Rebecca believes in getting back to nature and sharing these experiences with family and friends. Hence her private properties, Tiger Rock on Pangkor Island, their boat, Tiger Blue and China Tiger in Penang encourage family connectedness and getting back to nature.
What’s your story?
I’m a Malaysian artist, my mother is from Johore, my planter father is from the UK. I grew up on estates during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s all over Peninsular Malaysia. I graduated in Woven and printed textiles from Parsons School of Design, New York and then returned to Malaysia. In 1986, I set up Owen Rebecca Designs with my Malaysian partner/husband, promoting the flora and fauna and culture of Malaysia through print design on resort wear. Together we organically transformed into several small private properties that engage with the local communities: Tiger Rock on Pangkor Island, Tiger Blue our Phinisi which plies the islands of Eastern Indonesia and China Tiger in Penang. A new property in Italy will be added to this ‘family’ soon. We also have the Tropical Spice Garden in Penang which reconnects our collective history to the Spice Route, as well as to the jungle, environment and soil of Malaysia.
What excites you most about your industry?
The way people are travelling and what they want to experience is changing, especially in the bespoke luxury travel and hospitality business. There’s a real need in Malaysia to raise the quality in this field without ripping out the soul and honesty of what Malaysia is about. I love the way that this can give you a real platform on which to push for the awareness and conservation of our fragile, natural environment and heritage. It becomes part of the experience that guests ‘feel’ with you.
What’s your connection to Asia?
Everything! It is home for our whole family. Malaysia and Eastern Indonesia is our ‘centre,’ my inspiration for my art. It has offered all of us with our mixed cultural heritage the opportunities and a confidence to draw from my immediate surroundings, as well as bridge the gap between East and West.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Penang is where we are based and it has offered a great place to bring up our family. Penang is a centre from which to travel and communicate with the rest of the world, as well as a lifestyle that allows a great mix of old and new, culture and of course, nature and the iconic Penang Hills. It has offered many special opportunities to us and is a great place for start-ups and ‘experiments.’
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
From one of my textile design lecturers in New York who taught me: “Adapt but don’t pretend to be someone else. Be inspired but don’t copy. Keep working on your own vision and dream even if everyone else can’t see it at first. Do the work over and over. Get rid of ego and do any job to your best ability, no matter how small. The ‘practice’ of your craft makes you an ‘expert’ and improves quality. Don’t compromise on that.”
I think about this pretty much everyday.
Who inspires you?
My parents continue to inspire me. I inherited their creativity. My husband and partner, without him, we could not have brought everything ‘to life’. Several teachers inspire me; my primary, secondary and art school teachers had a huge influence on me by having a great belief in what I did and pushing me to perform my best. Corny I know, but without support from these people I don’t think I’d have been so single-minded to focus on being ‘creative’ or pursuing textiles and art. In particular my ‘A’ level weaving teacher, Wendy Barber who I ‘interned’ with for 6 months between UK and New York. From her I learnt to ‘live my art.’
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away
It’s something that I’ve been aware of for a long time but it’s reached a crescendo for me recently. We cannot go on ‘living’ the wanton wasteful way we do. Climate change is here and it impacts our children, grandchildren and beyond. In life and business I feel we have a responsibility to live the mantra, ‘Every small positive shift helps.’ I try very hard to make small changes to the way we run our properties and business so that they have a positive knock-on impact on awareness levels of our staff, the local community and our guests, who take this away with them.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
1. I would go back to art school and I would have done more on the ‘technical’ side of textiles and art in order to have a broader skill set base right from the start.
2. If I’d had more budget to play with at the time I would have delegated out the more day to day jobs in order to focus more on the long term planning schedules. Working to a constant deadline under pressure whilst doing crazy multi-tasking is not ideal but it was a huge learning curve that I will never regret.
How do you unwind?
I spend time around trees. I make sure I get a decent dose of clean fresh air a few times a year, walking, yoga and I float in sensory deprivation floatation tanks. My son has very cleverly started his Float Center in Penang and mum gets the benefits!!
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Our boat Tiger Blue in Eastern Indonesia. You unplug from emails, Internet and phone calls, get fresh air, beautiful sea and landscapes, get taken out of your comfort zone, it’s remote, always an adventure and is all about bonding with family and friends and always learning something new about whom we share this world with. It’s refreshing every time.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I’m afraid I don’t read business books. I read ‘Nathaniel’s Nutmeg’ by Giles Milton. It shows the rise and fall of empires, how cruel people can be, shows how a commodity can flux and become useless. It puts the world into perspective.
Shameless plug for your business:
Reconnect – with nature, culture and history and kick start that by getting out of your comfort zone. Get into the jungle, sail over a big blue sea in a wooden boat. We offer an experience, luxury hospitality, an ultimate adventure. All our properties are geared at getting a family together again and reconnecting with nature. Jungle walks at night, hunting dragons, bonfires on your own remote island, delicious food and old fashioned hospitality.
How can people connect with you?
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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