It’s a great day to be outdoors. The sun is shining brightly. A light breeze wafts through the park, rustling the dreamcatchers and fairy lights hanging by the yurt-like tent. This Instagrammable canvas structure is perched on the field, against a calming backdrop of blue and green, flanked by the soothing waves and a Pinterest-worthy picnic set-up. Our cover girl Andrea Chong flits around dainty cake stands adorned with cupcakes and chocolates… and is frantically spraying insect repellant at the army of ginormous fierce red ants that are attacking the sweet treats, working more fervently than the most illustrious pest-buster.
Now that’s something you wouldn’t normally see on @dreachong’s Insta-picture-perfect feed. What you do get to see on the 26-year-old social media star’s feed is everything that will ignite bouts of #lyfeenvy. She could be traipsing around Milan looking her summery best one day, perched prettily in the front row at New York Fashion Week the next, or frolicking among sunflower fields in rural Thailand days later. We’ve been to the same places (albeit for less glamorous holidays) and ended up looking worse for the wear — definitely not Instagram-worthy — just hours after stepping out of the hotel. Not this girl. Her OOTDs are always on-trend, hair and make-up always on-point, and the photo filters always on the money.
Drea, as she’s more commonly known, may be a stranger to the staunch TV viewer who doesn’t have a working wi-fi connection. But to the Instagram-addicted millennial, and even a more, er, mature crowd, the viviacious blogger, who’s chalked up 307K (and counting) followers, has got more cachet on social media than Rebecca Lim. Not bad for someone who, six years ago, was modelling blogshop clothes for pocket money.
But her ascent in the local social media stratosphere came about quicker than a double-tap on a picture. Soon after, brands began hurling clothes, shoes, make-up, and travel junkets her way. By last July, Drea Chong wasn’t just another influencer — it had turned into a brand. It was no longer a one-woman operation — Drea was working with a small team out of a home office. A mere six months later, she expanded the company and now runs it out of an office in Bishan, managing sales, graphics and editorial teams for her Goop-esque website, www.dreachong.com. “I want to create a platform that girls can go to to read about everything and anything, and to build a healthy community of readers. This is something that’s missing now in Singapore,” she opines.
To think it all began from a personal blog that she was forced to set up in 2012, after she landed a hosting gig on Clicknetwork. Soon, the local social media girl-next-door-turned-influencer will be the first Singaporean to launch her own shoes as part of a Superga collab, with another product partnership with MAC Cosmetics in the pipeline later this year.
On Drea’s IG bio is this line: ‘Currently In: Singapore’. Most plebs don’t have a need for this ’cos no one cares if we’re Currently In: Katong or Choa Chu Kang. But when you’re in Singapore for just 10 days out of two months like this jetsetter, “Currently: Singapore/Japan/Shanghai/Milan/New York” is totes necessary. Little wonder that every inch, every square, every pixel of @dreachong’s feed sparks envy. Let’s just say it is to a #wanderlusting millennial what a travel agency brochure was to their grandparents.
As expected, this Instagram star would feel right at home with our glamping-themed shoot today. If you haven’t heard by now (where have you been?), glamping is the new Instagram-friendly vacay trend that’s a portmanteau of glam and camp. No, it has nothing to do with RuPaul’s Drag Race. People are flocking to glamping holidays to be close to nature, without sacrificing creature comforts (wi-fi! aircon! comfy bed!). A recipe for the ultimate Instagrammable vacation — or staycation, if you’re setting up base in one of these tents set up for us today by the folks at Glamping Society.
Drea is looking quite settled in in these breezy surrounds in equally breezy, resort-ready togs. After all, she’s been glamping, not once, but twice in Australia. And in the most hipsterrific environs too, mind you. She first glamped it out in the Melbourne, in one of some 30 glam tents atop a building in the middle of the CBD, with clean, shared showers, wi-fi and a heater in the tent (it was winter when she visited). The second time, she found herself in New South Wales glamping out in someone’s backyard (“in Australia [home owners] have acres of land”), also with a heater and wi-fi. Because this girl doesn’t go anywhere without wi-fi. “I don’t need a five-star hotel every day. I’m really flexible as long as it’s Instagram-worthy! That’s my main requirement,” quips the bubbly blogger, whose travel bucket list includes exotic and very photogenic locales such as Peru, Ladakh and Alaska.
