreneur

A Brain Tumour Couldn’t Dim This M’sian’s Passion For Beauty & Starting Up 2 Cosmetic Brands

Kelvin Tan has had an entrepreneurial spirit within him from the start. Since he was young, he’s been interested in running his own business and saved up money to buy stationery in bulk to sell to his schoolmates.

When he was 20, he started a café with a friend in Butterworth, Penang, and eventually sold it off at a profit 6 months after beginning operations.

While he majored in IT and business, Kelvin had always been passionate in beauty, arts and music.

“I believe that one can express their individuality through colour and it can be a way to boost their confidence and their mood,” he said.

Prior to establishing Lip & Co., a cosmetics brand in 2017, he created a brand named UB Cosmetics which specifically catered to subscription boxes in Europe, UK, USA and Australia.

However, in June 2015, the same month that UB Cosmetics was introduced to the Australian market, Kelvin found out he had a brain tumour.

The Diagnosis And Operation

“Back then, I had just created UB Cosmetics and was doing it solo. At that same time my constant headaches were getting worse although the local GP just brushed them off as stress or due to overwork,” Kelvin said.

“As the pain was getting unbearable, that same day after finishing off some work, I went to the specialist to get a second opinion. I clearly remembered it was around 7PM and by the time the CT scan and MRI was performed, it was confirmed that I had a growth in my brain.”

He had no choice but to remove it, and by 9:30PM that same day, he was in the ICU and the removal operations were carried out the next morning.

“Post-surgery recovery was tough for me. I think during the 4th month, I started having speech issues and I found it difficult to verbalise my thoughts,” Kelvin said.

“I was also going through depression and PTSD right after the ordeal but I continued to soldier on. I do feel that things are no longer the same as the past with regards to speech etc. but I try to focus on the present and do my best.”

There’s No Stopping Him

After recovery, Kelvin went on to establish Lip & Co. He describes it as “where colour meets skincare” because they infuse skincare ingredients into their beauty products where possible while also keeping them strictly cruelty-free and vegetarian-friendly.

Image Credit: Lip & Co. Facebook / Kelvin Tan

The brand started off with lipsticks but now carries an entire range of products from eyebrow products to tinted moisturiser.

Kelvin chose the name Lip & Co. because of how short and easy to remember it was, and because he believes that anyone who uses makeup usually starts with lipsticks.

“Whether you use an entire range or not, it is safe to say that lipsticks can just add that vibrance to the face therefore I wanted it to represent that.”

To him, Lip & Co.’s products are more than just makeup.

“Every single collection has an altruistic representation to it. There was the Cruelty-free Kisses campaign that we collaborated with former Miss World Malaysia and SPCA Ambassador, Ms Thanuja last year to start a dialogue on cruelty against strays,” Kelvin said.

Image Credit: Kelvin Tan

“This year, we collaborated with Asia’s top female DJ, Leng Yein for our Summer Collection where the theme was about embracing individuality and authenticity as part of our ethos as being inclusive.”

“She is also an LGBT+ ally so we are really lucky that she managed to find time for us despite her work and wedding. We hope to continue to associate our brand with meaningful collaborations as we grow.”

The Journey Is Never Easy

Some of Kelvin’s friends initially advised him against venturing into cosmetics as “it’s a very saturated industry and the retail scene wasn’t that vibrant,” Kelvin told us.

“Some even asked me to wrap up my business. I do not blame them as it is indeed a valid and truthful concern.”

“Nevertheless, some of my closer friends extended support by connecting me with the right people which helped me to sustain our very new brand,” he added.

Challenges were to be expected along the way, and one of them was “trying to conceptualise creative ways to introduce the brand and our philosophy to the market.”

“As a startup that’s running organically without any form of funding, I had to ensure that we operate as lean as possible.”

Image Credit: Lip & Co. Facebook

Managing their price point was another challenge as Lip & Co. uses a GMP and ISO-certified facility in Taiwan, but Kelvin said, “I am truly fortunate to have built a very strong relationship with our manufacturers to ensure that part of the challenge is solved.”

Kelvin also noted that the current cosmetics industry in Malaysia is saturated and dominated by bigger players and that “most Malaysians in general are also more receptive to international brands and perceive that local ones are not of quality.”

However, he’s grateful to observe that that perception is gradually changing and hopes that Malaysians will continue to support Lip & Co.

“We are export-ready and our formulation adheres to both EU and US cosmetic regulations. Since we started off retailing abroad, we want to let our customers know that we are of international standard.”

Taking Steps In The Right Direction

The brand is committed to remaining strictly cruelty-free and vegetarian-friendly, and Kelvin shared that he had more in mind for the brand to become more sustainable.

“Moving forward, all of our new packaging will not have plastic shrink wrap to be as environmentally friendly as well.”

It’s a small step in the right direction, and hopefully Kelvin can look into further making the brand’s product packaging completely eco-friendly as the brand continues to grow.

With Lip & Co.’s 2nd anniversary coming up this September, Kelvin said that Lip & Co. fans can expect something from the brand soon, but he doesn’t let on any more than that.

As for future businesses, he might pursue a skincare brand and a “very interesting oral care product”, and he teases that he is also currently working on an e-commerce platform that he’s keeping secret for now.

  • You can find out more about Lip & Co. here.

Featured Image Credit: Kelvin Tan / Lip & Co. Facebook

 

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