The weight-loss business is a multibillion dollar industry. Every year, women subject themselves to fad diets, funny pills, and fat-burning electric belts in pursuit of an ever-changing notion of an “ideal” body size. At the end of the week, we pray to our weighing scales, hoping for that little needle to move just a smidge lower than what it showed last week. And when it doesn’t, we slink away and gorge on ice-cream to cheer ourselves up.
“Back then, the weighing scale was my television – I was glued to it. I thought I had a good idea of what my ideal weight was supposed to be, so I often went on crash diets,” explains Sherlyn Tan, founder of Twenty3. Uncomfortable in her own skin and often picked on for her size in school, she suffered from low self-esteem, equating her weight with what she perceived as how people judged her. Although it is a common fear among women, Sherlyn went a step farther than most, resorting to just eating a single egg and a bowl of Campbell’s soup every meal, to the point of collapse – her father carried her in his arms to the nearest clinic when she fainted one day.
“That was my life for years. My weight would balloon up and crash down frequently, often with a 10kg swing each time. I thought it was normal,” says Sherlyn. That was until she was hospitalized with dengue in February 2015. Vomiting daily, her weight quickly fell away. There was also the mental burden of leaving her rapidly-growing business on its own, as well as the emotional depths when she came under attack from cyberbullies who called her a fraud and a slut, among other things. “That was absolutely the lowest point in my life, and I just wanted to end it all.”
She was discharged a week later, at her lightest weight in all her life, but a physical and emotional wreck. “I hated how weak and lowly I felt, so defenceless and allowing myself to be trampled by a mosquito and a bunch of anonymous bullies. I wanted to change all that, but didn’t know how,” says Sherlyn.
A month after, fully recovered, she tagged along to her first gym session with her boyfriend. It was an eye-opener, and while digging deeper into the world of fitness, she discovered Instagram fitness sensation, Kayla Itsines, and her world-famous Bikini Body Guide (BBG). “I’m a very structured and regimented person, so having a guide really helped me. The community aspect of it was also very encouraging, and they all shared their progress pics, which inspired me further,” she explains. “I wanted to look like those girls – fit, lean and happy.”
Sherlyn started her Instagram account, @sherlyn_fitness, to keep up with the BBG community and to keep herself on track. Her single-mindedness pushed her to keep improving each day, with the memory of her lowest point driving her on. She knew her mind would make excuses each morning, so she started sleeping in her workout clothes, sometimes even with her ponytail, so that she could jump out of bed and straight to the gym!
Her Instagram account grew quickly, attracting support from like-minded people from around the world who love to work out. “It’s a two-way thing – I share my workout routines and my clean-eating meals to help educate and advocate a healthy lifestyle, and the encouragement from my followers inspires me to go further!” she says.
Fellow Malaysian devotees of the BBG phenomenon began congregating on her Instagram. This gave her a lightbulb moment to hold the very first BBG community meet-up session in Malaysia. “I'm an ultra-introvert, and especially just recovering from the lowest point in my life, it was extremely difficult to get myself to do anything like this. However, I knew I had to overcome it just like my previous challenges – the small victories do count!”
The first BBG meetup was held in October 2015 at KLCC Park, spread out over 2 weekends to accommodate over 100 girls! Boyfriends, sisters and even mothers of the BBG girls were present too to show their support.
She has organized BBG meetups each month when able, paying from her own pocket to rent gyms and once, even to host a clean eating meetup and discussion. The response has been overwhelming from women all over Malaysia, and once, even a Singaporean virtually took part in the workout!
OUR FIRST EVER MALAYSIA PINK @kayla_itsines BBG MEET UP VIDEO TEASER! I can't wait for this Saturday part 2 meet up and combine both group photos & videos already! Im so happy seeing these video! I'll be posting this video on our FACEBOOK PAGE : BBGMY so you may grab it from there! Special thanks to @titus_tjt for helping us with this! ??????#bbggirls #bbgmy #bbgmalaysia #bbgmeetup #bbg #fitness #healthy @kayla_itsines @bbg_my @bbgmeetup #bbgvideochallenge #sweatwithkayla
Within these few months of healthy living, Sherlyn realized the importance of the adage, ‘mind over matter.’ “It's our mind that limits us. My advice to those looking to start fitness is the same as what I tell every budding entrepreneur – don’t overthink it. You don’t have to be great to start, you just have to start to be great. Go ahead and test your limits, then break them.”