Right now, though, there are more pressing matters at hand. Those goddamn ants. The crew is this close to resorting to stomping around East Coast Park like lunatics to kill the swarms of critters that have gathered. Thankfully, Drea has whipped out a godsend — the repellant — from her car.
“I’m always prepared!” she quips excitedly. Yes, for every perfect snapshot she posts, there are tons of not-so-glam goings-on that you don’t get to see, not even on Insta-stories. Not the ant massacre. Not the way this girlboss is so diligent at getting behind-the-scenes content from her first magazine cover shoot. If only you could see how this one was multi-tasking at the shoot. In between posing for our camera (we swear she’s got about a gajillion poses per minute that all work), she’s instructing her assistant, who’s armed with a DSLR and a phone, to take behind-the-scenes shots/phone pix/ videos/Boomerangs from specific spots. She knows her best facial angle (“the right side of my face is sharper”), and even what composition she wants for the video/photo/Boomerang. “Take a portrait shot from here!” she chimes, then a split second later, smiles for our camera. It’s a juggling act we’ve never seen at a cover shoot before. It’s as if she’s cover star and B-roll director all at once. Very impressively meta.
8 DAYS: You started out blogging six years ago as a hobby. Now, it’s not only your full-time job, but you’re also helming an entire team. How are you with the backend aspect of the business?
ANDREA CHONG: I’m still learning a lot of things, and I will defer to the judgment of my sales team, or my boyfriend [who’s a lawyer]. They’re older than me and have [the corporate] experience that I don’t have. I’ve always had a very creative role — I just shoot, edit and blog. But now that I’m managing a bigger team, it’s more about business strategy, finances, sales, budgets. I miss being creative in a way — I enjoy shoots and the editing process ’cos it’s a way for me to destress.
Who’s your most famous follower?
Miranda Kerr. Actually I don’t know if she still follows me. [Checks phone] Oh yes, she still does! I’ve never met her before, but she just followed me. She DM-ed me to ask me to promote her beauty brand, Kora, but I haven’t received the products! Oh, and Jen Atkin, the Kardashians’ hairstylist, and [American fashion blogger extraordinaire] Chriselle Lim also follow me.
Have you ever been asked to act?
I started blogging ’cos I got a gig as a host on Clicknetwork. I tried acting once about six years ago as a calefare on a Toggle show. I forgot the show title but I had five lines and it was a two-day gig. After that, I was like, “Okay I don’t think acting is for me.” Even though I did study theatre studies for A-levels, there are some things I know I should not pursue and acting is one of them. Even my boyfriend says I’m not a very good actress. (Laughs)
What are some not-so-’grammable essentials that you take with you?
I always pack my bolster. Yes, a full-sized bolster. I’m always away from home and [having it with me] feels like home. I have scoliosis and a bolster helps to balance the spine. It takes up half of one side of the suitcase. I also bring medicine. My dad loves packing my medicine ziplock bag for me. There are medicines for everything, like laxatives. When I’m overseas, my digestive system is not great. I think everyone’s like that — can poop everything in Singapore, but cannot poop overseas. So laxatives are very important. (Laughs)
By now, you should have a packing routine.
I still need three to four hours to pack. I need a new outfit for each location and I have to coordinate shoes, bags and accessories. I want to pack strategically so I don’t over-pack. So I’ll match two or three tops to one pair of jeans, or make sure a coat goes with two or three outfits. I keep shoes to three or four pairs max. Planning is time-consuming, but like my JC PE teacher always said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!” (Guffaws) It’s the only thing I got out of JC. That shall be the mantra in the office. I should print it on a sign. [To assistant] All of you better read it before you come into the office! (Laughs)
Are you a superstitious traveller?
Yes, I knock before I enter the hotel room. My friend told me about it, she says it’s to announce to anybody that may be in the room that you’re entering. Thank god I’ve never encountered anything! Touch wood! Oh wait, I did encounter something in Hongkong. I was sleeping but woke up in the middle of the night, and as I was going back to sleep… You know that feeling of someone tucking you into bed and smoothening out the sheets and patting the duvet? I felt that. It was about 3am. I just forced myself to go back to sleep. But I know there are certain hotels around the world you should never stay, like Grand Hyatt Taipei. It’s notoriously haunted. If you Google the hotel, ‘haunted’ is literally the first search word that comes up. That’s why they have two pillars of inscriptions at the lobby. It’s not for decoration leh. It’s fengshui.
