Creative Director and Founder of S-kin Studio Jewelry
Chi Mai is a bona fide entrepreneur in every sense of the world – as her gorgeous Instagram feed will attest, her jewellery baby S-Kin Studio is evidence of hard work, dedication and style. From her early beginnings growing up in Vietnam to her time spent studying at Melbourne Uni, Chi has honed her expertise in business by listening to her father’s advice but also following her heart.
As well as possessing an enviable collection of pieces on her online store, she’s gained an incredible reputation as the go-to jeweller for sensitive skin. In this interview, Chi chats curating about her career journey, what made her pursue her own jewellery brand and loads of insider advice for any young woman wanting to follow in her footsteps.
We are so excited about bringing you this interview as Chi’s experience and advice will rally any want-to-be business owner into taking that next step and start.
Can you tell us about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I grew up in Vietnam where the culture is highly entrepreneurial. My dad has always had a very self-starter spirit and it made me realise how capable we are as people and when you put your mind to anything, you need to do it well. My career path is somewhat of a happy coincidence based on an experience with jewellery (spoiler alert, it wasn’t a great one!), but I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and I had a small business in year 12 selling studded denim and 90’s chokers which I loved. I think I was always destined to run my own business, I just got sidetracked for a few years.
That is incredible, what a story. So, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Funnily enough, I wanted to be a teacher. I really admired teachers and had some incredible educators growing up. I wanted to have the same satisfaction from my career growing up.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to a UN international school and my high school experience really shaped me into who I am today. I went to a public Vietnamese school up until year 6 and that was vastly different compared to learning in a globally connected environment in my high school days. The UN school really opened my eyes to what’s possible out there.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Absolutely! I’m competitive in nature and my high school experience helped to nurture my strengths. Funny story, I was going to do a Mathematics degree in London, then changed my mind and went for Product Design instead (still in the UK). Meeting my husband (then boyfriend) completely changed my education pathway to Commerce at Melbourne Uni. Talk about a change of direction!
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
As a UN represented school we had a lot of activities involving community engagement that was mandatory in the curriculum. Through high school, I was able to lead several volunteer experiences with charity organisations such as Habitat for Humanity which definitely enriched my learning experience. There was one work experience placement in particular where I was in charge of a microfinance start-up in the Vietnamese bamboo goods industry which involved promoting and selling fair trade Vietnamese artisan pieces – looking back it’s so similar to what I ended up studying at university.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I went to Melbourne University and majored in Management and Marketing. I initially chose Management and Accounting as I loved numbers (I was going to do a Mathematics course after all!) but Accounting wasn’t for me. I also really thrive when I’m creative, which is why I went for Marketing in the end. During university, I was part of a student-led organisation, the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative, which is where my love for Management Consulting began.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights?
Towards the end of my degree, I applied for various graduate roles in management consulting and got knocked back for every single role I applied for. I realised after multiple failures that I was striving for a job that would be stressful, require long hours, and constant travel. I took some time to reflect and spent the end of 2017 in East Gippsland, country Victoria, where my husband is originally from. While becoming immersed in nature, family, and the slow life of the country, I realised I felt incredibly happy. I decided to follow my creative roots and leave the corporate life behind. I have always loved fashion and had a small online store when I was in Vietnam.
During S-kin’s early days I worked a lot of casual jobs including waitressing at a steakhouse, where I met my first full-time employer, a really cool logistics company based in Sydney. I came on as a Marketing Coordinator and worked there for about 2 years where I learned so much about Marketing. I had some big highlights including getting over 15 awards for the company and getting to travel for work for the first time. It was such a great company environment to work in, however, as S-kin grew I had to say goodbye and went full time on my business at the start of 2020.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
To be honest, I never knew I wanted to specialise in jewellery until one day I received an anniversary gift from my husband (a necklace I asked for from a well-known jewellery brand). The necklace tarnished and gave me a rash within a week, which prompted me to find alternatives that not only could last longer but would also be safe for my sensitive skin. And that’s how S-kin began!
What is the hardest part of your current job?
I’m finding it changes as new challenges emerge. I struggle a lot with being able to ground myself and from time to time I find myself worrying about things that haven’t yet occurred. As an introvert, I also find managing people to be one of the hardest parts of my job. I love my team and don’t want to disappoint them so I’m working on being a better leader and manager.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you at S-Kin Studio?
My workday starts with a hearty breakfast and a walk around the block with my two dogs. Then I get ready for work and come to the office where I usually go through emails, catch up on customer service, and prep our orders for the day. We then work on different projects during the day. My role varies a lot; from the supply chain to merchandising new goods for the store, it all keeps me busy! I usually take my two dogs to work and it helps bring the office together and break up hectic days. I believe in meaningful, thoughtful work, and I think there is such an expectation today to ‘make it in so many areas of our lives such as work, relationships, financial growth, etc. In my opinion, it’s okay to slow down, enjoy your journey and be thoughtful in the way you spend your time. That may mean you drop the ball on some things, but that’s okay, you are allowed to ‘fail’ in the conquest of balance. It’s the journey that counts!
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
My dad 100%. I grew up having a really difficult relationship with my dad in a really strict Asian household, but as I’ve grown up I’ve really come to appreciate the choices he made for me. My dad and my upbringing really made me into who I am today, and ultimately, I’m incredibly grateful for that.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
I would say I believe in you! Find something that you truly care about and really make that your ‘why’. It’s also a lot of hard work, and oftentimes you won’t get to do the things you love, but it’s all a part of the journey. Seek to learn, persevere, and take care of yourself in the process.
List the most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: Sked Social, anything Google (Analytics, Ads, Search Console, Optimize, Calendar, Meet), Klaviyo, and Xero.
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: Oh wow! Hard question. My go-to’s right now are @heyhegia, @paola_cossentino, and @spell
- Favourite Podcast: Female Start-Up club! It’s so inspirational!
- Favourite Netflix/Stan/ Series: Money Heist for sure.
- Who is your mentor? I love following Lizzy Abegg from Spell!
- Favourite all-time book/s: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Favourite App that you use every day: Shopify!