If you are drinking a soda, put it down now and meet this week’s That Girl, Imelda Mo of all-natural drinks sensation, Citizen Pop. On a one-woman mission to help us enjoy our drinks in a more natural and healthy way, Imelda talks to us about ditching the sweets and going it alone.
Fill us in on your background and where you grew up?
My mother is Indonesian, born in Medan but grew up in Jakarta. She came to Singapore to study when she was 11 and met my father at 23. He is Singaporean and was 24 then. One year later, I was born! I have a sister who is three years younger than me. We occasionally go to Jakarta to visit my mother’s side of the family, the food there is absolutely divine. My entire education was completed here in Singapore.
How would you describe your personal style?
My friends often tease me about my monochromatic and minimalist wardrobe. Once I stepped into the office in a pair of snakeskin print denim jeans, and with a look of exaggerated shock, my colleague exclaimed what a special occasion it was to see me in prints. Depending on the occasion, I swing between classic, sophisticated looks and casual, edgy, streetwear. I hardly keep up with trends- I find greater satisfaction in creating my own as opposed to being influenced by some store’s catalogue or even media. Ultimately, trends are man-made, there is no right or wrong. I’m not going to stop wearing, say, army jackets, just because some designer said it’s passé. In fact, I’m going to wear it with confidence and attitude.
How has your personal style changed since becoming a business owner?
My job requires a lot of running errands, meeting suppliers and manual labour. Hence, I’ve ditched the heels and pencil skirts and am wearing more sneakers, t-shirts and caps. It’s great because I love wearing comfortable, functional clothing. Oh, not forgetting my trusty hot dog tote bag from “On Days I Crave” which is a quirky local tote bag brand. It was a gift from my boyfriend and I never knew totes were so handy until now! It has become my laptop/random stuff bag.
Last year you left your job to concentrate on Citizen Pop, how did you decide it was time?
I never even thought of being an entrepreneur until last year. I was still working then, loving the energy and people back at the agency. However, I always felt there was more I could do to contribute. I wanted to create an impact that meant something to myself and to and others. That was when I started looking for side projects and businesses to dabble in. Over time, the desire became stronger and I made the hardest but most defining decision, which was to leave. Perhaps the influence also came from my father who runs his own business. He and my mother have both been very encouraging. He always says, “If you never try, you’ll never know”.
Which obviously led to Citizen Pop! Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Citizen Pop as the name suggests, is soda made for the people, with their wellbeing in mind. We pride our sodas for being not only high quality and unconventional, but also a healthier alternative to traditional soft drinks. We do not use artificial flavouring or preservatives. There is a full-bodied characteristic to our sodas which you don’t get with normal soft drinks because they often use concentrates diluted with soda water. Instead, we carbonate 100% fresh fruit juice. We show-off our inventiveness by using teas, spices and herbs to create our unusual flavours. Over time, Citizen Pop became a move to change the way people perceive and consume soft drinks, a mini protest against the super-sweet, artificially flavoured products that define soft drinks as we’ve always known it.
So why did you go for the drinks industry and why now?
The most recent game-changer in the drinks industry was the third-wave coffee movement but even so, this movement has been ongoing in other parts of the world long before it was popularised here. Same goes with juice bars and artisanal drinks. With regards to why now?, I always believe that if you’ve got your mind set on something, there is no better time than now.
Sounds like a sensible reason! So what early challenges did you come across?
Oh, I don’t even know where to start! The need to educate is definitely one. With a new product, there is unfamiliarity. It makes it very easy for people to just pass by you without a glance. It was a challenge to get people to stop, understand and try- we had to give out plenty of samples. But then again, I see this as a good problem; it means you have a unique product. One of the other challenges is red tape, the regulations that protect the consumers interests also makes it difficult for small businesses to start. While necessary, it also means you take longer to get to where you want to be.
Now as a business owner, how has this changed your outlook on life?
There is great uncertainty when running your own business and because of that, it is hard to predict how the future will look in years to come. The upside of that, is you get to write it however you want to and that invigorates me. I always have to brace myself for change, for blows, but it has trained me to be more resilient mentally and to always approach problem solving from multiple angles. As a friend once said to me, always think one step ahead, that will help to create and deal with paradigm shifts.
What are the most memorable moments of your career?
On the business side of things, it is creating milestones and achieving them. When my business partner, Edwin, and I look back at how much positive progress we’ve made, we take a moment to bask in the satisfaction and pat ourselves on the back. In a simpler way, it is remembering the looks of delight on people’s faces when they try our sodas for the first time. We have a good laugh about it, exchange some words, and that makes me happy.
Moving on to your style, where do you shop in Singapore?
Zara, Massimo Dutti and H&M for my staples and a quick retail fix if I feel my wardrobe needs sprucing up. Department stores such as Robinsons and Tangs have some good finds such as Obey, Cheap Monday and some local brands. Multi-label boutiques like The Denim Store at Mandarin Gallery or those along Haji Lane are good too when you have time. I also like browsing through skate shops, mainly for caps or shoes and also when I feel like shopping for my boyfriend. When I have a fashion crisis, I turn to my sister and she usually pulls out something from her inventory for me. She runs The Front Edge online shop.
Being in the drinks industry, what bars do you like in Singapore?
I would say The Black Swan if I’m feeling luxurious, Mad Men for the band and company and good ol’ Wine Bar at Zouk you can’t go wrong with.
It sounds like Citizen Pop is keeping you busy, what do you do with your rare moments off?
I have different sources for winding down. I recharge with quiet time so that usually includes going for a good meal with a friend or family, reading or watching a movie. On other occasions, I do random activities like visit the museum, play bridge or board games, go for a gig, long board, have mini knowledge-sharing sessions, sit and talk about the wonders and not so wonderful part of life etcetera. I am trying my hand at gardening but am not always successful unfortunately. Oh, I also spend time with my rabbit, Soap.
Lastly, as you are in the health drinks business, we would love to know your tips for eating and drinking more healthily?
Limit your alcohol consumption. I hear that is a sneaky culprit of weight gain. Also, eat home-cooked food more often. I can really feel the difference after I started the business and started having more meals at home. Lastly, carry around an apple. I used to always have an apple on my desk back when I was working. It is known to curb hunger, suppress cravings and also makes a convenient, healthy snack!
Thanks so much Imelda and thanks also to the always wonderful Gunilla from Sugar Light Photography for the amazing pics.