October’s ‘That Mama’ is Sasha Conlan of Sasha’s Fine Foods!
One of Singapore’s greatest advocates for fresh and healthy eating in Singapore, Sasha Conlan of Sasha’s Fine Foods (formerly known as The Barbie Girls) is also mum to three kids: 13-year-old Grace, 10-year-old Albert, and 6-year-old Layla. The UK native, former lawyer, and longtime Singapore resident tells us all about taking time out from work to raise her kids, the power of networking, and how she’s reinvented her career here in Singapore. And of course she shares some of her top eating spots!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m from Newcastle in the North East of England. I love my family, my friends and having fun. I love to laugh, to travel, to eat good food and drink good wine. I am a firm believer in “what goes around comes around”. Be kind to people and treat others as you would want to be treated.
I moved to London in 1994 where I worked as a lawyer until 2007. We left London and moved to Singapore in 2008. I set up The Barbie Girls in 2011 and I have been on my food journey ever since.
I married my husband, Jonny, in 2000. He is my soulmate and my rock. Our eldest daughter, Grace, and our son, Albert, were born in London prior to moving to Singapore. We adopted, Layla, in 2012, who was born in Singapore in 2009. She is now both Singaporean and British. We love living in Singapore and can’t see ourselves leaving, it is definitely home for us. We have a holiday house in Margaret River, Australia and spend time in the UK each summer, catching up with family and friends.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I worked as a lawyer in London from 1994. I loved my work and was lucky enough to work on some fascinating cases and with some great colleagues. I had Grace in 2002 and went back to work as a lawyer when she was just 6 months old. Albert was born in 2005 and I returned to work but this time on a part-time basis. However, my husband was travelling a lot and I found it extremely difficult to juggle motherhood with a career, so I stopped practicing law in 2007. We then moved to Singapore, and after settling the children into school, I began working in the food industry, sourcing and selling top quality, clean and healthy meat and seafood. I was frustrated by the lack of good quality produce in Singapore to feed my family. If I managed to find meat that tasted good then I had no idea what was in it and where it was from. So I began a journey of sourcing and importing top-quality, ethically-sourced and fully sustainable meat and seafood, and delivering it directly to customers in Singapore. Hence The Barbie Girls was born.
The timing of setting up The Barbie Girls wasn’t ideal as were also in the process of adopting Layla. We had been trying to adopt for over 18 months and it just so happened that it coincided with when the business really took off. They were challenging and tiring times but worth every second. We now have a fantastic daughter who completes our family, and a successful online fine foods business.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
I found it easy being back at work when I only had one baby but when number two came along, I found it very difficult. It was only when the children reached school age and Layla was settled with us and happily at preschool that I felt I could throw myself into work again. I don’t like the idea of the children being at home when I am at work so I try to fit my work around their school day. They do a lot of sporting activities, so they are often home around 5pm, which allows me to join them for their supper and the evening ahead.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
I travel every so often to meet new suppliers. This might be New Zealand, Australia, or even our pork farmer in Essex in the UK. Even though I don’t like being away from my family, it gives me time to think and focus on the business. I really enjoy taking the time to meet with suppliers, sampling products and seeing first-hand their sustainable farming methods.
How has having a child changed the way you define work?
Work has always been very important to me and helps to carve my identity. However, having children immediately changed the way I felt about work in that it no longer takes priority. I feel very strongly about being there for the children. I want to be the person they come to first, their emotional support at the end of the day. I want to collect them from their sporting activities, and ultimately, to have some fun with them. I’m fortunate that running my own business allows me to choose the hours that I work so I am very lucky to be able to ensure I have this quality time with them. My husband does not have flexibility with his job, so I am glad I do. Work is important but it can usually wait until the next day; family comes first.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
- Write a “to do” list and prioritise your day. I usually arrive at work a couple of hours before anyone else so I use that time to write a “to do” list for the day. There are never enough hours in the day so it’s important for me to prioritise what has to be done that day, as well as what I would like to get done. This is also when I do my “quiet” work, before the chaos of the day begins.