Inspired by her own fitness journey, she created a new sportswear line called MOVE by Twenty3. “New, cute workout outfits – especially sports bras – always pump me up! I wanted to create a line that was equal parts functional and fashionable. Most big sportswear companies neglect the latter,” she explains.
"As for the name MOVE, I hope more people realize that fitness isn’t a destination. It’s not a bikini body, it’s not a flat tummy, it’s not a number on your weighing scale – once you’ve achieved those goals, it becomes easy to lose the initial motivation. Fitness is about motion, the movement, and the journey. I started my journey because I wanted to be as slim as what society demanded, but now I just want to be better and stronger than I was yesterday. The last time I stepped on my weighing scale, I was 5 kgs heavier than before I fell sick due to my growing muscles. But when I look in the mirror and at the things I am able to do with my body now, I realize that I really don’t care about my weight anymore. I just want to keep moving and breaking my limits!”
Note: MOVE by Twenty3 is launching in Atria Shopping Gallery on the 19th of March 2016!
The next BBG meetup is happening on April 2, 2016 at Bangkung Park, Bangsar. If you’d like to be a part of a warm, friendly, and supportive community of MOVERS, drop Sherlyn a DM @sherlyn_fitness. Beginners are absolutely welcome!
We won the Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin Entrepreneurship Award at the Alliance Bank BizSmart SME Innovation Challenge 2015! It is the most prestigious entrepreneurship award for SMEs in Malaysia, and we are absolutely honored to have won it from an exceptional field of SMEs this year. And with 30% of the final score based on public voting, we could not have done it without YOUR support and YOUR votes!
After months of training on leadership and all aspects of running an SME, and after three pitches to a panel of judges of senior business leaders including Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin of EcoWorld and Malek Ali of BFM, we were humbled when Tan Sri Liew announced our name on stage, and said, “This year’s winner showed the most passion and took the biggest risks, without fear – that’s what defines an entrepreneur.”
To be honest, we were wary of joining the competition. Just a week before we were invited to participate, another organization had approached us to take part in their own SME awards – only we were required to fork out over RM15,000! So I think we can be pardoned for feeling sceptical when we received the call.
In the end, I’m glad that we took part. Though the cash prize would go a long way to raising Twenty3 to the next level, it’s the training and the people we’ve met that have made this experience absolutely invaluable. Entrepreneurship is a long, lonely journey – having worked almost solo for 2 years and singlehandedly elevating Twenty3 to the size it is today, it’s been hard to keep friends. I never had the time for anything other than my business, and my friends could never understand the struggles I went through.
That’s why it’s so great to meet other likeminded peers in the Bizsmart Academy! For the first time, I finally had a group who were going through the same challenges, and who could speak the same language as me. Meeting Tan Sri Liew was an eye-opener, as well: I recognized the same fiery drive and determination in him that I possessed, and to hear his story of success and rebuilding, and to still see that passion after so many years, continues to push me to realize my own dreams.
A year ago, I was interviewed on BFM about my then-budding business, where I expressed my desire to grow Twenty3 from an online store to a proper brand, to debut at KL Fashion Week, and to be the next Jimmy Choo. I was mocked online for my pipe dreams, but this year, we have already achieved two of those goals!
This train doesn’t stop at winning this award; we’re going to grow Twenty3 further, to continue to break our limits, and to share our vision with the world: The Beauty in Perseverance.
Three years ago, I started Twenty3 as an avenue to pursue my dreams of being a singer and a dancer. With only RM5000, I bootstrapped all the way to turn Twenty3 into the largest single-brand, non-Muslimah online fashion store in Malaysia. And it’s all been made possible by the support of every single one of you beautiful ladies who believe in the brand!The first version of Twenty3 (2013)
I’m proud of the relationship we have with all of you. We try to keep open all lines of communication with you, in order to better understand you, and to deliver exactly what you expect and deserve. In fact, every single step of the journey to where we are today came from conversations with YOU.
