She is the epitome of a strong woman; having been through adversity early in life. Time and again, Laila has proven that she is a force to be reckoned with. Witty, determined, passionate and oooooh, so sassy, Laila White talks about her journey and how you can have it all without having it together.
Let’s start off by telling us who Laila White is.
Like so many women in this part of the world, I was born into circumstances and could have never predicted where I am today. Just like many people, I have faced many adversities in LIFE. I practice not to have self-pity, to own up to mistakes and failures as much as my success.
I grew up in a kampung in Singapore, witnessed the country change drastically at the age of thirteen when we moved to government housing (HDB). I came from a family of nine siblings, grew up poor but happy. Life was hard but it was simple. As a child as early as four years old, I was molested by several men that I knew – from shopkeeper, family friends to relatives. I grew up quickly; at the age of thirteen years old.
I realised that none of these molestation and rape, was my fault and I shouldn’t be ashamed or guilty about it. It was at thirteen when I gained my power and voice. I am generally a happy and passionate person. I am intolerant when it comes to injustice towards the underdogs. I am fearless, hardworking and a very loyal friend. I work hard and deliver always, these are the values instilled in me that I carry till this day.
My mantra in life is Get Up, Dress Up and Show Up.
Get up, dress up and show up – love that! Laila, you have this amazing personality which is larger than life; you have the ability to make the most awkward person open-up to you. Have you always been this way?
Growing up I have always been shy. I am the person that will stand in a corner at a party. I am a great believer that life is short and laughter will heal many wounds. I love to laugh; mine is one of those obnoxiously loud laughters. I have no problems making fun of myself. I am empathetic and compassionate – always listening without judgement. I help whenever I’m able and a great believer of passing it forward – with no strings attached.
I was snooping a little and got to know that you are a proud mother of two gorgeous girls. I also know that you single handedly raised your two daughters. What has been your biggest challenge as a working mom, Laila?
Haha, where do I begin? I have been a single parent for more than twenty years. I’ve raised my two children all by myself – emotionally, physically and financially. I was a housewife and started working part time three hrs a day three times a week, earning only $15 per hour after passing a fitness instructor course with Singapore Sports Council. I was second in the class of eighty eight students and one of the two housewives in the class. I was married for fourteen years, twelve wonderful years and the last two years weren’t so great. My ex-husband went through major depression and had schizophrenia. He left me with more than $200,000 in debt, it was a frightening period of my life .
I worked every day from 5:30am to 9pm, training people from one end of the island to another without fail. The biggest challenge I faced was transforming from being a mother – one who nurtured my kids to becoming a so-called man, the man-of-the-house. I taught my kids reading at the age of three – reading stories before they go to bed. I became a disciplinarian. I ran the house with an iron fist and had too many unpopular decisions. My short-term goal was to put food on the table, and my long term goal was to send my two girls to university. I am an advocate for education especially for girls. Both my girls finished university in 2019.
Wow, such an amazing story. What can I say, you’ve done well, Mamma! I also know you’ve been nurturing your two other babies as well. Let’s talk a little about Elite Fit and PLAYtopia.
E.L.I.T.E (Enjoy Life In Through Exercise) Fit was founded twenty six years go. It started off as a personal training company. I’ve been a personal trainer to high profile personalities, industry and country leaders to everyday people. We provide corporate wellness for five star hotels, corporations, government bodies, schools in Singapore; Shangri La, Johnson & Johnson, Infineon Technology, Safra, seventy secondary schools and sixty primary schools, just to name a few.
Over the years, I got into gym creation for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and homes globally. To date, I have had the opportunity to create sixteen Four Seasons Hotel gyms in the Americas, Middle East and Asia. It is a big achievement, being Asian and a woman. I changed the mindset, look and feel of what a hotel gym should look and be. A hotel gym is now an asset and not an afterthought. I created the gym standard for Four Seasons Hotel that’s still widely used.
We created outreach programmes A.D.A.T (A Day At A Time) at Our Tampines hub free for the community. Our tai chi , qi gong, pilates , yoga, and zumba classes start at 7 am to 9pm daily. It is heartwarming to see – two years ago, we had ten participants, now the average per class is about sixty people. Our Tampines Hub and Elite Fit have the same vision in building a fit nation and taking all the excuses away. I am very blessed to be given this opportunity to work with them.
PLAYtopia Sg Kids’ indoor playground is Elite Fit’s new baby. We are the first kids’ indoor playground in Singapore built within a library. PLAYtopia Sg is built for the community and our main aim is to raise our children with values, ethics and kindness – learning through play.
You have been in the fitness industry for the longest time, Laila and you have branded yourself exceptionally well. Walk us back to when it all started.
It started twenty six years ago after seeing my brother’s body transformation during his Singapore National Service. As a mother of two, I wanted to be fit and was inspired to be lean like him and Bruce Lee. He taught me a few exercises to do at home. Every night when my daughters were asleep I would workout, I could only manage five minutes as I was very unfit. After three months, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to take a course on Basic Exercise at Sports Council.
When I passed the course, I took another and then another. Twenty six years later, here I am. From a personal trainer, a global gym creator for a luxury hotel chain and residences, a wellness and fitness events creator, Managing Director of an inaugural Fitness Best Asia Awards, a kids indoor playground owner, TV host and I am a woman above everything else.