- Don’t be a control freak – the art of delegation is a fine art and your team will thank you for the freedom. Trust them to do the job and only step in if they really need advice or help. Surround yourself with a great team and be clear about who is responsible for what.
- Give your staff the benefit of the doubt and follow your gut instinct.
- Come to work with food already prepared – I eat my breakfast and lunch at my desk while working. I’d rather get the job done and leave at 5pm, than go out for lunch.
- Make sure you have a good coffee machine in the office!
I wish I had more time for…
… My friends.
I feel that I give a lot of time to my family and to my work but I wish I had more time to spend with my friends. I am very sociable and my friends are very important to me. However, right now, with running a growing start up business, something has to give and it’s not going to be my family. I steal every opportunity I can to be with friends and spending more time with them is something I am really trying to work on. It’s always my New Year’s Resolution – ask me again next year!
I always feel saner after….
I have done some exercise! Sadly, that doesn’t happen often enough at the moment although I am trying to exercise three times a week. Caffeine also helps my sanity, as does cake…!
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
We live in Orchard, 5 minutes walk from ION and Wheelock Place and we love it! I’m a city girl and being able to walk to town in a few minutes is heaven for me. My husband can also be at work, on the MRT, in 15 minutes which is fantastic. Grace (13) loves being able to walk to Orchard to meet her friends and she loves the fact that they can pop home for a drink if they are in the Orchard area. Also, Layla can walk to school with our helper which she enjoys.
We live in a small house but that’s the compromise for the location. Albert would prefer a larger garden for playing football but even he loves walking down to Orchard Road to the movies and to see friends.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
I recently took my son out for the day, we went prawn fishing on the East Coast followed by indoor mini golf. It was a great day out. We love Tanjong Beach Club for breakfast at the weekend and we also spend a lot of time at MacRitchie Reservoir, walking and attempting exercise on the outdoor exercise machines. Layla spends most of her time running away from the monkeys! Also, my son loves playing football at Evans Road and we are not shy of family meals out at the weekend, as we all love our food.
Also, the best spot has to be my kitchen! I’m always whipping up a quick and easy meal for the kids using products from The Barbie Girls, or if I’m feeling a bit lazy we’ll have one of the Barbie Meals. The fish pie is a favourite with Layla!
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
In Asia, our favourite holiday destination is Nikoi Island, an idyllic getaway where we can spend quality time as a family. Our favourite holiday spot in Australasia would have to be Dunsborough, Margaret River, Western Australia where we have our holiday home. The combination of beach, wineries and excellent food make it the perfect destination for the whole family.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Date nights! Ideally we try to have a date night once a week but it doesn’t always work that way. Even if we just walk down to the cinema on Orchard Road, it’s important to do something as a couple as regularly as possible. We occasionally squeeze in a cocktail at the Manhattan Bar at the Regent Hotel after work as that’s our local.
We’re both passionate about food so you can often find us in the kitchen experimenting with new products I’ve sourced for The Barbie Girls. Two of our favourite recent additions are Wild Deepsea Trevally and Wild Groper! We like to eat healthily, so it is essential I know where the produce is from and how it has been farmed. We want to know what we’re putting into our bodies as well as the impact it is having on the environment.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
Have the courage to pursue your own ideas and goals. Networking is also essential. I have found most of the suppliers for The Barbie Girls through people I know or have met since I established the business.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Your children are your priority. Make the most of the moments you have with them at home as before you know it, they will fly the nest.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Don’t listen to everyone else, go with your gut instinct, we’re usually right!
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Being present and always listening. My mind tends to wander off.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Having a family dinner and watching Modern Family together on Sunday evenings. During the week I sit with the children whilst they eat their supper (my husband and I eat later) and I love hearing about their days. We call it “the daily download”.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
Food…and how I am going to introduce ethically sourced and fully traceable meat and seafood into every home in Singapore!
My favourite moment of the day is…
Waking up and going to wake up each of my children. I can write the script – Grace will groan and try to go back to sleep, Albert will smile and say good morning and Layla will already be awake and doing yoga on her bed. I’m working on adopting Layla’s approach.
Thank you to Sasha and her family, and a huge thanks to Gunilla of Sugarlight Photography for the fantastic (as ever) photos!