Meng and Ivor both knew in their first year of law school that they weren’t exactly lawyer material, but they persisted in hopes that it would be worth it.
“For me, the main reason why I started law was for money,” Meng admitted to Vulcan Post. “Which is so wrong. So, so, so wrong.”
The reality is, first-year lawyers don’t actually make that much. According to the couple, the average salary for first-years in Penang, where they were practising, was RM2,500/month.
All of their non-lawyer friends were getting higher salaries, which surprised them as they spent a lot of money in law school and their study abroad programme.
“I felt like non-Malaysians study law because they like law. They do it for passion,” Ivor said, thinking back to her study abroad experience. “But many Malaysians—or Asians—study it for the sake of the title.”
But in an unexpected turn of events, the pandemic swept the nation and the first lockdown occurred. It was a difficult change for everyone, but to Ivor, there was a silver lining. The MCO happened right as she was applying for jobs.
“I applied to more than 50 law firms,” she recalled. “I actually went to interviews but I couldn’t lie to myself and say that I liked working in law.” Ivor said the interviewers could probably sense her hesitance, so she didn’t pass most of the interviews anyway.
Instead, she turned her attention to something new alongside Meng, which was HYGR.
Their law background still came in handy
A stylised version of Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health, HYGR (pronounced hi-ger) was born in May 2020 during the first MCO. The brand focuses on natural products with eco-friendly packaging.
Putting their law know-how to good use, the couple quickly trademarked HYGR. Ivor invested RM500 into the business, while Meng put in RM1,000. Initially, they sold their products on Shopee, which was not taking any commissions from local sellers at the time.
The first product they developed was a deodorant, then later on the lip balm. “We’re using all-natural ingredients, so there’s no need to test on animals,” Ivor explained. “We test it on our own.”
In fact, they did everything on their own at first. They created the lip balms and deodorants from home until a few months ago when they started working with a manufacturer.
Their approach to marketing was simplistic in the beginning too, only putting up ads on Shopee and Facebook to promote HYGR.
The pandemic raged on though, and so their sales were not great (let’s admit it, who was really practicing self-care when stuck at home with no reason to look or smell good?). But it all changed when an impromptu TikTok video they made went viral.
The power of virality
Meng remembers the day it happened: May 20, 2021.
It was a random five-second video that Ivor recorded. It followed a trend that was popular at the time, but virality was never the intention.
Hundreds and thousands of views poured in overnight. Their phones kept ringing with each order notification. In just an hour, the three hundred products HYGR listed were sold out. They didn’t even have enough packaging material at the time.
Now, they sell 2,000 to 3,000 units of lip balms and 500 to 700 deodorants a month. The couple says they’re close to receiving six figures in monthly sales.
On the social media front, the TikTok views for HYGR average at around 5,000 per video.
“I think it’s hard to get the viral video again, because of the Tik Tok algorithm,” Ivor hypothesised. “Because they want new users to come in. They want to give new users a taste of fame.”
With that said, HYGR’s TikTok is still active today, drawing in thousands of views and a number of commenters supporting the brand and its products.
The consequences of shifting gears
While they’re doing well for themselves now, Meng and Ivor were initially afraid of wasting the money and time they put into school.
“But, on second thought, we can’t be limited by the five-year timeframe of our studies,” Meng reasoned. “The money wasted may be recovered by the business faster than working in a law firm.”
Ivor recalled her parents setting high expectations on her after witnessing her call to the bar and robing ceremony.
“Then suddenly I’m [selling] lip balms,” she laughed.
Up until recently, Ivor’s grandmother still believed she would return to law, seeing HYGR as a temporary pit stop that would fade once Ivor secured a full-time job. Meng said his parents also didn’t believe much in “passion.”
Without the support of their families, the two used what little they earned from their pupillage (final stage of training to be a barrister) to start the business.
Almost two years since HYGR’s inception, the couple shared that their family has finally come around. During Chinese New Year (CNY), Ivor was able to give out what she deems a “fat angpao” that proved her success.
“For traditional parents, you can’t convince them with words,” Meng explained. “Our actions and results convinced them.”
Meng was happy to share that his father started to discuss business plans and potential expansions with him during the CNY, showing his approval of HYGR.
Balancing multiple hustles
Despite its growing sales, HYGR is not the only thing the couple is juggling. Meng still practices law at a firm, though he only works with a handful of clients.
He used to work as a litigator but now focuses more on corporate contracts that relate to business, and believes these clients also serve as mentors in the entrepreneurial world.
At the end of the day, he plans to slowly shift until he’s fully immersed in the business side of things.
Ivor, on the other hand, prefers creating content. HYGR is actually Ivor’s side hustle, as she prioritises creating her personal content for social media (if you’re on TikTok, you’ve likely seen her face often). Her content mostly features interesting locations she visits around Malaysia. Other companies have taken notice of her as well, going so far as to sponsor her.
Beyond content creation, Ivor also has a full-time job that is flexible enough to accommodate her other passions. But working three jobs comes with its own set of issues.
“Getting enough sleep is a challenge,” she chuckled. Another challenge is keeping up with the trends, which are ever-changing on social media.
At one point, the couple started to question why they worked so hard. They even contemplated selling their shares and quitting HYGR, but never took the plunge.
Something that kept them going was the response from customers. One customer, in particular, said they were a lawyer too and were inspired by the duo’s journey. There were also notes encouraging HYGR to never give up, and that they wouldn’t know where else to get their lip balms from.
Meng and Ivor had no idea how far TikTok would propel HYGR, but they have accepted it readily. Their current goal is to release a series of natural personal care products, hoping to replace everyone’s daily routine with sustainably packaged items.
Other than new products, they’re also looking to start delivering to other countries in SEA, as well as anticipating their first pop-up booth in Kedai KL soon.
While there are many things still in the works for HYGR, one thing’s for sure—a continued future in law isn’t part of their plans.
Featured Image Credit: Meng (left) and Ivor (right), co-founders of HYGR