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A Common Muse

Jel Ng founded Common Muse in 2015 as a collection of understated adornments for everyday life. Her designs are quiet, effortless and polished but not precious. She lives and works in Singapore.

Q / Hi Jel! How do you usually start your day? Any routine that gets you up?
A / I check my inbox as soon as I’m awake, when my eyes are still barely open. I like to have an idea of what’s going on for the day or if there is anything urgent that I need to attend to. If I’m feeling sluggish, I make myself a cup of tea to freshen up.

Q / Do you have a daily uniform or is there anything you carry with you every day?
A / I rotate among the same few outfits when I’m out running errands for work. My schedule is usually tight…so I want to be able to quickly put on something and go without having to pause and decide what to wear.

Q / Is there a time of day that you feel most productive?
A / I’m most productive after midnight, when no one else is awake. I love the stillness during those hours.

Q / What is your favorite place to work?
A / I work from home and for years I’ve been working at the same spot in my workroom. I like that it feels private since it’s at the end of the house. Everything I need to use for work is here (i.e. printer, materials, stock…) so I’m here all the time.

Q / How do you try to balance your time?
A / Some days I just want to work non-stop when I’m feeling the flow, but I always try to give myself one or two days off a week to spend time with my family or friends.

Q / How do you keep yourself organized with all the projects you have going on?
A / Getting a planner was life-changing! Writing down daily to-do lists and making weekly/monthly plans really helps in decluttering my mind.

Q / What is something you are good at? Something you struggle with?
A / I’m good at working under constraints. I enjoy solving problems, so that has led me to think of creative approaches and solutions whenever there are limitations. I struggle with the occasional self-doubt, which I think is unavoidable as a beginner. Thankfully, it comes and goes.

Q / What do you enjoy most about your career? What are the most challenging things about it?
A / My career fulfills my desire to express myself through visuals. I really enjoy connecting with like-minded people via what I have created and curated. I find it most challenging to meet the expectations of my inner critic and juggle multiple roles at once.

Q / Is there anything you will never take seriously in terms of your work?
A / I try to see my work as an experiment instead of a business. This way, I’m more focused on learning, growing and improving instead of results.

Q / Something that’s very important to you?
A / It’s crucial for me to stay true to myself and what I believe in.

Q / Where do you go to be quiet and think?
A / I make impromptu visits to the library when I need some quiet me-time.

Q / How does your home and environment influence the kind and quality of work you produce?
A / My home and environment might have contributed to the emphasis I place on practicality. I think they influence my work in very subtle ways.

“I try to see my work as an experiment instead of a business. This way, I’m more focused on learning, growing and improving instead of results.”

Q / Where did you grow up and what led you to your current home. How would you say these places shaped your perception of work?
A / I grew up in Singapore, and this is something for which I’ll always feel blessed. Finding my creative voice here was difficult, since there’s little attention paid to creative development. It took me a long time, but I managed to do so thanks to the internet. At the same time, living in a multi-racial and culturally diverse society has allowed me to be open to influences from everywhere, within and beyond Singapore, so I would say my work is shaped by influences I have accumulated from all around.

Q / What is your first memory of work? Of success? Of failure?
A / My mum worked in a children’s wear boutique in the neighborhood when I was 5 or 6. I’d be there whenever she was working. There wasn’t much to do there, so I helped whenever I had the chance in order to kill time. I remember putting clothes on the hangers and arranging them as neatly as I could on the racks. I thought that was super fun. So far, there have been many moments of success and failure here and there…a lot of them are nothing major, so I can’t recall any from way back.

Q / How did the idea come about to start Common Muse?
A / It wasn’t a lightbulb moment that prompted me to start Common Muse. More like a work-in-progress for the last few years. I discovered my passion for online retail early. I love how it’s is a combination of all things I enjoy doing…from branding, web and graphic design to photography, styling and visual merchandising. In 2012, I started experimenting with online retail when I was still in school, selling clothing and accessories on Tumblr and it was doing quite well, so I was eager to start a proper brand once I graduated. I felt that there are very limited options for jewelry I adore that’s also pocket-friendly, so after countless brainstorming sessions, I decided to start the brand.

Q / What was the inspiration for the brand?
A / Common Muse is inspired by the everyday woman who exists around us. She’s independent, quietly confident, effortlessly stylish, focused on her work, comfortable being herself, knows what she wants and doesn’t seek attention.

Q / Can you go a bit into your design process?
A / Before I curate a collection, I always start by mood-boarding. I’m constantly looking out for well-designed jewelry, thinking up designs and reviewing new samples. I also like to experiment with random materials I can find to see how they work together, and how I can put them to good use. Very often, spontaneity comes into play.

Q / Do you keep any collections? If so, how do they influence you creatively?
A / I have the habit of keeping mementos, but not really collections of anything.

