[EXCLUSIVE] Up Close With Cynthia Chua, Founder of STRIP and Two Lips

A true pioneer knows what to do and how to do it. We get to know Cynthia Chua, the woman behind brands such as STRIP and Two Lips to give us more insight into how she saw beyond what the market offered, how she failed and learn, and what it takes to fill the gaps in between. 

If you told us to do a Brazilian Wax here in Malaysia even 15 years ago, we would have done so with much trepidation. If you cast your mind back, there was no expertise in our country, and neither was it a common treatment that people actually knew about. Plus, it was such a private matter that it was usually consigned to our own bathrooms, a hopeful wish and a shaky hand holding a razor.

This is because when you think about anything to do with your nether regions there are so many questions that fill your head. “Oh my, the person will see my… Everything?!” “How clean are the equipment they use??” “Will they judge me?” “Will I judge them!?”

Luckily there was a newcomer (at the time) that knew exactly what was required and could answer all these questions. STRIP: Ministry of Waxing was the main contender in defuzzing women and men, removing hair, grooming and getting us in tip top shape no matter where the hair grew.

And they did this so very cleverly — by maintaining high levels of professionalism, getting their trained fully and properly trained, branding STRIP very cleverly, and responding to trends by upgrading and upskilling to keep up with the hair removal business.

So, we spoke to Cynthia to know more about this entrepreneur’s mindset when she started her businesses, what sustains it and how to see the lightbulb moments and make a living out of it.

A visionary in her field, Cynthia Chua was able to fulfil a need for all women (and some men!) Image credit: Cynthia Chua

She took her experience and realised that it wasn’t what she wanted to do. After a 9 to 5 corporate job she wanted to see what else life had to offer. “I’m someone with a child-like spirit that is full of curiosity. And because of my natural curiosity, I am always in search of new and exciting experiences,” she said. That is how I started Spa Esprit back in 1996, it was the very first day spa in Singapore. I combined my love for modern and vintage fashion, my aromatherapy training in Beaumont college in the UK and hot stone massage training in Brooklyn to create the spa menu.”

Your idea is almost always there in front of you, but you need to act upon it. Cynthia explained, “During my past travels, I would often hear foreigners joke about how poorly groomed Asian women were, and I wanted to change that. Back then, Brazilian wax was mostly a western concept and almost unheard of in Singapore. It didn’t help the perception of Brazilian waxing in the local scene, was commonly associated with dodgy studios that dished out unhygienic and painful waxes. So with STRIP, I wanted to give women options for safe and hygienic hair removal and to do it for themselves because I personally enjoy how smooth and clean my skin feels after a wax.”

“When I saw guys lining outside STRIP’s waiting area, waiting for their girlfriends to get their Brazilian waxing done, I knew my career had hit a turn,” Cynthia said.

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To sustain it, you have to make sure your branding is on point.As pioneers of the industry, we have always viewed hair removal differently from our competitors. Rather than simply coming in for hair removal, STRIP is about creating experiences; it’s a lifestyle. We created fun, tongue-in-cheek campaigns to talk about a then taboo subject, pique people’s interest, made it non-intimidating to get people willing to try,” said Cynthia.

And to make sure people’s comfort comes first, they made sure that their standards were set high. “We are dedicated to perfecting the Brazilian wax and have since introduced our “No double dipping” hygiene kit, and created our very own Brazilian waxing techniques, concocted our own wax formulas – all in a bid to make your Brazilian wax the most comfortable experience possible,” she said.

Every STRIP outlet is unique and specially-designed according to themes to make you keep wanting to come back.

After establishing STRIP, Cynthia then went to fill another gap in the market: Skincare for your vulva. Why? “I have always been big on creating solutions to fill the gaps in the market and most of it all, every product or service created must be something that I personally enjoy and want to share with others,” she explained. “While women have no qualms about discussing the state of their skin on their faces, everything down under and vulva related is still considered a taboo and shrouded in secrecy.  So I decided to make vulva conversations fun and accessible yet factual, and created TWO L(I)PS products with our most precious part, the vulva, in mind,” she told us. 

