Cruisewear label charts its own course

Jaren Ho, 32, founder of womenswear brand Yacht 21, has opened a flagship store at Wheelock Place which also carries shoes, bags and furniture from other brands.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Her foray into the business world started in university when she sold handmade traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) accessories to keep her cancer-stricken best friend from dwelling on the disease.

Jaren Ho, now 32, realised she was a natural entrepreneur and started her own cruisewear label Yacht 21 in 2009.

The made-in-Singapore brand recently opened its flagship store at Wheelock Place and its first lifestyle boutique in Plaza Singapura shopping mall, taking its number of stores and points of sale to 10.

My Paper speaks to Ms Ho, who designs all the clothes at Yacht 21, about retail in Singapore, online and offline shopping, and what it takes to succeed.

WHY DID YOU SET UP NEW PHYSICAL STORES WHEN THE RETAIL OUTLOOK IS NOT THAT GREAT?

We've been a retail brand since 2009. The online store was started in October last year.

We realised that when we are online, certain designs - printed styles and styles that are more colourful - sell better.

When shopping online, you can't touch the fabric. You will probably judge it based on the cutting and print.

There is a lot of competition online, but retail-wise, the smaller shops are slowly moving online or switching over, and I see this opportunity for retailers to do better because there are too many online shops out there.

WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT SETTING UP YOUR BUSINESS?

To get a good factory to work with me. It took us a long time to secure a good partnership with a good factory and a good fabric supplier.

The factory we work with now has a very experienced tailor who helps us with our fabric sampling.

Looking for a good factory to work with took us two to three years.

THERE ARE SEVERAL SINGAPORE BRANDS THAT HAVE FOLDED, BUT NOT YACHT 21. WHAT ARE THE INGREDIENTS FOR YOUR SUCCESS?

We don't admit defeat.

We work with a lot of youngsters - interns and fresh grads. We get new ideas from them.

We continue to reinvent the brand. All brands have their golden age but it starts to fade.

We always have to be two to three steps ahead.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO WHEN YOU JUST STARTED, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?

Put more time into the accounts part of the business. I'm the creative person... but the accounts part is also very important for a business to do well. The cash flow, the ins and outs, the inventory, the stock take.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO START A BUSINESS?

Manage your cash flow wisely and always think about how to be different from others.

WHO ARE YOUR CORE CUSTOMERS?

Eighty per cent are Singaporeans aged 25 to 40. Also South-east Asians, like Malaysians and Indonesians.

WHAT DOES THE SINGAPORE SHOPPER WANT?

They want something that is fuss-free. They can wear it for work and off work, something versatile, affordable.

Things that don't require too much trouble to match.

But recently I think they have become more daring towards colours. Now, they are more adventurous.

WHAT ARE THE TOP THREE OBSTACLES YOU FACE OPERATING A BUSINESS IN SINGAPORE?

Manpower shortage. High rental. Also, we get customers thinking we are a sailor brand.

We want to change that perception.

WHAT HAVE YOU GIVEN UP FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

I gave up a lot of my personal time. I work long hours.

I gave up studying for my engineering degree at 21.

HOW SUCCESSFUL IS YOUR BRAND IN TERMS OF SALES?

We are up to expectations.

Every month, sales are a six-figure sum.

YOUR STORE HAS INSTAGRAM AND FACEBOOK. HOW IMPORTANT IS SOCIAL MEDIA FOR YOUR BUSINESS?

It's very important.

It's to prepare the younger crowd to know us and one day reach out to us.

Now, we are not targeting them yet, but it's good if we keep ourselves in line with what they like because there'll be a time (when) they'll reach that age group we're targeting.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR YACHT 21?

We are thinking of venturing into kidswear but no concrete plans yet. We also want to expand our online store and market it towards South-east Asia.

lydialam@sph.com.sg


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