Without you, we would not be where we are today.
In return for your support, we’ve tried to give back to you in our own little ways.
We cast you in our first fashion show at Publika two years ago instead of runway models, to help you achieve your modelling dreams. Some of you still continue to model for our bridesmaids shoots – you would have grown up with us!
We invited you to attend our show at KL Fashion Week instead of the usual celebrities, and pushed you to break out of your comfort zone to turn up in a strong look that most of you were uncomfortable with – in the end, we all had a blast together.
We continue to write your stories in The Sparrow, stories of hope, strength, and perseverance that most would never get to hear.
We send you surprise gifts, sometimes for your birthday, sometimes to cheer you up, sometimes for fun, but always to thank you for being awesome.
My old dreams of being a singer and dancer continue to be just dreams, but I want Twenty3 to be a platform to push people to chase their own dreams. From raising young, talented designers who would normally never be given a chance, to pushing our talented Art Director to pursue her singing ambition, to empowering our wonderful customers with the strength and ambition to break their own limits – that’s what “Beauty In Perseverance” means to us.
So thank you for being part of this wonderful journey. If you’ve had a great experience with us and would like to help us grow even further, please vote for us in the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge. With your help, we’ll continue to break limits and make you proud.
I often receive requests from student groups and universities inviting me to share my experience in starting up Twenty3, but with the breakneck speed at which we’re growing, it’s been hard to find time to fit in all these invitations. Entrepreneurship is basically constant firefighting, so I feel really sorry about this!
However, with KL Fashion Week ticking ever closer, I’m reminded of what it took to get us to this point – determination and humility. It’s always been my passion to help the next generation of entrepreneurs, and to encourage them to live in the present, follow their hearts, and to chase their dreams.
I was the stereotypical good girl in school. When I was in university, I never dared to do the things that I loved. I wanted to please everyone but myself; it was just the way I was brought up. I did everything that my parents thought was best for me, just so others would think that I was a good student, and they were therefore good parents. In that regard, I succeeded – I obtained a first class honours.
But at what cost? I was a good student, but I learned nothing. I gave up my passions, all for good grades. It’s a common problem in Asian societies.
If I could do it all over again, I would have done it differently. I would have started my entrepreneurial journey earlier in my uni years, and if you’re a student thinking about chasing your dreams, that’s the advice I would give you too.
- There’s nothing like the unbound optimism of youth with nothing to lose. No responsibilities to tie you down and kill your dreams. With nothing, you dare to dream.
- When you start a business, you’ll discover that the most previous resource is time. When you’re young, you have time to fail, time to pick yourself up, and time to grow. You’ll find you have time to experience both failure and success, and you will learn a thing or two about yourself and the career you’ve chosen.
- Youths have more energy and drive! (I sound like an auntie)
On Wednesday, August 16, we’ll kick off the first leg of the Twenty3 Campus Tour at UTAR Sungai Long. I’ll be there from 10am to 12pm, and I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have about starting a business. There will also be a pop-up store, so if you’re on campus, we’d love to meet you!
If I could inspire just one of you to chase your dreams, it will be completely worth it :)
PS. If you’d like us to visit your school, please feel free to leave a comment below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s often bitter and ashy, sometimes sharp and acidic, or mild and velvety. The depth of its complexity mirrors life’s challenges, its flavour profile every bit as nuanced as the human psyche.
Take away the cream and sugar, and you are left with a zero-calorie cup of black. There is a darkness to it that some shy away from, just as we instinctively run away from our problems, but persevere and the acquired taste turns into an appreciation. The bitterness mellows to a delicate earthiness. You realize that the murkiness is not to be feared, for it is in the dark that light shines its brightest.
You embrace it and let it propel you. As you do, you unveil the strength within yourself, your innate beauty blossoms. You find the Sher in you.