For UK-based fashion designer Renee Leong, giving back to society is second nature to her. The Singaporean – who juggles running her own business remotely, along with being a wife and mother – continues to find opportunities for her and her family to make a positive impact, be it within her current community in Manchester, back home in Singapore, or even elsewhere in the world.
She shares more about her recent experience of donating one of her bespoke gowns for the Viennese Red Cross’ fundraising efforts, and what motivates her to pay it forward.
Renee Leong (Photo courtesy of Renee Leong)
Hi Renée! Tell us more about yourself and what you do.
I am a US-trained fashion designer who lived in Los Angeles for over 8 years, and designed for some well-known American ready to wear brands. After returning to Singapore, I started a bridal and formal wear boutique in Orchard Road, which housed my bespoke couture gown brand, Renée L. Collections, and my wedding planning business, The Wedding Butler.
Over the 12 years of Renée L. Collections, I’ve had the privilege of dressing numerous stars, society belles and beautiful brides in Singapore and around the Asian region. Renée L. Collections had its official global launch in January 2018, and we now offer our bespoke couture gowns online, and ship them around the world.
As for The Wedding Butler, this is a wedding planning company I founded over 20 years ago, during a time it was deemed ‘taboo’ to have a complete stranger plan a couple’s big day. When I launched the concept in Singapore, I started out by planning weddings for friends, making their celebration fun and interesting, and a day to remember. I was featured in several media outlets – from print to online, television to radio – and this exposure has helped me grow my business rapidly.
I’m also a mother to two beautiful girls. For the sake of their education, and also to be closer to my parents-in-law, who are currently living in Manchester, my husband and I decided to move to Cheshire in the UK. We have been living here since Summer 2015.
Renee with her family at the Viennese Red Cross fundraising ball, December 2018
(Photo courtesy of Renee Leong)
How do you manage running businesses in Singapore while being overseas?
Technology and social media have definitely enabled me to efficiently and remotely run my businesses from the UK. WhatsApp lets me communicate with my suppliers and customers around the globe, while a lot of my online orders come from my Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as regular clients who have continued to support my work. Though time differences across countries require me to work at odd hours of the night, I am very glad to have a family that supports my passion. I also travel back and forth between Singapore and UK to plan and run my clients’ events or weddings.
How did you come to donate a dress to the Viennese Red Cross’ tombola last year? Tell us more about the experience.
I am a firm believer of giving back to society. Over the years, I have made various donations – both monetary and gowns for auction – in support of various children’s charities, such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities Singapore , Magic Bus in India and Pansophia Foundation in Indonesia. As a child survivor, the Bone Marrow Donor Programme is also a cause that is close to my heart.
Renee with the winner of her bespoke gown, donated for the tombola
(Photo courtesy of Renee Leong)
For the Viennese Red Cross, Frida Palmer, a good friend living in Vienna, Austria, had noticed how passionate I am about giving back to society. She invited me to consider being a part of their fundraising ball, and I had the privilege of being selected as the presenting designer for the night, and also donating one of my bespoke gowns (worth €10k) for their tombola (an activity where fundraising donors select donated prizes at random). It truly was a once in a lifetime career moment, for a home-grown Singapore designer to be featured in such an aristocratic event, which hosted over 2000 guests in the Vienna City Hall. It was magical and breathtaking, and I was truly proud to be a Singaporean that evening. They have since invited me back to participate in 2019’s ball, and I hope to make Singapore proud again.
What are your thoughts about doing your part for charity? Have you supported or volunteered for any other charities/initiatives aside from this?
I’ve always wanted to use my talent to change someone’s life for the better. This is the same with my family. My husband volunteers at a homeless shelter in Manchester, while my elder daughter, Calista, has spent time in care homes in the UK, to keep old folks company.
One thing that I remind my children is that life is not about being served, but to serve and give back to society. This strikes a chord in them, especially when they see poverty in the poorer areas, and when they come across those who are homeless. They are also heavily involved in giving back in their own way; for example, spending their spare time to make and items like slime and origami bookmarks for sale. With the proceeds, we’d then choose a charity – whether based in Singapore, the UK or even overseas – and buy the beneficiaries what they would need.
Renee’s younger daughter Nicolette (L), working hard to fold paper cranes for charity (R)
despite nursing a fever. (Photo courtesy of Renee Leong)
With my husband, we have also made donations to causes like Room to Read in India, where we sponsored a child’s education for a number of years, and the KKH Health Fund back home, which supports lower income families. I am honoured to have my name displayed on a donors’ plaque at the hospital – something my kids can look up to as a reminder for them to always give back.
Previously, I had also helped a Filipino family living in Singapore raise money for their young daughter, who got involved in a severe road accident. Aside from helping to raise funds for her rehabilitation and in-kind donations, I spent time with her through teaching her to communicate again, and even doing fun things like painting her nails and doing her hair, to make her feel good.
This past Christmas, I’d heard that there was a shortage of gifts for a party that was being hosted for underprivileged kids, at the Science Centre, by FF Fraternity (Singapore Lodge), which my husband is a part of. I jumped on the opportunity to make sure every child would be able to bring something home – we even had a friend dress up as Santa to give out the presents! I was very happy to be able to help raise funds for these gifts, and to be able to add more to what the group had already put together.
I challenge myself to give back more each year; so in 2019, my family and I aim to double our efforts in 2018.
Renee’s daughters Calista (fifth from left) and Nicolette (sixth from left),
together with orphans in Bali in 2017 (Photo courtesy of Renee Leong)
What advice do you have for other overseas Singaporeans wanting to make a difference in their community?
There are many Singaporeans who are already giving back, by serving in soup kitchens or donating to food banks, for example.
To my fellow Singaporeans overseas, I have this to share: we all are talented in our own ways, whether it’s cooking, baking, painting, singing, sewing or even writing – and we can use these talents to give back to society, and change someone’s life for the better. You don’t need a lot of time to do good; if you have a great voice, sing for some old folks at a care home, or just sit and hold their hands, for that moment would mean so much to them. You could even help those who are not as literate to write letters to their local council to appeal for something they need help in, or spend time at a kids’ hospital ward to sing for them or read a story. You can do so much more than you’d ever imagine.
SG Cares is a movement to support Singaporeans’ goodwill. It is about sharing inspiring stories, forging partnerships and growing opportunities for volunteerism. You may be far away from home, but Singaporeans overseas actively contribute to good causes, whether in your current community, or those back in Singapore.
Do you know an overseas Singaporean who deserves a special mention? Let us know here.