Your travel posts are mostly work trips. Is it a conscious decision to post less about your personal life? Do you feel that some influencers focus so much on the business aspect that it starts to lose…
…The personal touch? Actually I also feel that way. We do a lot of shoots and campaigns, and sometimes I think if I should share more personal stuff. I don’t mind it, but it’s just that my personal life is very boring. I don’t party, I don’t drink, I hardly have time to meet my friends. So my personal life is pretty much me at the office or at shoots, and it’s very hard to grab personal content. I want to talk about my boyfriend but he wants to be more private, so I don’t post about him all the time. I think my personal life is very boring leh! My dad has been asking me not to work so hard and to go home more often. They understand that I put in a lot of time into work and see the value in this. In fact, my dad is encouraging me to go clubbing. I don’t drink or club, and I sleep by 1am. My friends don’t want to go out with me because I get tired and grumpy by 12am, which is when the party gets started.
How do you stay awake for fashion week events and after-parties?
Shows and events last until about 7 or 8pm. As for after-parties, we go there, get the content that we need, do our job, go home, sleep.
Speaking of personal life, you recently posted about your brush with a moving company when you were shifting office. The mover had mistakenly sent a text about you to you, speculating if you were wearing a bra in one of your outfit posts.
I try to steer away from opinionated postings ’cos I’m not in this business to argue with my followers. People have their own opinions and it’s very hard to change their mindsets. I’m a very non-confrontational person, even in my personal life. But when that happened, I felt like this harassment thing had happened one too many times. I didn’t call it sexual harassment, if you notice — I’m very careful about using that term ’cos there may be some girls who have experienced worse than me. I just said it’s not good to cat-call and make a girl feel objectified. I let it slide a few times, but I always felt so unhappy. So it came to a point when I thought it’s time to speak up. I wasn’t out to vilify anybody. I’m just here to say enough with the objectification.
What’s the reaction been?
There are girls who supported me and there are a lot of girls who’ve gone through something like this. I received a few hundred DMs from girls to say they’ve gone through similar situations and thanked me for speaking up. Then you have people who say things like, “Then you shouldn’t be a blogger” or “Then don’t post about yourself on Instagram lah”. Blogging has nothing to do with this. Those girls who DM-ed me are not bloggers. That’s a big misconception that a lot of people have. And when I interacted with these men, they didn’t know what my Instagram account was and they didn’t know who I was, nor do I expect everybody to know who I am.
“My life is Instagram, but my life is also not Instagram!” Drea proclaims when we sit at Toastbox after the shoot, sipping on teh-si peng siu dai. Before this, we’d been driving around in Drea’s car trying to decide where to go for a chat post-shoot.
Although she lives in a flat in Sengkang with her 54-year-old dad, who works in real estate, and 25-year-old brother, who’s in the Air Force (her parents are divorced and Mum, a 50-year-old homemaker, now lives in Australia), she meanders around the streets of East Coast as if it were her own backyard.
And in fact, it kinda is. We pass by her alma mater, Victoria Junior College, and she points out excitedly: “That’s the gate everyone will climb over if they’re late for school!” It’s also on these very school grounds that Drea met her boyfriend of 11 years, Imran Rahim. Eleven. Years. That’s like, three lifetimes in this day and age. She first met her beau in Victoria Junior College when she entered JC earlier at 15 on the integrated programme, and he was 19. A couple of years into their dating life, they began talking about marriage. Fast forward 11 years, and the couple is still going so strong, they’re practically married. Except they’re not, and aren’t planning to for the next few years because career comes first for the duo right now.
And this one really lurves her job. Just how much? Enough to drop out of her Literature course at NTU just as she was entering her fourth and final year (“I’m still paying off uni loans. I can’t believe I’m paying thousands of dollars and didn’t even get a degree. It’s very, very painful!”). And this is just the tip of the iceberg to Drea’s non-Instagram life.
Have you and Imran talked about getting married?
