Socialite Kim Lim finds her way in the pandemic

Kim Lim understands that her decisions impact her staff of more than 20 people and their families.
Kim Lim understands that her decisions impact her staff of more than 20 people and their families.PHOTO: MARK LAW

SINGAPORE - Socialite and entrepreneur Kim Lim is a woman who loves a good party.

Four years ago, for the 99th-day celebration of her baby son Kyden, she threw a big bash at luxury hotel The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, which became the talk of the town.

She turned the banquet hall into a carnival - complete with a carousel, cartoon sculptures, thousands of balloons, a ball pit, a trampoline, an Instagram spot and a catered dessert cart corner with more than 10 cakes.

Later, she celebrated the occasion again at rooftop establishment Lantern at The Fullerton Bay Hotel. Those who attended the private party included local actresses Rebecca Lim and Felicia Chin, and even former K-pop star and Girls' Generation member Jessica Jung.

Lim says with a laugh: "I'm just like that. If I'm going to throw a party, then better make it a good one or else don't throw one at all."

But Lim, who turned 30 last month, decided to celebrate her big birthday in a different way this year, and not just because Covid-19 pandemic restrictions bar large gatherings.

She wanted to make her birthday a more meaningful one.

She laid out a series of plans early last month, including sending meals to front-line healthcare workers, providing no-kill shelter Animal Lovers League with food and donating yurts to impoverished Mongolians in preparation for a harsh winter.

She hopes these small gestures will give some warmth to the people and animals around her amid the challenges of the coronavirus.

She says: "In this period, everyone's facing different challenges. Some people have lost their jobs, some are struggling to earn a livelihood. Healthcare workers have been on the front line this entire time. I hope that these small actions can give them some cheer."

She has been sending snacks such as bubble tea, doughnuts and bao to different hospitals and Covid-19 screening centres weekly since last year.

When she began running her own business, she came to an agreement with her business partner that part of the company's profits will go to charity.


Kim Lim has been sending snacks such as bubble tea, doughnuts and bao to different hospitals. PHOTO: MARK LAW

She founded her own scalp-care centre Papilla Haircare at Ngee Ann City in 2019 and opened her aesthetics clinic Illumia Therapeutics in Wheelock Place at the beginning of last year.

When people found out about her ventures, naysayers piped up that being the daughter of billionaire investor Peter Lim had given her an unfair head start in life.

Others speculated that her business was purely for fun, since any losses would surely be covered by her father.

All this talk made her vow to turn in good results to prove otherwise to herself, as well as others, she says.

But starting an aesthetics clinic in the lead-up to the circuit breaker period last year, then having to cease operations and deal with regulatory changes, has been challenging.

Kim Lim understands that her decisions impact her staff of more than 20 people and their families. She promised not to enforce a pay cut, despite not being able to operate.

To tide the clinic through tough times, Lim and her business partner both halved their own salaries and spent the time to train their staff in customer service.

When she realised online shopping had became the lifeblood of the pandemic economy, she sped up her plan for selling her own brand of hair and skincare products online.

She used social media liberally and asked her famous friends to help promote her products.

The results were better than expected, she says, without revealing figures.

Finding an opportunity amid the crisis gave her a boost of confidence, she adds.


To tide the clinic through tough times, Kim Lim and her business partner both halved their own salaries. PHOTO: MARK LAW

She went to Bangkok in April to do market research.

Upon her return, she began rethinking her business strategy and stocking her products in suburban malls, as she notes that more consumers are opting to shop near where they live, instead of venturing into the city centre.

The first exclusive store selling her products will open soon at Nex mall in Serangoon.

Throughout the interview, Lim's eyes shine brightly whenever she talks about her business and she is eager to share more.

But when asked about her state of mind, the light in her eyes dims and tears well up.

She confides that she has suffered significant mental stress over the past year, as well as bouts of depression and anxiety, during which she would cry over the most trivial things.

Her sense of self-worth and confidence has taken a hit. At times, she has found it difficult to smile or be happy.

There is the long shadow of her parents' divorce - her father's split from his ex-wife Venus Teo was a messy, high-profile divorce that dragged out from 1995 to 1999 - which made for a stressful childhood and adolescence.

Last year, Lim revealed that she had divorced her former husband, Mr Kho Bin Kai, after more than three years of marriage.

"Rather than trying to survive in an unhappy marriage, it is better to give each other the freedom we yearn for," she had said then.

Lim reveals that she is sometimes paranoid or loses her temper. Knowing that this is an unhealthy influence on her son, now four, she sought professional help.

She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder - a type of mental health disorder characterised by unstable emotions caused by childhood adversity - at the beginning of this year.

She says: "When it's bad, I won't want to see anyone for days and I'll hide alone at home. After undergoing treatment, I've learnt to live in the present and put my mind to my work.

"I'm an impatient person who always wants to carry out the idea I have at the moment. But now I'm learning to slow down and give my emotions time to settle."


She used social media liberally and asked her famous friends to help promote her products. PHOTO: MARK LAW

Initially afraid that her diagnosis would attract yet more unkind labels, she opened up only to a few close friends. But she says she is beginning to understand the importance of confronting mental health issues openly, especially during the pandemic when many people are facing their own challenges and stresses.

She hopes that by sharing her own experience, people will be more honest about their mental health needs and seek help when necessary. She adds that her own condition has gradually improved since she sought treatment.

When asked about her 30th birthday wish, she says with a smile: "I hope the pandemic ends soon and I hope my grandmother will stay healthy."

She says her wish was not for herself because she now understands that caring about the happiness of others is the way to achieve her own joy.

• Translated by Jan Lee

• This article first appeared in Icon Singapore magazine. Go to www.iconsingapore.com and follow @IconSingapore on Instagram and Icon Magazine Singapore on Facebook. The August issue is out in selected bookshops. The digital edition is available on subscribe.sphmagazines.