You’re such an inspiration not only to women but to everyone out there and hey, I have been binge-watching your channel on YouTube, Life By Laila (in the name of research, of course lol). Tell us about it.
My entire brand is built on an ethos of giving back, passing my good fortune forward, and helping people live their best lives. It’s more than learning about fitness and nutrition. My mission is to help people to be whole, in mind, body, spirit and to have balance. That’s what aQieve is and what my show LIFE by Laila is all about. You’ll learn that simplicity matters and it’s closer to home than you think.
This show is about inspiration. I draw my inspiration from those who have helped me understand how to appreciate the moment. Those who know that the true meaning of living is about being alive. Those who know that exercise isn’t a chore, it’s about movement. Simplicity matters. Eating healthy doesn’t mean depriving yourself – it means being focused on the joy of fresh, home-cooked foods. My show aims to help bring that ethos into their own lives.
LIFE by Laila may have my name in the title, but the show isn’t about me. It’s about giving time to myself, to the people I love, to the communities I am a part of. Those of us who are privileged enough to have knowledge and opportunity should always pass it forward; that’s our duty as human beings. This is the take out of the series. Surrounded by quick and easy technologies, we have forgotten about the incredible tradition that sustained people for centuries. Bridging the traditional with contemporary is at the heart of my philosophy. Again, simplicity matters. There’s no secret formula to wellness. Wellness is when the mind, body and spirit come together in complete balance. aQieve is balance – so is Life by LAILA.
What are the stumbling blocks you faced over the years in terms of your career?
I always think ahead in my industry. I don’t fit in a box, which is quite obvious seeing how my career transcends from one to another. My views on wellness ten years ago is what you are seeing right now, holistic. Most people were not ready and sceptical when I approached them. It was hard to convince the masses but I never gave up.
Everything that I do, I start with a clear intention. It’s hard to ask people to put their faith in you; but I have faith in me. Projects that never came about, broken promises – are part and parcel of life and work. I don’t take it personally. If it’s not meant to be, then it is not meant for me. Modelling at the age of seventeen taught me just that – to have thick skin. Being ripped apart in auditions, I learned at that moment and time, I didn’t fit the profile they are looking for.
You work a lot in Indonesia. My question is, why Indonesia?
I was hired by AMC and an event company that wanted to create their own event – Fitness Best Asia Awards. They pursued me for months until I gave in. It’s one of the best things that happened for Asia.
I created the first Fitness Awards in Asia. Putting together criterias, categories and judges all over Asia , such as Ade Rai (Indonesia) Alex Yong (Malaysia) and many more well-known individuals to represent our brand was amazing! We held the 2017 inaugural event in Singapore with only two hundred submissions from all over Asia. The second year, I made a gutsy decision and took it to Jakarta, Indonesia. We had over two thousand submissions and the glamourous attendance was graced by many celebrities. That is where I was asked to do a TV show by Henry Juniffer of MNC Channels. A year later, I started my third company aQieve (achieve) and LIFE by Laila is born and it was rated #1 .
Indonesia is ground-breaking for LIFE by Laila and our aim is to showcase Asia and Asians. We will be traveling all over Asia to instil pride, remind us to treasure our traditions, customs, and rituals. We are sitting on goldmine. We need to start looking inward and celebrate ourselves and realise we are the trendsetters of what balance means.
When I got to know that you are the Founder of a wellness marketing specialist agency, I am very excited because this is a topic which I am very obsessed about. Tell us all about aQieve.
aQieve (aCHIeve) is about balance. I started this company with a firm understanding that we cannot just have a fit body without a clear mind and unconscious spirit. Fitness, nutrition and lifestyle is the superficial need for us to function. The underlying component of mind, body and spirit will give you balance.
Our vision. Every person respects and values balance and harmony and invests in their mind, body and spirit. We believe that when people take care of themselves, they have the ability to take care of others and the world.
Our mission. We create public awareness of what “balance” means. We empower each person to realise their best in body, mind and spirit. We aim to build a thriving ecosystem around the world of balance.
Our focus. Asia, due to the large population with trends, point to a big need. There’s a powerful opportunity to bring alive ancient and proven traditions and make them real in the modern world. Currently, there’s insufficient opportunity to adapt western practices to local needs and situations
We do this through creating awareness with our three TV shows- LIFE by Laila, aQieve LIFE app, aQieve LIFE Festival/Expo & Awards.
What is your motivation factor, Laila?
Passion. I must believe in the project in order to commit. When I am no longer passionate, I move forward. If I stay, I am robbing my spirit of growth. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very committed person, whatever I put my hands in. But if ethics gets in the way of what I do, my passion evaporates and that’s when I will move on.
A tv host, entrepreneur, fitness leader, keynote speaker – what is next for Laila White?
We are planning to produce LIFE by Laila’s Season 2 and 3, Football Rising Stars in 2021 and other tv shows. These shows will be taking us around Asia. aQieve LIFE app development and aQieve LIFE Expo+ Awards, aQieve LIFE certifications, workshops, our aQieve LIFE wellness products. Laila is always moving and metamorphosing. Watch this space!