Of course, all the time. We already have baby names settled. He hasn’t proposed. But once he proposes, everything will have to move very fast. Get married, get a house, have kids. We’re not in a rush and are taking it easy. We know we’re going to get married, but in a few more years lah. Also, I feel like I’m just starting out at my job and I want him to also focus on his career first before we settle down.
You’ve been together since you were 15, and he’s your first boyfriend. What do you think makes it work?
After one or two years of dating, we were talking about marriage and our life together in the future. I know it’s very naive for an 18-year-old to talk about all that but I don’t think we ever thought this relationship was for fun. We also don’t loosely throw around the term ‘break up’. We try to resolve things, even though it can be frustrating to talk about arguments or problems. It’s a lot of give and take, which a lot of people are unwilling to do these days. A lot of people think, “What can you do for me?” I think it’s a lot about giving and not expecting anything in return.
How does Imran feel about your job, seeing as to how private he is? [Ed: Last we checked, he had over 400 followers and has zero posts.]
He really supports what I do. He’s a professional so it’s only good that I respect his privacy as well. He doesn’t want to be an influencer. People do recognise him but he likes to lead his own life, and do his own thing.
You’re away a lot for work. Does that affect anything?
We FaceTime two or three times every day, and he tells me everything about his day, and vice versa. We’re both very independent and it also helps that we’re both very busy at work. We’re not those clingy types who go, “Talk to me! Go out with me! Go paktor with me!”
On a scale of one to 10, how good of an Instagram boyfriend is he?
(Pauses) I think I’d trust someone else with it, that’s why I hired staff. (Laughs) He didn’t wanna help me. If I’m travelling with [just] him, I have to make sure that all the boxes have been checked — has he gymmed? Has he eaten? Has he had enough to eat? — before I’ll ask him to help me take a photo. Then after 10 photos, he’d say that’s enough. But you know, sometimes 10 photos is not enough! I’d tell him, “Help a girl out! This is something I need to shoot!” I’ve told him I don’t want to go to chio places for holiday with him anymore. It’s a waste of money ’cos I can’t take any photos! (Laughs) So I think our next holiday is in Kuala Lumpur. So on a scale of one to 10, he’d be a four. Some part of me wishes that he takes photos for me, but I also wanna respect his privacy and his career. For me, his career is very important so we will do whatever it takes for his career to be on the right track. He’s a lawyer so he already works really long hours. I don’t want to be a b**** and ask him to help me take photos before he starts work. He’s so tired that sometimes I have to drive to work ’cos he just needs to shut his eyes in the car. And weekends are for him to recuperate, so I think the last thing he wants is to take photos for me.
Your dad is very different though.
He lurveees being the blogger’s dad! (Laughs) He loves the attention! If someone random follows him, he’ll go to their account and give them ‘likes’ in return. He’s such a dad! We have a calendar at work that we fill every day — what we're doing or what we need to post — and my dad asked me to loop him in. I’m like, “No! I need to have a bit of privacy!” He’s on every platform that I’m on — Instagram, Facebook, my blog. Sometimes he comes into my room and shoves the iPad in my face and asks why I haven’t updated the blog, or why an image is out of alignment, or why isn’t the website more mobile-friendly. So when I recently invited him on a [work] trip to Zhangjiajie in China, he was so excited. Two weeks later, he asked me, “Must your assistant go?” I’m like, “Oei, I’m going for work, okay! You think go for fun is it?”
Was he as concerned about your school work in the past?
Not really. Funnily enough, when I was in JC, I sometimes took on holiday jobs as a cashier or sales promoter. When I told him I didn’t want to work, he’d tell me to go out and work and not stay home. Now that I’m working all the time, he asks me to stay home more.
You should train your dad to take photos for you since he’s so on.
Cannot! It’s not nice to instruct your dad to do things. (Laughs) With the exception of Zhangjiajie, I keep family holidays separate and I don’t do any work on these trips.
What does your mum think of your job?
My mum lives in Australia ’cos my parents divorced when I was 18. She also loves [all of this]. She used to run a chalet in Tasmania, and every time a Singaporean stays there, she’ll ask, “Do you know my daughter?” I’m like, “Mum! Stop harassing Singaporeans in Tasmania!” She’s also on social media and likes to critique my outfits and hairstyles. And she also wants the beauty products I endorse, but never ever finishes using them.