Kim Lim has had quite the year. From signing actor and singer Lawrence Wong as brand ambassador of her Papilla Haircare brand, to a high-profile second marriage that began with a splash but ended just two months later with acrimonious public disclosures of emotional and financial disputes, it would be an understatement to say she has had a lot going on in her life of late.
But the beauty and wellness entrepreneur is keeping her eyes on the road ahead, focusing on the future of KLHealth Group, the holding company that comprises Papilla Haircare, skincare brand Illumiaskin, Illumia Therapeutics medispa and Illumia Medical aesthetic clinic; her nearly six-year-old son, Kyden; the philanthropic efforts that have always been close to her heart; and her own inner peace and sanctity.
We catch Lim in between her trips to Dubai, which has grown to become a frequent business and leisure destination for the 31-year-old. Besides meeting local distributors to scope out the feasibility of expanding her skincare and haircare empire in the Middle East, she also heads to the Emirati city to decompress, get away from it all, and simply be.
The Persian Gulf coast metropolis became her refuge during what she describes as a dark period last year; she found solace in how exuberant and even over-the-top the place feels, like a fairytale come to life, she says. And her repeat trips have awakened her to some critical revelations too. “I realised that I have to love myself more, and I don’t need to depend on anybody for emotional stability,” she explains.
“And I learnt to be happy independently. Right now, I think I have to be alone to be happy; if I have somebody else, I’ll feel [repressed and stifled].”
Though dealing with the tumultuous and public dissolution of her second marriage last year wore her down to the point of shedding tears at night on many occasions, Lim says she has put that phase of her life cleanly behind her by learning to compartmentalise her feelings.
“Actually, I’m quite strong, stronger than I thought I was,” she recounts. “It’s whether you want to or not, or if you can actually see the issue, but I think if you can see it, [you] can control a lot of things, emotionally and mentally.”
And while the experience has led her to be more careful in her dealings with other people, it has also hardened her when it comes to matters of the heart. “I feel numb now, like I cannot feel pain,” she explains. “I’ve recovered, but it left a scar, for sure.”
“Maybe I’m not as soft as before. So, sorry to my future boyfriend: I’m more tough now.”
Lim has since recalibrated her priorities, focusing on her flourishing career and building up herself; the awareness that so many people in her periphery are counting on her and her success drives her to improve herself and work hard continuously. “If I do well, I can take care of more people around me,” she says. “Love is not the first option, that’s for sure.”
That same wisdom and caution applies to her business relationships and endeavours. Describing her younger self as a far more trusting person, who believed wholeheartedly that people were all good and genuine, she relates that she has come to espouse a more nuanced view of human nature.
“Not everyone thinks the same as you,” she says. “Quite a few have their own intentions, and [there are] a lot of selfish people… I learnt to stand up [for myself] and be firm.”
The dominant theme of Lim’s career since she established the hair loss treatment centre Papilla Haircare in 2019 has been growth: in leading a company, maintaining organisation, and tailoring her management directives to the individual.
In the same timeframe, she has expanded her business to three Singapore locations each for Papilla Haircare and Illumia Therapeutics, and two for Illumia Medical. Lim aspires for these brands to go on to conquer Southeast Asia, and has the Thai and Malaysian markets squarely in her sights.
“I want to build our name, then bring it overseas,” she proclaims, “something to make the country proud and leave a mark or legacy in the beauty industry, which is what I love to do.” And none of that is empty talk: Lim works herself to the point of stress-induced sleepless nights, she shares, building her business from scratch and frequently jetting from one country to the next to lay the groundwork for expansion.
“A lot of people don’t think I work,” she says, alluding to the stereotype that she’s merely a rich heiress. “But it’s not that. You want to look back and see that you’ve achieved something.”
Lim also makes an impact in the area of philanthropy. She credits her father, billionaire investor Peter Lim, with instilling in her since her youth the value of helping those less fortunate. “I’ve always had a soft spot for old folks,” she elaborates, “and now that I have Kyden, kids too.”
Her recent efforts include sponsoring the education of a number of children in Thailand, which was born of her belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to go to school without the stress of being short on fees. Under the KLHealth banner, she has operated donation drives in support of Singapore’s frontline and healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, and led teams to build houses for the underprivileged in Mongolia.
Through these charity initiatives, Kyden—Lim’s son by her first husband—has been an active participant, rushing to be among the first to pack donated goods, and when he was just four, he would kneel and pray quietly together with Lim for as long as 45 minutes, she reveals.
“From young, for kids you must instil in them these principles and practices. Don’t force it, but let them watch you— setting an example is quite important,” she says. “I’m proud of him… Sometimes I think, what did I do to deserve him?”
For Lim, having lived and pulled through some major challenges has imbued her with a meditative composure and perspective. “I wish that I had told myself it is what it is, and don’t stress too much over things,” she says, relaying advice she would give her younger self.
“I used to react immediately to problems, and I would start texting and scolding people, but now I take in the situation first and resolve it calmly,” she adds. “Actually, my dad used to tell me that, but I never listened, so now that I’ve gone through a lot of that, I know what he’s saying.”
With her beauty businesses thriving, her son following in her footsteps, and herself at peace, it may seem there is nothing that Lim still lacks, but she would say otherwise. When asked about what she wants but cannot have, she pauses for a minute, then says, “True love.”
“In the past, I always wanted someone to love me and give me all I want,” she explains. Through both her marriages and their respective ups and downs, she sees how they reflect a profound desire of hers. “I guess I was craving that love,” she muses aloud. “Maybe I still am.”
PHOTOGRAPHY WEE KHIM
CREATIVE DIRECTION GREGORY WOO
STYLING TOK WEI LUN
HAIR RYAN YAP/PASSION HAIR SALON
MAKEUP SHAUN LEE, USING YSL BEAUTY
SET DESIGN FANG YUAN
PRODUCER CINDY OW
PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANT IVAN TEO
STYLIST’S ASSISTANT MANDY CHONG
SET ASSISTANT CLARISSA SUA