Pursuing A Passion In Retail In Spite Of Disability
We often get roped into believing that the cards we’ve been dealt can’t help us win, forgetting entirely about the gameplay. Not Florence Hui though. In spite of an intellectual disability, she’s fulfilling her dreams of working in the retail industry with a full-time role at UNIQLO currently, on top of preparing to graduate.
If that’s not impressive enough, she was also the Valedictorian of her batch and she’s a member of The Purple Symphony, a local all-inclusive orchestra. Here’s this 21-year-old’s story and how she’s overcome the odds to get to where she is today.
Growing up with a disability
Being diagnosed with a disability is not news that anyone would want to hear. But that’s exactly what Florence faced when she was diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability at 7 years old According to her, this means “needing more time to learn and get used to the momentum of new activities”.
While mild intellectual disability takes on different forms for each individual, it most commonly affects one’s communication and problem-solving skills before the age of 18.
And yet, armed with resilience and a whole lot of can-do spirit, Florence worked hard to reach her final year at APSN Delta Senior School and has just graduated with a Work Skills Qualification (WSQ) certification in retail operations.
APSN Delta is one of Singapore’s SPED schools and also where the very first door was opened for her to get a taste of working in retail.
Beginning her retail journey with UNIQLO
“I was first introduced to UNIQLO through their retail training space in my school, which included a replica of the store set-up at the back of the classroom. We used the space almost every day in class and were taught the different tasks that a retail job entails – from cleaning to the displaying of products and customer service.” she shares.
Through the process, Florence became impressed by the clothing displays and retail culture, and realised an overwhelming desire to join the Work Experience Program to put her skills to the test in an actual UNIQLO store.
Her killer attitude scored her the gig. “I was over the moon when my trainer came and announced that I’d been selected for the program”, she admits. Her dream was now one step closer to becoming a reality.
But of course, training and working in the actual store are two different things.
From trainee to full-timer
On Day 1 of her shift at the store, Florence was up and awake before sunrise, giddy with excitement. She was finally beginning a new chapter in her book of life. “I recall being filled with energy the night before as I was putting together my work attire for the day. Even though my journey to work takes more than an hour, I was eager to head to the store and work alongside the same team that supported me through my Work Experience Programme.” she says.
The store she was set to work at, while an entirely new environment, gave her comfort in the form of patient and supportive trainers. Additionally, her “work buddy was also very kind and approachable which made the training experience more memorable” – the buddy system being one to help her adjust to the UNIQLO workflow.
While most of us walk into UNIQLO oblivious to the staff rushing around to run the store, Florence, like the rest of her team, has to juggle multiple tasks to make sure the rest of us can have a fuss-free shopping experience.
She recalls, “Throughout the training, I was taught different skills that a retail staff requires, from the preparation of stocks to attending to customers’ queries. As I gained more confidence and independence in the training, I was eventually offered a permanent position in the store”.
It was well-deserved, seeing as how Florence passionately gave her all in every task, including the higher-demand responsibilities of managing the stockroom and running the sales floor.
When it comes to her workmates, she also happily shares how “the team treats me just like any other colleague”, allowing her to carry out her diverse scope of daily tasks and contribute to the team without even being reminded of her disability.
She adds, “knowing I have the support of my colleagues whenever I face difficulties at work keeps me motivated and really boosts my confidence”.
Challenges faced at work
As with every new experience, this one didn’t come without its share of obstacles either. Florence admits that she’s found it difficult when “attending to enquiries from Mandarin-speaking customers”, adding, “it has been a challenge that I have been working on as my grasp of the language is not strong”.
I’m sure some of us can relate to second-language struggles – but for Florence, smiling sheepishly and nodding as a reply isn’t an option.
With all that Florence is learning to do, at times she also feels “overwhelmed with the targets, particularly when the store gets busy. When this happens, I have learnt to speak to my work buddies about it and they patiently help me break down the tasks into simplified steps”.
A crowded store makes for stressful situations even as a customer, but as a staff member, Florence has to find ways to keep calm and composed throughout her shift.
That’s why she has her own personal coping mechanism for more stressful days. “At home, writing about my daily experiences in my diary and playing the guzheng also helps in calming me down, relieving the stress and preparing myself for a fresh new day ahead”, Florence shares – the winding down having become an integral part of her daily routine.
Hobbies and other commitments
Besides juggling work and school, Florence also keeps active with other hobbies. Apart from bowling and dancing, she’s also an Athlete Leader with the Special Olympics and currently performs with The Purple Symphony, an orchestra made up of musicians with and without special needs.
“I started playing the guzheng when I was 13 years old, and have always loved the unique sound of the instrument.” she says, adding that performing is something she’s always been fond of.
After joining The Purple Symphony in 2019, she has had multiple opportunities to perform on stage, including competing in the 2020 Singapore Chinese Music Competition. She also admits, “I feel calm whenever I play the guzheng as I’m able to channel all my focus into the music piece”.
And although it’s become more of a pastime while holding her full-time job, she shares, “I would also like to continue mastering the guzheng so I can play on bigger stages with the orchestra”, reaffirming that she’s got big plans for her future in more ways than one.
If you don’t spot Florence working in UNIQLO, perhaps we’d one day see her performing onstage at the Esplanade.
What’s next for Florence in her career
While she’s clearly already slaying at work, Florence has more she wants to achieve in the future. She mentions, “I hope to be able to manage product preparation more independently in the future and gain more confidence for customer-facing roles”, displaying a fervent zeal to hone her skills and contribute even more to the retail world.
She also adds, “I believe my work experience could also prepare me in pursuing further education in retail operations when I’m in ITE and gradually in polytechnic too”, her desires stemming from the want to follow in the footsteps of her two elder siblings.
You could say that Florence has more direction than a compass – her attitude a mark of someone who’s on the road to reaching nothing short of success.
Advice and parting words to others
From playing dress-up when she was younger to being surrounded by clothes in retail, her UNIQLO journey is one that she recounts as having been a great opportunity.
“Today, I am proud to say that I can also confidently guide new colleagues in stock preparation. This exposure has helped me tremendously in gaining confidence in interacting with others outside work as well”, she says.
In fact, she even shares that with all the skills she has learnt, she is able to utilise them in her other commitments, even in “opening up new opportunities for more leadership roles such as in becoming an athlete leader with Special Olympics”.
Florence could’ve just dipped her toes into the water, but instead, she’s bravely dove right into exploring different avenues of her potential – all before she’s even finished school.
That would explain what she shared in parting: “My motto is to never give up. When things get tough, don’t be shy to ask for help. You can learn from the experience and improve” – her achievements prove the power behind that.
This 21-Year-Old Is On The Road To Achieving Her Dreams In Spite Of Her Disability
We often forget that every step of our journey amounts to so much more in the end. Our hardships are only tiny kinks in a larger, more magnificent journey. Florence reminds us that after all, anything is possible if we really set out to accomplish it.
All images courtesy of UNIQLO Singapore.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.