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Bibs & bytes
WHEN leaning in just doesn't cut it, mums around the world are coding up. Thanks to low entry barriers and flexible work hours, mumpreneurs are stirring up a storm online with e-stores retailing children's clothes and accessories. From figuring out how to send electronic mailers to promoting a Children's Day sale to styling a photoshoot to showcase their latest merchandise, these online whizzes have discovered businesses that allow them to oversee homework assignments in the day and stock-take after the kids go to bed.
"Anyone savvy with a laptop can design a simple website using a template and power it with a platform like Shopify," says Tjin Lee, a mum of two who heads her own public relations and marketing company as well as online kids fashion store Baby Style Icon.
"It also gives women who have chosen to stay at home or work part-time the flexibility to manage their own little business on their own time."
According to Sher-li Torrey, founder of Mums@Work - a career portal to help mums find work-parenting balance - 1,000 of its 27,000 registered members have started businesses of their own. Many of these are based online as many mothers prioritise work-life balance and opt to run a business from home.
However, the kids retail industry is anything but fun and games, as a plethora of mums with an eye for the next hipster slogan tee are getting into the fray. Running a business, whether online or off, is a lot more than an extension of one's personal shopping sprees.
"Honestly, a lot of startups don't think about how they are really going to grow a viable customer base," says Ms Lee. "You really have to think about how to make your brand stand out, increase your base, and have a unique voice in the increasingly crowded marketplace.
"If you do not sell through your first collection, how will you raise the funds to sell your second collection? Many online fashion stores run into this problem, and end up folding when they end up with a lot of stock, and no channel to sell them."
In fact, with multiple stores stocking the same popular brands such as soft toy brand Jellycat or clothing label Mini Rodini, many mothers are differentiating their sites with content.
Cheryl Tay, for example, started a blog to support her store Privi Kids, while a new online portal for mums called Mummyfique by journalist Melissa Lwee, public relations veteran Gidania Wong and marketing and communications specialist Dolores Au provides parenting tips, fashion advice, recipes and interviews with other mums - alongside a small selection of products for babies and mums.
"With easily accessible online programmes, portals and websites supporting home-based businesses, we have seen a proliferation of stay-at-home mums who have started home-based businesses online to make a few bucks or to keep their creative juices flowing while running the domestic household and bringing up the kids," says Ms Wong.
"Mummyfique was always meant to be a digital destination that caters to time-starved modern mums - which is why we subscribe to an editorial-meets-e-commerce model."
Fashionista's labour of love
She's already a fashionista in her own right, running the annual Singapore Fashion Week event and rubbing shoulders with fashion designers ranging from Diane von Furstenberg to Hussein Chalayan. And Tjin Lee's young sons Jake and Tyler are becoming mini-fashion plates, thanks to threads from mummy's store, Baby Style Icon.
"We started Baby Style icon after I had my first son and I was lamenting the lack of stylish baby boys' fashion while there would be racks of adorable fashion for baby girls, and I had to order Tyler's fashion from cult boutiques overseas," explains Ms Lee, who started the business with three partners two years ago.
"It so happened that Singapore's top blogger and Instagram queen Xiaxue (Wendy Cheng) chanced upon my Instagram account at this time, and asked me where I shopped for all my cute boys' fashion, as she also had a son the same age."
When Ms Lee realised that Xiaxue had almost 300,000 followers (the latter has 600,000 followers now), she proposed starting a business together, roping in another two friends. She manages the sourcing of products while her partners oversee social media updates, daily operations and finance. Today, Ms Lee has also amassed 23,200 followers on Instagram, largely through posts of her highly photogenic sons.
"Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook offer fairly affordable ways to reach your target audience as compared to traditional 'above-the-line' media advertising channels," adds Ms Lee. "We now have close to 40,000 followers on our Baby Style Icon Instagram page, which is the highest for a local or regional online baby boutique."
Adding that the company wouldn't have been as successful without Xiaxue's huge online following, Ms Lee reveals it has been profitable since its inception and has been sustainable since.
"Parents are often willing to spend on their children more than themselves, and baby shopping is an emotional exercise," says Ms Lee. "People love to buy baby clothes not because they are practical but because they are cute 'must-haves'."
Togs for tots
Hollywood fashion arbiter Rachel Zoe isn't the only stylist mum who loves chic threads for her little ones. Homegrown stylist Sharon Tan has leveraged her experience in dressing models - including pint-sized clotheshorses - in fashion spreads, into an online boutique for kids.
"As a freelance stylist, my job is to constantly look out for brands, and dressing up my kids comes naturally," says Ms Tan, who has two young sons and owns online store Kookies and Milk.
