Cutting and crafting her own life path

This gutsy girl dropped out of university to sew handmade bags.

Lau Ai Xuan

Published: 28 October 2015, 12:00 AM

Grace Kwan, 22, has been exposed to handicraft since a young age. Her father is a very hands-on person, so many pieces of furniture at home came from his hands. “He tries to make anything first before he buys it,” Grace said.


Grace’s workspace – Another of her father’s creations.
Photo credit: Grace Kwan


Having inherited her father’s genes, cross stitching and folding stars were common activities when Grace was in primary school.

After her ‘O’ Levels, her aunt taught Grace some basic sewing skills and she soon made her first rubberised cotton skirt. During her break after the ‘A’ Levels, she moved on to cutting and sewing faux leather bags, which was when her one-woman online business Gsews (an abbreviation of ‘Grace sews’) began.


The first bag she made for herself.
Photo credit: Grace Kwan


Grace did well in her ‘A’ Levels and was able to choose whatever course she wanted to go to. Yet she faced a common problem among youths: she was not sure what she wanted.

After some deliberation, she embarked on becoming an architect at the National University of Singapore – something related to design, and closer to her passion of creating handicraft. She was running Gsews on Carousell at the same time, and it gradually grew as the number of orders increased.

Whenever she received orders, she got excited because “one order made [her] happy for a month”.


One of the first tote bags Grace sold on Carousell.
Photo credit: Grace Kwan


Surviving her course was already a challenge in itself, and this hobby cum business was further taking time away from her studies. When it came to a point that one had to be sacrificed, she made the unconventional decision to drop out of school to focus on Gsews full-time.

Since she was already in her third year of study, people often ask why she did not stay on till graduation.

Her response is that she realised architecture was not for her. She said: “I cannot take criticism, but in archi[tecture], you have to constantly present your work and constantly comment on your work… even if you think it’s good, people might think it’s not.”

After she dropped out of school, she had to face the same problem again – she was affected by criticism on her craft work. She said: “I was very afraid to open emails in the morning and if there’s something bad, it will affect my whole day.”


From sewing and cutting to replying emails, Grace does it all.
Photo credit: Grace Kwan


It might seem like a courageous move to quit school when paper qualifications seem like everything in Singapore, but she does not think so. Grace explains that she did not have the guts to quit school until she met her boyfriend – that was when she found a best friend.

She said: “I have many siblings, but none of them were my best friend. When you have a best friend you just keep talking.” It was talking to her boyfriend that helped her to accept other’s critique of her work.

Aside from the expectations, running a business on her own has also brought other challenges: she had to code her own website (with Google as her only mentor) and source for her own raw materials.


The prototype Grace created with her new batch of faux leather.


In overcoming all these hurdles, Grace has reached a point where she can call herself “The Happy Maker”. After all, if you are happy, then you are successful in life.

Her advice to those who are afraid to chase their dreams?

“Try to do something you like and grow from there, because your passion will give you the energy to overcome [anything]. If you don’t like what you’re doing you’ll never have the energy,” she said.

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