“Common Muse is inspired by the everyday woman who exists around us. She’s independent, quietly confident, effortlessly stylish, focused on her work, comfortable being herself, knows what she wants and doesn’t seek attention.”

Q / How would you define beauty and what part does it play in your work?
A / Beauty is everywhere, and it exists for those who are willing to see it. Some see more beauty than others. By keeping an open mind, I’ve discovered that there’s so much beauty around me. Appreciating beauty in my everyday life makes me conscious of my surroundings and everything I see, opening my work to new creative possibilities.

Q / How does social media factor into your work? Is there anything you find problematic about it?
A / Social media is an essential part of my work. It’s important for me to establish a strong web presence for Common Muse since there isn’t a physical store. Instagram and Pinterest are my favorites. There’s so many inspirations and talents to discover, and I just love how we get to visually connect with one another. I probably spend more time on it than I should, but besides that I don’t find it problematic.

Q / Do you use the internet on vacation or do you prefer to completely disconnect?
A / I do! I don’t think I can ever completely disconnect…just like how a mum needs to check on her baby whenever she’s away, I need to know that everything is ok at work.

Q / Is there anything in particular that you do to take care of yourself and relax?
A / I’m usually working the whole time I’m awake, so I feel the least I can do for myself is to have a good night’s sleep at the end of the day. I allow myself to sleep as much as I want to, usually uninterrupted for 7-8 hours. Most days I don’t set any alarms so that I can wake up naturally.

Q / Was there any particular person who led you to change direction and helped shape your career in formative way?
A / I’d love if there was someone like that, but so far I’ve been solely responsible for my career decisions.

Q / How did your parents feel about your career path?
A / I think my parents feel uncertain about my career path. It’s not difficult to understand why, since no one in my family has ever worked in the creative industry or started a business. They didn’t interfere with my choice, so I’d say they respect that I’ve chosen this path. It’s normal for them to not be completely supportive, since the whole creative entrepreneur concept might be too foreign for them. I believe their perceptions will eventually change, so I’m not worried.

“I’m usually working the whole time I’m awake, so I feel the least I can do for myself is to have a good night’s sleep at the end of the day.”

Q / What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? The funniest?
A / I don’t have much job experience to name the worst or funniest… It’s either I’ve been lucky with jobs, or I just love working in general. At 16, I started my first as a banquet waitress, which I did enjoy at that time. It was fun with friends around. I scored my next (and last) job as a visual merchandising intern at a luxury retail company. Loved every second at that job.

Q / In what capacity do you work with other people?
A / Besides collaborations with various amazing people I’ve reached out to on the internet, I work completely on my own. When it comes to work I’m very independent and enjoy working solo. During shoots, I need to be both the model and photographer at once, which can be limiting in terms of the work I create. It’d be great to have someone to help, but for now I’m still on my own, as I’ve yet to find anyone here that’s on the same creative wavelength as me.

Q / What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
A / When people who inspire me (i.e. my career idols) tell me they like my work. 🙂 Their appreciation and support means so much and is a huge encouragement and motivation for me. It’s also an assurance that I’m on the right track since I don’t have a mentor or someone who I discuss my work with.

Q / How does your work affect the rest of your life?
A / My work has a huge impact in all areas of my life. I think it plays a major role in shaping who I am. I take more chances than I used to and I’ve seen how that has greatly benefited my work. I’ve realized there’s always something to gain by stepping out of my comfort zone. Through the lessons and experiences I’ve accumulated at work, I’ve grown and matured a lot. I no longer chase financial success, but instead I focus on creating good work. That’s really important to me. Time-wise, I’m now very selective with who I’m spending my time with. Since I don’t have much time off, I need to use my time wisely with people who matter.

Q / What has been your proudest career moment thus far?
A / Getting Common Muse carried by our current stockists was a really significant moment.

Q / What are you looking forward to this year?
A / I’m so excited about this year! I’m looking forward to scoring opportunities, crossing off goals, dreaming up new ideas and growing my brand.

“I take more chances than I used to and I’ve seen how that has greatly benefited my work. I’ve realized there’s always something to gain by stepping out of my comfort zone.”

Q / Lastly, ten of your favorite people, places, and things that we should discover too?
A / In no particular order:
1. Mid heel shoes, the perfect in-between.
2. Pinterest. My favourites are collection_la and kaytenschmidt.
3. @therawbook on Instagram. I thoroughly enjoy the diverse mix in Alicia’s curated posts.
4. Uber den Wolken. I want to wear everything Julia Breiter makes.
5. Anaïse and their journal.
6. Beauty Lucia Zolea.
7. Listening to Rainy Mood at night.
8. Flower arranging. It’s therapeutic.
9. The Mercantile.
10. Mahsa.

Art Direction + Interview
Catherine Litke

Photography
Peter A. Curtis

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