By April Zara Chua
Singapore — Victoria*, 33, and her husband, had set aside some money to finance the purchase of their new home. But with another year left in their Minimum Occupation Period on their Build-to-Order (BTO) flat, she decided to take a part of it to start an online business instead.
With some knowledge from her previous attempt at a fashion e-commerce business back when she was in university, she jumped straight into this new business. She ended up spending a lot more than she expected but having found the right target market, her business picked up and she broke even in just five months.
Here’s her story.
“In my first e-commerce business selling regular-size women’s apparels, the outcome wasn’t what I expected. But it was still pretty satisfying for me because I love to design and manufacture clothes. It feels good to see people buying the designs I come up with.
I’ve always loved shopping for clothes. I feel that the right cutting and design can make a woman feel beautiful and confident. I gained significant weight after I gave birth to my two boys and I was struggling to find clothes I can feel pretty in. Clothes in brick-and-mortar shops were too dull and boring for my taste, and I felt dejected whenever I couldn’t find anything suitable. That’s when I thought I should start something that specialises in plus-size clothing for women.
I work as an analyst in an oil and gas company and my industry was hit badly during the pandemic. With the stress I was feeling at work, I needed to find an outlet that would also allow me to pursue my passion and perhaps prepare me for the worst-case scenario at work.
In April 2020, I began looking for and contacting manufacturers. Shortly after, I started working on samples and I launched my first collection in October 2020. To be honest, I jumped into the business pretty fast and I didn’t have any proper financial planning. My husband, who has a background in finance, helped me out and I was taken aback by how much capital I needed in order to hit the breakeven point. At this point I was already contemplating giving up but, in the end, I decided that I won’t know until I try.
I initially thought I would only need S$5,000 but five months into operation and I’ve injected S$20,000 into my business that went into inventory, samples, and photography. It also included some costs that I didn’t plan for like social media marketing and transforming an existing room in the house into a fitting room.
My original plan was to engage social media influencers for marketing but there weren’t a lot of plus-size key opinion leaders (KOLs). So I turned to using paid Instagram and Facebook marketing tools — which ended up being essential to growing my business as it allowed me to gain exposure quickly.
I spent a bulk of my capital on inventory because I wanted weekly launches instead of monthly. I noticed monthly launches were the usual in the e-commerce space for startups and I needed to stand out. I wanted to keep customers engaged and create lasting impressions. Hence, I decided to spend on bringing in more designs per batch.
My sales in the first month were low and slow. Fortunately, it picked up in the second month. In my initial projections, I wasn’t supposed to break even until at least 18 months into the business, but five months into it and I’ve gotten back all my capital and I’m starting to rake in profits.
I really didn’t have much of a plan when I started this — I just dived into it with confidence that I will be able to make it successful. I think I’m lucky that I didn’t face much challenges in my financial endeavours. My business can also be considered a small-scale startup hence the impact is not as big.
I think it’s important to have perseverance and confidence, because you’ll never know until you try so, just do it! I believe that you can always earn your money back but if the opportunity is lost, it’s lost forever.”
*Name has been changed as the interviewee prefers to remain anonymous.