21 local trailblazing women and the inspiring stories they’ve shared with us

Time Out Singapore Editors, Time Out Singapore, March 8, 2021

This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the women who are putting Singapore on the world map with literature, art, theatre, music, film and more


Here at Time Out Singapore, we love to tell you about the strong women and girl bosses who inspire us. Sometimes, we take a step further and ask them about the people who inspire them. 


This International Women’s Day, we celebrate sisterhood, champion womanhood and challenge gender bias by spotlighting the women who are pushing boundaries with their various art forms, from artwork to music to literature and food. We’ve even had the joy of interviewing them – and asking them about their biggest inspirations.


The list doesn’t even end here – we’ll be rolling out more interviews with more woman trailblazers in the week of March 8. Watch this space.


Galeri Tokokita
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Oniatta Effendi, Founder of batik label Baju by Oniatta

Batik is an ancient – and highly developed – art form where dye-resistant wax is used to create delicate patterns and designs on a piece of fabric. It requires a high level of technique, skill and also artistry which often goes unappreciated. Founder of local batik label Baju by Oniatta and store owner Oniatta Effendi is changing that narrative with her boutique Galeri Tokokita at Kampong Gelam where batik trading first started in Singapore.


How did your passion for batik start?

 “I have always been wearing it and I'm drawn to batik – until it became quite an obsession. My love for batik grew deeper as I travelled more to Indonesia and got to know about the art and the makers. There was a sense of intrigue that got me talking to the makers for hours and listening to their stories, sometimes while they were working. I would buy batik from them because I genuinely liked the art and I think that's where I realised that I wanted to share these stories about them and about the batik motifs to a wider audience.”

Read the full interview here.


The Necessary Stage
Photograph: The Necessary Stage

Siti Khalijah, Award-winning actress

Siti Khalijah Zainal is a familiar face in Singapore's theatre scene. The Young Artist Award-winning actress broke into the scene in 2003, and has flexed her acting chops in various well-received plays including Gemuk Girls, How Did the Cat Get So Fat, Nadirah, Off Centre, as well as Model Citizens, which is set to be restaged at The Necessary Stage Black Box from March 24 to April 4.


What are your plans for the future?

“I keep thinking about how I started out (without any formal theatre training), and I would like to find these 'diamonds in the rough'. They're usually not given a chance because of how they perform academically or where they come from in terms of family background. I would like to give them hope and a space to explore because children from these backgrounds have talent and the biggest hearts.”

Read the full interview here. 


Iman Fandi

Photograph: Universal Music Singapore


Iman Fandi, Popstar, model and athlete

For almost a decade, the 20-year-old stunner has been on the cover of fashion magazines, posed for numerous brands, and is even en route to becoming the next face of Tik Tok with her viral-worthy videos. And if you haven’t clocked yet, she’s also the daughter of Singaporean football star Fandi Ahmad and South African model Wendy Jacobs. Recently, she has dropped her debut pop-R&B single Timeframe.


When was the first time you realised you wanted to be a musician? 

“I feel like it has always been something that I was passionate about. So when I was just about to turn 19, something told me to just try hopping into my very first studio to record a song and see how it goes. And from then on, I found the fun and loved the creativity in music.”


Read the full interview here.


Photograph: @rachelgalistan/Instagram


Rin Azhar, Founder of thrift shop Threadlightly

Tucked away in a maze of shops in Queensway Shopping Centre, Threadlightly stocks pre-loved items, vintage-inspired pieces, and reworked t-shirts and bags. What’s special about this place is perhaps its community focus. 22-year-old Rin Azhar started it with the express desire to give back. Set aside the fact that thrifting itself is a sustainable practice – at Threadlightly, a portion of proceeds are donated to a different organisation every month.


On opening Threadlightly


“The idea of the store is to have a community-centred space, so being able to cater to people who want to be a part of the sustainable fashion chain is really important to me. I wanted to be able to do something related to fashion, and also be able to give back.”

Read the full interview here.


Linda Steinbock, Lockdown Hair
Photograph: Linda Steinbock

Linda Steinbock, Author and humanitarian aid worker

Not all heroes wear capes – some take on the role of an aid worker and help people affected by man-made and natural disasters with food, support, resources, and more. And that’s what Linda Steinbock has been doing for about 10 years now. She has worked in disaster zones all over the world, and pours her energy into research on how children are affected by crises, including the coronavirus outbreak which is reflected in her children’s book Lockdown Hair.


What are some challenges you faced as a humanitarian aid worker?