One of the biggest obstacles in sustaining a retail store is finding the right mix of merchandise - especially products that cannot be found easily on our shores. But thanks to jobs styling children's fashion shows and editorials for magazines, Ms Tan has been exposed to a multitude of kidswear brands and trends that might not be on the radars of other mums. "I often hear about emerging brands and if my kids and I fancy the design and it's within the budget of our target consumers, we will try it out," says Ms Tan. "Ultimately, my kids are my main inspiration and the customers I have in mind. If the designs are well received, we bring them in."
As a result, Kookies and Milk is an extension of Ms Tan and her family's personal tastes. And the product selection goes beyond just clothes, with twee growth charts, cushions that resemble a sprinkles-covered doughnut and silicone placemats to keep that cereal bowl firmly on the table.
"I am even observing what kids are wearing on the streets," says Ms Tan. "While travelling from place to place, I make use of that free time to update my social media and also keep up with my webstore."
The site also tries to educate consumers about certain values and being responsible shoppers, instead of perpetuating the fast fashion cycle. For example, a large number of products are organic and eco-friendly to protect the environment and ensure the safety of young customers. "Our brand believes in the longevity of kidswear, which is reflected in our minimalistic and monochromatic styles," says Ms Tan.
Content is king
With fashion magazines expanding into e-commerce to boost revenue or retailers launching their own blogs and publications, shoppable content is the next wave of innovative retail. Thanks to Net-a-porter, the luxury e-tailer that pioneered the shoppable digital magazine concept, plenty of other sites are also banking on the model, including Mummyfique.
"Mummyfique was really born out of a frustration in finding content and products that spoke to us as modern, savvy mums," says Melissa Lwee, a former editor of online and print magazine Billionaire.
"While there are a lot of parenting sites out there, there isn't anything like us - that showcases lifestyle through the eyes of a stylish modern mum and one that celebrates successful mums whose stories inspire us."
Together with her partners, Ms Lwee launched Mummyfique, which claims to be the first editorial and e-commerce digital destination here. Many of the articles on the site have a 'Shop the Story' option so that mums can read about a product and buy it without having to go to a store.
"It used to be that if you had a child, you basically had two options: you're either a stay-home mum or a working mum," says Ms Lwee, whose daughter turned one recently. "However, the rise of the digital age has made it possible for many mums to work from home, allowing them to spend more time with their children while earning a living, whether it be through an e-shop, freelance work or creating content online."
Apart from providing catchy articles that support fellow mums, the portal aims to lend support to cottage industries led by mothers by stocking their wares and giving them a platform to showcase their creativity.
" 'By Mothers, For Mothers' is the philosophy we subscribe to when choosing our inventory," says Ms Lwee, who was also a lifestyle journalist with The Business Times.
"When considering job placements and employment options for Mummyfique, we also actively work with third-party vendors who are mums or hire mums on an ad-hoc basis for a variety of projects.
With three stores under her belt, Cheryl Tan has certainly made the successful transition from bits and bytes to bricks and mortar. But the Internet is where this mumpreneur is able to share a bit more about the family behind the children’s boutique Privi Kids.
“Our blog is an extension of our business. It’s not just sharing our fashion finds but to also share our own journey of parenting with other parents,” explains Ms Tan, who also features other online kids stores and products on her blog: privikids. blogspot.sg.
Ms Tan started an online store with her husband Darren Yang when they had trouble finding reasonably priced yet stylish clothes for their son Aiden when he was born. They chanced upon affordable clothing options for kids when trawling the Internet and during their travels, and the idea for an e-boutique was spawned.
“We wanted to share our unique finds with like-minded parents who want to dress their kids in a reflection of their own style,” says Ms Tan, whose products generally feature hipster prints such as a chevron- patterned, monochromatic dress rather than cutesy togs emblazoned with cartoon characters.
“The retail stores are great channels for mums to try on the clothes and feel the quality of our products. More important, it’s a great way for us to build a strong rapport with our customers.
With her third outlet opening at Waterway Point recently, following branches in Suntec City and Changi City Point, Ms Tan makes growing an online kids business look easy.
“No, of course it is not,” cautions the mother of two, when asked if selling kids’ products is a recipe for business success.
“It is a highly competitive industry which is not recession-defying. For example parents can choose to pass on the clothes and there are also plenty of poorer quality alternatives they can turn to.”
Besides, being a mum and mini-mogul is more than a full-time job. As much as the entrepreneur has been able to conduct photoshoots of her kids modelling Privi Kids pieces and write blog posts on preschool trials and craft activites, all while running a chain of stores, the multi- tasker is the first to admit how hard it is to juggle various roles.
“My kids do not go to bed before 10pm as I am often home late and we spend quality time together during this time. We have supper with the kids as well, ice cream and junk food included.”