As the expert, it was only natural that she would pioneer this next vision. Having been in the hair removal and vulva care business in the last 20 years, I’ve had many conversations with our Strip customers, therapists and friends. And through these conversations, I was inspired to create TWO L(I)PS, the world’s first luxury intimate care range,” she said.

“It’s about focusing on caring and re-balancing the skin, which so happens to be situated below, and helping women get in touch with their inner selves by loving their vulva more.”

But the message is still about self-love and freedom of choice. You don’t have to have your intimate area to look a certain way, but it’s how you care for it that empowers you. “I see this in the same vein as other beauty brands who are selling products for your face yet the messaging isn’t focused on saying that your face is only acceptable when it is youthful and plump. Similarly, TWO L(I)PS is not about fixing things downtown, nor are we trying to tell you that there’s something wrong. Our campaigns were created with every woman in mind and that every vulva is unique,” she said. 

“To me, TWO L(I)PS is about the freedom to choose how you want to care for your body holistically. It’s about focusing on caring and re-balancing the skin, which so happens to be situated below, and helping women get in touch with their inner selves by loving their vulva more,” said Cynthia. 

What’s Cynthia’s favourite? She can’t choose! “But one of my personal favourite is Diamond as I’ve naturally very sensitive skin and am unable to use most vitamin C products without getting a reaction. So I was extremely pleased when we created Diamond cos I finally found a Vitamin C product that is effective yet gentle enough for me,” she said. Image Credit: Two Lips

But shouldn’t you leave your V alone? There’s an important distinction about anatomy and our biology and what’s happening down there. “Through this journey so far, I’ve come to realise that many women are not aware of the difference between the vulva and vagina which can lead to wrong choice or wrong use of intimate care products,” Cynthia began. “The vagina is the internal muscular canal of the female sexual anatomy, while the vulva is the external part of the female sexual anatomy which includes the skin of the pubic area. The vagina is designed to be self-cleaning, has the ability to regulate its own pH and therefore douching is really not recommended as it disturbs the natural microbiome balance,” she said, about the difference between our vagina and vulva.

Unlike the vagina, the vulva is not self-cleaning and just like the skin of the rest of our body, the skin around our vulva is subjected to daily dirt, sebum and sweat trapped in the hair follicles and on the skin. So this is where skincare comes in. “Skin on the vulva can also be complicated with common skin conditions such as dryness, eczema and becomes thinner and loses its elasticity as we age. Therefore, it is really important to use products that provide targeted solutions such as cleanse, soothe and hydration. But keep in mind that vulva care products should only be applied on the skin area avoiding the vaginal opening,” said Cynthia.

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Why choose Two Lips then?I believe that the vulva is the most often neglected part of our body, as the saying goes “out of sight, out of mind.” Most people are not even comfortable talking about it, much less care for it,” Cynthia said. So when you need to care for it, look to the experts. “Ensure that it has been dermatologically and gynaecologically tested, does not contain nasties such as parabens, sulphates, petrochemicals and artificial fragrances. Lastly, the product needs to be gentle and pH balanced,” she explained. 

A good first place to start is the Blackout Mask which is only filled with natural ingredients. “Blackout is filled with organic plant extracts and made without parabens, sulphates and petrochemicals, and it is both dermatologist and gynaecologist-tested. We invested a lot in running tests to make sure that the mask is suitable for the sensitive area, and that is why only premium ingredients are used. It contains a rich cocktail of organic botanical ingredients — White Liquorice, Cornflower, Elderberry, Chamomile, Ylang-Ylang and Aloe Vera which helps to detox, soothe, brighten and hydrate. It also boosts lymphatic drainage and freshens the area, leaving the delicate lady bits clean and refreshed,” said Cynthia.