“The Rohingya Refugee Crisis made the most significant mark on my life. The work pressure, responsibility and long hours were challenging enough. But I chose to lead my team with vulnerability and engage with children wholeheartedly. I heard their stories of survival and was compelled to amplify their voices. 


When the pandemic took hold of the world, I recognised my need and others' desire for safety, security, and hope for a bright future. I believe that in talking about hard things in an approachable way, Lockdown Hair will hopefully create an opportunity for children and their parents to explore their emotional response to a crisis.”


Read the full interview here.


Sparks Active
Photograph: Sparks Active

Sarabe Chan and Moe Thitsa, Founders of activewear brand Sparks

New brand on the block Sparks recently launched in November last year as an activewear label that champions the active lifestyle while being invested in giving back to the community in Singapore and abroad including Myanmar, Nepal and Hong Kong. The label offers quality kits made from the soft and cotton-like Luxe-rib material and sustainable Tencel sans the hefty price tag, with a part of the proceeds donated to selected charities.


What sets Sparks apart from other local activewear brands? 

“We are not only promoting being active but also a lifestyle where self-care meets caring for the planet, so when you wear Sparks, you are not just wearing it for the quality and design but also to show that you care about making a difference with your conscious choices. We believe that everyone can make a difference, which is why we were quite set on keeping at a certain price that is accessible for everyone.”

Read the full interview here.

Marla Bendini
Photograph: Kashmira Kasmuri / Time Out Singapore 

Marla Bendini, Transgender artist

Those who frequent independent galleries and art showcases have probably heard of Marla Bendini. A proud transgender artist, she delves into all forms of art-making – from painting to singing and playing the guzheng on streets and even pole dancing. Marla also co-founded Sisters in Solidarity (SIS), a group that aims to counter discrimination against transgender persons in Singapore.


What are the challenges you’ve faced as a transgender artist and creative in Singapore?

“I felt like I was always going to be punished or at a disadvantage for just being me. And then I decided, screw this. I have to start celebrating myself. Even though it’s painful, even though it’s difficult, even though I might say or do the wrong things. But it is my mistake for me to make.”


Read the full interview here.


Liyana Dhamirah
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Liyana Dhamirah, Author, entrepreneur and GE2020 candidate (Red Dot United)


Dedicated to “all the women fighting the good fight”, Liyana Dhamirah's memoir Homeless navigates her experiences of being homeless at 22 and pregnant with her third child in a city like Singapore. It also touches on wealth inequality, and privilege in the country, so it’s no surprise that she ran for parliament with Red Dot United in last year’s General Election.


Never underestimate a woman.


"What I really believe in is empowering women experiencing hardship. I want them to know that this is temporary and that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. As women, we sometimes don’t even realise our strength and potential, especially when faced with so much adversity. Not only do we have to deal with how society can discriminate against women but also women trampling on other women. I hope that sharing my story will help encourage and empower them. I want to remind them that there are small victories we can celebrate on this journey."


Read the full interview here.


Aishah Rosli
Photograph: Ahmad Iskandar Photography

Aisha Rosli, Fine artist


Emerging fine artist Aisha Rosli is a young name in the scene, but she's already made waves following successful exhibitions at Cuturi Gallery last year. Her works have been featured in group exhibitions at Sangkring Art Space in Yogyakarta, Coda Culture in Singapore and Unit London in the UK. You'll see references to 20th-century painters Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele, as well as contemporaries such as Marlene Dumas.


When did you decide to be an artist?

 “I can’t pinpoint when I decided to be an artist. But maybe it all started in secondary three when we had to choose if we wanted to specialise in art or design and technology. I chose art. I feel lucky that I was able to travel to Vienna for an exhibition with my school. I met different artists and saw different types of art, which was different from what I perceived art to be. My exposure to art in school was painting or drawing something realistic. I had never seen performance art or installations. From there, I followed my curiosity and ventured down that path.”


Read the full interview here.

Soph O
Photograph: Ahmad Iskandar Photography

Soph O, Visual artist


With an ability to make anyone feel at ease, Soph's personality is just as colourful as her works – which you might have seen adorning the alleyways of Kampong Glam or music festivals like Neon Lights. Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, Soph's bold pieces tackle social issues head-on – one mural at a time.

What is it like to be an artist in Singapore?


“As artists in Singapore, we tend to self-censor. We can't really challenge the status quo and talk about politics or deeper issues. Everything ought to be pleasant and pleasing to the eye, and relatable to everyday life. I love everyday life, but art should be more than telling things as they are. It should be able to make you feel and dive into something deeper that words cannot describe.”


Read the full interview here.


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