StudyAdvantage Magazine

Alumni Stories: Sylvia Yin, the Economist Who “Dropped Everything”

Published: November 21, 2016

In the StudyAdvantage “Alumni Stories” interview series, we meet former international students now passionately embarking on global careers in business, politics, media, arts, technology and science. We ask them how their international educational journeys have shaped their outlook…and what they would do in an unconstrained version of life.


Alumni Durham


At 24 Sylvia Yin is the youngest Malaysian to be featured on the prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list. A passionate yoga practitioner and former international student, Sylvia was the epitome of a model student, scoring straight A’s while being heavily engaged in student-led initiatives at Durham University in the UK where she completed her undergraduate degree in Economics in 2014. She was headed for a corporate top career when all of a sudden she decided to drop everything and launch her multi-award winning e-commerce venture – Shoppr. Two years later, Sylvia is looking to conquer the growing South East Asian online fashion retailing space.

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Tell us a bit about your early life, growing up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and your motivations behind wanting to pursue an international education.

I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia until age of 19, where I completed my A Levels in a private school. I always had a desire to study abroad due to the fact that I grew up with a lot of freedom given by my parents. I learned to be independent from a young age and the thought of exploring the world beyond Kuala Lumpur on my own was always in the back of my mind. One could say I was self-motivated.


In 2011, Sylvia moved to Durham in northern England – a quaint little town boasting beautiful, ancient architecture. Set among the old streets and more than 630 listed buildings is a very Harry Potter-esque university of high academic standard – Durham University.


From the modern metropolis that is Kuala Lumpur to the small, historic town of Durham – that’s quite a radical change. What went into your decision making process when choosing university?

Aside from the fact that I was looking to read Economics at a prestigious university, what really appealed to me about Durham was just how different it was from Kuala Lumpur. I wanted to live in an environment completely different from what I was used to as a way to test my adaptability. 


Durham AlumniDid you enjoy your time at University?

I did enjoy my time in University, without a doubt. There were times I missed home, but the overall experience trumps any homesickness I may have felt throughout my college years.


Tell us about one of the highlights from your three years in Durham.

One of the best experiences throughout my three years in Durham is undoubtedly the friendships I have struck up. This, as well as the cultural experiences I have accumulated. I made friends from around the world, many of which I still stay in close contact with. Durham is a great place to build an international network.

Two years after I graduated, I returned to England and met up with my course mates. It was amazing, and we connected as though we had never spent a day apart. 


As an applicant from Malaysia, how did you find the application process? What resources helped you navigate?

The application was easy enough. I received plenty of guidance from my A Level’s college – Taylors College. The most difficult part is probably the long wait at the visa center. We had to wake up very early to secure a time slot and often times it could become chaotic, as anxious parents grew impatient.


Sylvia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the historic university in 2014. With perfect marks, an impressive extracurricular roster, and an internship with global consulting firm PwC to add to her resume, Sylvia was the perfect contender for a corporate career – something many can only dream of.


When did you first start questioning whether consulting really was the right path for you?

I started questioning it after my first 3-month internship at a consultancy firm. While the experience was good and I met many intelligent and nice people, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to spend my time in a corporate environment. 


Towards the end of her final year in University, Sylvia had already made up her mind about scrapping the conventional “career ladder” plans. By taking a year out to explore her interests and focusing on her yoga training, she was hoping to figure out the right next move.


How did you first come in touch with the idea of building a shopping app within the fashion space?

I fell in love with online shopping when I was in Durham. However, I struggled with looking for alternative online stores like the ones I was used to (ASOS, Boohoo etc.) when I relocated back home. Googling did not return satisfactory results as I found that the stores did not cater to my style preferences. Solving this problem seemed like an exciting challenge.


How did this specific idea resonate with your interests so well?

Fashion and retail has always been an interest growing up. I remember being 11 and distributing a survey about fashion to my classmates. In it, I asked them about their style and clothing preferences as teenagers. 13 years later, I am still interested in these behavioral questions – why do we buy, what do we buy, how do we buy?


Sylvia dropped everything – her gap year plans AND her corporate pursuits – to co-found Shoppr with the two friends Kendrick Wong and Nikolai Prettner. The fashion aggregator app allows users to browse through looks to find inspiration and shop items instantly. The trio has won a handful startup competitions such as AngelHack KL, D3 Hackathon, Facebook PARSE among others, and raised $400,000 in seed funding. Sylvia, serving as COO of the business, was featured as the youngest Malaysian on the recent Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list for 2016.


Looking back at the past two years, are you happy about your decision?

Very happy. Building Shoppr has been such a steep learning curve and I feel very satisfied knowing I am constantly improving thanks to this experience. 


How does a degree in economics help you navigate the waters of the ecommerce/fashion industry?

One of my greatest fascinations with economics lies in Behavioural Economics. This is very applicable to the e-commerce/fashion industry as it explores reasons behind consumption behaviors and how the understanding can be used for choice architecture. 


Has your international education helped you in your role as an entrepreneur? How?

I believe an international education has helped. One of the most important things an entrepreneur has to have is an open mind. Being exposed to a multi-cultural environment provided me with a sense of open-mindedness. 


With much going for her, Sylvia Yin is definitely someone to look out for in the coming years. With Shoppr on the horizon in an emerging market where online shopping is still in its infancy, the app is in a good position.


What’s in store for Shoppr (pun intended) five years from now?

Shoppr aspires to be the go-to place for fashion in South East Asia. We want every girl in SEA to think of Shoppr when they think of fashion. So in the next 5 years, Shoppr will be working hard towards establishing a foothold in every nation in the region. 


Final question: if your life was unconstrained, if you had no financial limitations and no immediate responsibilities, how would you choose to spend your next year?

Building Shoppr already feels like a huge privilege. But if I had never started Shoppr, I would like to travel the world and deepen my practice of yoga. I’m currently pursuing my yoga teacher training certificate (so I’m kind of living my dream already). 



Read more about Durham University here.


Also, check out our student blog from Durham University:

Fram Hansotia, Class of ’18


If you want to learn more about Shoppr or shop the best styles online, head over to their website:

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