When Shermain Wong turned 25, she had a career as a jet setter in the media. Nearly two years of experience in public relations (PR) landed her the dream job that nearly every Malaysian who was creative just a decade ago coveted – she was assistant sales manager at Harper’s Bazaar.
As her heart took her to the fashion magazine, her body let her down. She was burned. “During my time, you don’t really talk about burnout much. You are just persevering. It’s super toxic,” she tells Study International. “I had eczema on my hands. Career was #1 for me and it wasn’t healthy. I was even diagnosed with alopecia.
The Malaysian loved her job but something had to change. Although she loved working with luxury brands like Rolex and Cartier, and exploring her natural affinity for sales, none of the deals she did were hers – it was all for the organization she was tied to. “I remember wanting to create something that belonged to me and to be proud of my work,” she says.
leave it all behind
After three successful years, Wong left. It was hard. She would leave behind great mentors.
Like the rest of the world, however, Malaysian media was at a crossroads: shifting to digital content. Wong sensed an opportunity and reconnected with a best friend who was starting his own PR business. It was at Mad Hat Asia that the entrepreneur found his vocation.
For 11 months, Wong learned everything she needed to know to embark on his own journey, “I learned how to go to the LHDN (Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia) to get documents for the company, how to set up Wi-Fi in the office, basic stuff like that”, she explains.
Armed with contacts, skills and knowledge and, most importantly, the support of those close to her, Wong launched Tish Events in 2016. Things were humble at first, with Wong selling soap. The company’s humble beginnings in selling soap evolved into experiences selling to brands like Hugo Boss, Longchamp, Adidas and Walt Disney Studios. “It was a hit because we were so picky about everything,” the self-proclaimed “Type A” personality shares.
From the events industry to helping others land jobs
Things were going well – for a while. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Most industries suffered, but the events sector was crushed.
Wong tried to save the company but knew the lockdowns were throwing creatives like her into endless uncertainty. “I looked around and realized a lot of talented people were losing their jobs. A lot of young graduates couldn’t find work and there was this message being sent that creatives weren’t essential. This is what prompted me to give birth to my fourth baby, cult creative“says the mother of three children.
Along with two other media veterans, Manisha Jagan and Lina Esa, Wong led a new networking app made by creatives for creatives. Here, anyone with creative services to offer can connect with employers, find opportunities, and become part of a growing ASEAN creative community.
How studying in Australia pushed her in the right direction
In a world that works against creative professionals, Wong had always, albeit unconsciously, made it his mission to change that perspective. Growing up in a home where a carefree father told him to follow his dreams, but do it to the best of his ability by an “Asian tiger mom,” Wong wanted to discover himself before he started working. In his mind, the best way to do that was to leave the country.
She packed her bags and took the first flight to Australia. AAt RMIT University, Wong first majored in communication and psychology and dropped out of the latter. “I was partying a little too much and I realized that the psychology was quite difficult,” she recalls with a laugh.
It ended up being the best decision she ever made: “I always knew I was passionate about communication. I love connecting with people. I like to collaborate. So communication seemed like the easiest way to do it.
The hardest thing? Solve every problem by yourself 4,000 kilometers away from home. Homesickness and emotional turbulence taught Wong to be independent. She grew exponentially, which she is grateful for today. “I think the one thing I wish I had done differently was to learn to be okay with myself,” she says. | I feel like I never really learned how to do that back then.
“You can make money with your passion”
Now, the Cult Creative co-founder has taken on a new challenge: democratizing access to opportunities for creatives. Without any knowledge of coding and design, Cult Creative was founded and garnered 23,000 subscribers at the height of the pandemic.
The app’s efforts to disrupt the way creatives find work are being noticed. In 2021, Cult Creative won several awards such as the Alpha Startups Digital Accelerator by 1337 Ventures. He was the first runner-up in the MDEC Draper Startup House Pitch Competition.
For Wong, his work has only just begun. In October, Cult Creative is set to bring back Malaysia’s first Creative Careers Summit, Future List 2022. At the one-day affair, graduates and active job seekers will become part of the creative scene’s discourse, learn directly from industry leaders, and gain exposure to jobs in the arts, design, digital and media.
When asked why she was determined to help creatives find work, Wong said, “I really want future creatives to know that what people say is not at all true. money with your passion, you just have to give it your all.That’s the essence of everything I do with Cult Creative.