I Am: A Portrait Series - Sarah Tang & Alison Schooling
"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style."
Authenticity and Compassion
Meet Sarah Tang and Alison Schooling, co-founders of the two-woman graphic design studio, Sarah and Schooling. As ardent supporters of Singapore’s literary scene, they find meaning in designing books and other printed matter across various genres. On top of that, they run a workshop arm called Itchy Fingers that supports a collective of local based independent artisans in keeping the spirit of craftsmanship alive. Here, this dynamic duo shares with us the pride and joy in what they do, as well as how their deep-seated friendship sees them through the ebb and flow of their business journey together.
What does Authenticity mean to you?
S: One of the reasons why we named our company Sarah and Schooling was because we wanted our clients to know that we are the firm, and they are working directly with us. That is also one of the reasons why our clients like working with us as we are real and authentic. We do not hide behind a team of people.
What does Compassion mean to you?
A: It’s about practicing empathy. I feel that having compassion in the things that you do, really helps relationships. It’s important to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, because sometimes we don’t know the things that they are going through. Having a little bit of empathy and sensitivity in the way we speak and how we react can improve interactions with one another.
What does women’s empowerment mean to you?
S: I view women’s empowerment as simply equality. I think it’s sad that in this day and age there are still women who face a very specific set of problems in society.
A: Being able to inspire younger generations - I think we do that through our teachings so hopefully they will not be afraid to take on challenges that come their way and start their own thing.
What keeps you motivated and driven?
S: It sounds cheesy but the truth is we keep each other motivated and driven! Occasionally, we have dinner together to pause and reflect on our progress, and we fall into a self deprecating tone, lamenting that we haven’t done enough for the firm and we’ve let the other party down. And it always ends up with us pointing out all the work the other party has been contributing. I suppose it helps that we are very encouraging and appreciative of each other – we are very thankful to be doing this as a team.
A: Apart from keeping each other motivated everyday, I find that we are also very much driven by people who do not believe that we can run a business only doing print, in this highly digital world. And it is not at all to say that we don’t see the goodness in doing things digitally because that is how we produce our work in the first place, ironically – but we do believe that it is important to never lose the feeling of having a book to hold and treasure.
Who has been the biggest influence to you?
S: I am influenced by many different people in my life – I wouldn’t say that I have one particular person I look up to. I think people have different set of strengths, and there’s always something to learn from each person. I am a big fan of Sylvia Plath though. I feel a lot of the pains of existentialism and self-fulfillment that she shares in her novel ‘The Bell Jar’, and I admire her courage in facing her fears through her ability to articulate them while she processes these feelings.
A: As a whole, there have been many people whom I have learnt from along the way, being family, friends or those you meet in the industry or strangers during travels – these people have influenced me in many little ways, leading to something bigger that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. I don’t think there can be one person who does that for me. But I do have this interest toward Frida Kahlo who created her work based on her experiences. People have tried to label her a surrealist but she does not know or consider her work to be a certain style. She believes that her paintings are only the frankest expression of her sensations. Frequently objectifying herself in her paintings was the most sincere expression that she could relate to and there is something very real in doing that.
What are some values you live by?
S: I live by the quote ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.’
A: Maya Angelou once said, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style”. This is such a simple reminder.
Why did you start this business?
S: We are both avid readers – reading opens your mind to new concepts, emotions, world views. We’re also big fans of the tangible effects of print media. It seemed very natural to start designing books, even though we are trained in all aspects of graphic design. Eventually, it started to feel like a responsibility on our part to raise the standards of design for the local literary sector and we do hope that we have been living up to this responsibility for the last 6 years.
A: Our business started from the love of reading. Keeping in mind that not only do we design books, but we are always unknowingly creating meaningful connections in the process – getting to know more about the writers we work with, listening to their stories and experiences both in and out of the work that we do for them.
What do you hope to achieve with your business?
S & A: Our primary goal is to help, in the small way that we can, to grow our literary industry. Our authors produce great work and they deserve covers that compliment that. We want our work to be meaningful, and to help a community with the work that we do. This was the same reason why we started our Itchy Fingers collective, to assist a community of crafters. We like print and craft, so we guess we like to kick it old school!
What is your idea of success?
S: I don't think of success as an ultimate end goal. Each time we complete a project, and we meet the requirements for that project – successfully visualising a fellow creative’s written work, working within a client’s budget, encapturing the reader’s attention through cover and layout – these to me are mini successes we should celebrate as we go along our way. We learn new things through each project, and we have a lot more to learn, so I suppose I could say that my idea of success is challenges in creativity, so there is constant growth.
A: My idea of success is not very large. But it is something that we only realise after doing the business for these 6 years. Sarah and I will sometimes joke about how far we have come – from deciding whether to top up our EZ-link or buy lunch, to being able to hire staff who helped us grow and trusted us even though we were a small studio. Success is still keeping them as good friends. We always look back on what we have achieved so far that may not be much, but it is still progress and we stay grateful for these experiences that we wouldn’t have had if we didn’t give ourselves the chance.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
S: I think running a company requires many different facets, and it’s difficult narrow it down to just one. Alison and I have faced many tough roads together and there are days I do think that it has helped that we are women. Some people have asked if it has been difficult for us to work together when we are best friends. The truth is, it is precisely because we have completely open communication with each other that most women share with their best friends and that has been brought into communication for work too. Even as we try to navigate a new stage in our life now as women in our 30s – scrambling to build a personal life as well as a professional one, we naturally understand each other’s struggles and we build patience, grit and improvise as we go along. I suppose what I am saying is that women have to embrace the uniqueness that makes us women, because that is not our weakness, but our strength.
A: As women entrepreneurs, we always feel like we need to work harder when it comes to grabbing opportunities that don’t always fall into our lap naturally. There are also many more things to consider when a woman starts her own company. But I think that the key to all of this is to trust that things will shift for you along the way. Not because of chance but because you are working in your power to make things happen.
Sarah wears our Two Tone Brown Contrasting Tank Top in Black, and Wide Legged Pants Trousers with Foldlines in Black.
Alison wears our Checkered Crop Top in White, and our Classic High Waisted Culottes with Hem Detailing in Camel.
Photography: Rachel Loh from Bare Creatives
Hair and Make-up: Meredith Koh