MISS Ceci Gao, 31, used to hunt high and low for meaningful Singapore souvenirs to take home to her family in Chengdu in Sichuan province. But she found nothing, beyond gold-plated Risis orchids.
So the graphic artist produced her own two years ago. She designed a series of bone china porcelain mugs and tea sets with hand-paintings of Singapore's national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim.
She saw it as a meaningful creation, combining China's age-old porcelain art with a Singapore national symbol.
So she invested close to $50,000 of her savings, which included patent rights, and engaged a porcelain factory in Shenzhen, China, to manufacture it.
A year ago, she began marketing them as corporate gifts to companies and souvenirs to tourists. She has sold more than 1,000 pieces, priced between $58 for a mug and $680 for a nine-piece tea set.
The only daughter of former garment factory workers was trained as a tour guide in Chengdu. In 1999, she enrolled at a private language school here to learn English, and went on to study visual communications at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 2001.
Upon graduation in 2004, she set up her own design and marketing company, CC Ideer, and became one of the many Chinese immigrants-turned-entrepreneurs here. She started out designing candy wrappers for a local brand, Chinatown, and condominium brochures for Qing Jian, a developer from China.
'I decided to stay after my studies because there were more business opportunities here than back home. Getting a head start here was also fairer and easier,' she says in Mandarin.
'You may be small here but if you are good, big companies will still award you projects. This is not the case in China, where there is more competition and jobs usually go to the big boys with connections.'
In good months, she earns up to $4,500, double what she can make back home in Chengdu.
'Sometimes, I can even get design projects worth between $30,000 and $50,000 each. In Singapore, there is always business to do and money to be made as long as you are willing to work hard and be creative,' she says.
Miss Gao, who is single, rents a room in a condominium in Balestier for $1,000 a month. As soon as she can afford a down payment, she plans to buy her own apartment, 'preferably near an MRT station'.
Next in the pipeline is a patriotic mass-market fashion line, priced at $10 for a shirt or dress, which she plans to launch by the end of next year. Her design motif: Singapore's national flower, of course.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 22, 2008.