Feature Story – Denise Chai


Denise Chai tries to approach every situation with optimism‭, ‬conviction and conscious commitment‭. ‬

Photography by Riley Khoo

She thinks big and dreams even bigger! Denise Chai is not shy to admit that when opportunity knocks on her door she’s not afraid to open it. Once given the chance, this petite but gutsy entrepreneur will scale to great heights and dive deep into the unknown. As long as Denise makes up her mind to do something, she certainly will do it.

Learning to walk boldly

At just 21 years old, Denise decided to embark on her first business venture. Armed with a Degree in Commerce from Monash University in Melbourne and a keen interest in fashion, Denise headed straight into the world of business. Possessing no prior experience in this field, she quickly realised that there was a great deal to learn about the practicalities of running and managing her own business. But instead of cowering before the obstacles she faced, she made up her mind to “walk boldly through them.” She said, “I believe in taking things one step at a time. So slowly but surely I overcame each obstacle.” Besides having to deal with the logistics of running a business, she also had to deal with the “doubters” and “nay-sayers”. Being strong-willed, she counteracted this negativity by being more positive, focused and committed to accomplishing her goals – and she did it! Now in business for eight years, Denise currently co-manages four businesses with over 60 employees.  She said, “Experience has taught me that women who are in business need to have their own identity. They need to know what they want to achieve and stay focused. Before starting my first business I knew that I was passionate about fashion and travelling. So the business seemed like a great way to combine both of those interests.  After opening up a few other food businesses, my sister and I finally opened ‘Rack & Brew’ in 2015 – a café which perfectly combines everything that we love – fashion and food! This was a wonderful accomplishment!”

“Listen to yourself and follow your intuition.”

Recognising the importance of having a solid foundation

Denise recognises that there are two important pillars that have enabled her to become the diligent and motivated person that she is today. She said, “I received a very sound education which I gained from attending both the Chinese and international schools. From the former, I learnt about discipline and the importance of academic achievements; and from the latter, I gained more confidence in myself and also the ability to think independently. I remember that my parents were adamant that my siblings and I all received an all-rounded education. So I also did private piano and swimming lessons. I think that my education has definitely instilled in me the conviction to chase my dreams.” However, she added, “I would not be where I am today without the help and encouragement of my entire family. Both of my parents have been incredibly supportive. They have been pillars of strength and a source of wisdom – advising and helping me in all of my endeavours, and for that I will always be truly grateful.”

Taking life by the reins!

But as the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Denise a dull girl!” Denise knows only too well the difficulties that women face in terms of building a business and living a balanced life. This is why she makes sure to set aside quality time for activities which she enjoys such as diving, hiking, yoga, art and of course, travelling. She recalled that her first adventure was scuba diving in Sipadan. “I was curious about diving so when I got the opportunity to go to Sipadan I did! At that time my parents were a bit concerned about me going on this type of adventure but I had the most memorable time!” Another one of Denise’s favourite recreational activities is hiking. It helps her to feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle any task. Just say the word “hike” and Denise is ready to swap her stilettos for hiking boots, and her designer dress for comfortable trekking attire! In fact, Denise has conquered The Pinnacles in Mulu twice! She says, “Life is like a mountain and we are all climbing to reach the summit. Sometimes the path maybe difficult, but what matters is that we can never stop and give up. We just have to stay calm and focused and we can achieve more than we think possible!” She added, “I’ve also been practicing yoga off and on for about six years and this has taught me to accept the ups and downs in life and I believe that this has helped me to better manage my businesses. Painting is another hobby which I started about a year ago at Jo’s Art Gallery. I really enjoy it and have so far completed a couple of artworks.” Denise also travels extensively both in Asia and Europe for business and leisure – and needless to say, she loves it! One of her favourite cities is Prague, she likes the bustling life along the river, the architecture, shopping and the friendly people. Denise admitted that she gets a lot of new ideas and inspiration from her trips overseas. And she also believes that travelling helps her to become a more versatile and adaptable person – able to deal with any situation, good or bad!

Photo courtesy of Denise Chai

Letting her actions do the talking

Even though to some her life may appear to be perfect, Denise is only human and like everyone else, she has her own personal concerns. Staying healthy is one of her main concerns, so she strives to lead a healthy lifestyle. She’s tries to eat healthily, exercises and tries to learn more about naturopathy. Denise also admitted that there are some days when small doubts and negative thoughts creep into her mind – but she banishes them immediately by reminding herself of all the positive things in her life; and by being grateful for them. This young entrepreneur has certainly come a long way and has learnt many lessons which have helped her to surmount the challenges which she’s encountered. She stated, “Firstly, listen to yourself and follow your intuition; secondly, set small achievable goals; thirdly, let your actions do the talking; fourthly, no matter how bad the situation is, you have to keep going; fifthly, you should never stop learning; and finally, always remember, to help others.” Denise is currently a member of Global Shapers Brunei and was actively involved with the career counselling programme at the Rimba 11 Secondary School. She explained that her aim is to get more involved with activities that make a positive contribution to the community. It must be said that Denise Chai is not one to be a spectator on the sidelines; she’s willing to get into the arena and try new things and is prepared to think differently and take action!

This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!