Before knowing her as an entrepreneur, I knew Min Poh (@minpoh) as a fashionable Instagram personality.
And it’s not difficult to label her as such – her feed is simply a feast for the eyes.
From perfectly-framed food shots to carefully curated snippets of her life, what stands out are the 32-year-old’s OOTDs – classic, feminine and, for the lack of a better word, downright cute.
But look closer, and you’ll realise that the clothes she’s wearing are from her label, ARCADE (aforarcade.com).
Is the move strategic?
“I won’t say that it is a strategy, though it does help customers visualise better when they see it on a non-model. I wear my own clothes because I truly like them!”
And that’s exactly what endears ARCADE to its fans – how wearable and flattering their items are for the regular Singaporean – even if you don’t have the proportions of a super model.
From Side Project For Extra Money To Full-Time Career
But what you see is actually a rebranding of an older blogshop started by Poh in her university days in 2006.
Known as Little Red Heels, Poh, who was studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) as a Communications and New Media undergraduate then, started the blogshop with a simple purpose – for her to earn extra pocket money.
“We were on the Livejournal platform then, hence the term ‘blogshops’.”
Then, Poh reveals that blogshops weren’t as widespread as they are now – when clothes can be bought from either standalone labels or marketplaces like Qoo10.
“When Little Red Heels started in 2006, you could count the number of players with two hands. It was either you shop on eBay (old players) or Livejournal (the hippies).”
To stand out and also carve a niche, Little Red Heels “differentiated ourselves by infusing our quirks into the designs and our presentation – basically whatever comes to mind, from crazy cut outs to using a projector to create a photoshoot backdrop”.
But what started as a side-project soon turned into Poh’s full-time gig, as she realised that her initial career ambition to be an event organiser wasn’t working out as well as she thought it would.
“When I realised [the blogshop] was such a great creative outlet and I could make real money from it, the rest is history. Like they say, when passion and money meet.”
It was only when Collin Goh (32), her husband and co-founder, came on board that a brand overhaul took place, and it was renamed to ARCADE.
A graduate of Singapore Management University with a double major in Marketing and Finance, Goh left his position as an account executive in Ogilvy and Mather after 6 months after he too “saw an opportunity [via the shop] to marry his passion in fashion and marketing”.
Little Red Heels To ARCADE
While a large majority of e-commerce fashion sites cater to females, Poh and Goh wanted their new baby to cater to guys as well.
“The reason for the brand refresh was because we wanted a gender neutral name to carry both women and menswear, and an identity that is relatable to a wider audience.”
That said, Goh also helps in modelling some of their items for the site.
But the name ‘ARCADE’ didn’t come as easily as they thought – “It took us at least a month to come up with this name. Both of us have very different exposures and thus varied likings and styles. It’s hard to decide on a name, but when you hear the one, you know it.”
This was when they found inspiration in an unexpected place – a viral video.
“There was a viral video of an enterprising 9-year-old who started his own cardboard arcade out of his dad’s auto parts shop and he called it Caine’s Arcade. When we saw the video, it struck a chord with us and we both went ‘That’s us’.”
With a belief that fashion and life should be “fun and unexpected”, the word ‘arcade’, regardless of interpretation, “suggests a place of fun and colours”.
Their domain name, aforarcade, came up because of a practical need – when Arcade.com or ArcadeClothing.com were both unavailable as domain names.
“So we [asked ourselves], how do we come up with a variant that isn’t cheesy, yet memorable and Google searchable? The result was AforArcade.com.”
Getting Hands-On, And The Importance Of A Great Team
While fast fashion labels churn out massive collections of clothes at breakneck speed, the same doesn’t happen for a smaller scale online fashion store like ARCADE.
“[The] time necessary to bring each design to fruition is on average 2-3 months. There is a lot of nitty gritty details to look out for when it comes to clothing.”
To stay in tune with what’s trendy, Poh reveals that designs are an “everyday task” for them.
“We stay relevant by keeping up with the latest trends and developments [but] it’s not hard since it’s the same content that interests us anyway. We have also built a ‘highlights’ calendar over the years and work around them. These include important festivities and lookbook shoots.”
“The rest of the time, it’s all about churning good outfits and content for our customers.”
And just like every other startup story, Poh and Goh needed to get hands-on with every step that goes into running a successful online store.
“From ironing clothes week in week out for photoshoots to queuing up at Singpost to deliver huge bags of packages, we were also our own photographer, customer service officer, graphic designer, purchaser, marketer, finance controller, delivery guy, model even.”
But Poh reiterates that in spite of the difficulties that come with running an online business, they have been blessed with a “great and efficient” team.
“Everyone is dedicated to their scope and we always try to push each other to do better and think out of the box. It is important to have a team who believe in the brand as much as you do, and constantly wants to push the brand to new heights. We are housed in a rather small office. We sit with the staff in the same space, and come up with designs and content together. Everyone has a say – though, of course, we do have the final say.”
“Running a business is the challenge. You are your own challenge and it is really down to how far you want to stretch yourself and overcome them. Consistency is something that is easy to overlook, and we rely on everyone in the team to keep things in check.”
Staying Relevant, And Standing Out From Competition
“When the brand refresh of ARCADE came about in 2012, the market has burgeoned and it was a whole different game. It is an exceptionally competitive industry in the last three years, especially with the big boys going online and/or lowering prices to stay competitive.”
Thus, instead of playing the price card, ARCADE focuses more on quality of what they offer, and always listening to what their customers want.
“Creative ideas aside, it has to be backed up with good quality of your offerings. Our customers are also more savvy than before, and we always strive to be right alongside them with ARCADE.”
Having been in the scene for a decade now, Poh reveals that the longevity of her businesses is due to a simple mantra – “Sticking to what we believe, and listening to our customers.”
‘”Both are conflicting but there is always a balance point. You don’t want to compromise such that you lose your identity, nor do you want to let your customers think their opinions don’t matter. They do, very much in fact.”
“Online Is The Way To Go”
Not just an online affair, ARCADE also stocks their items at physical stockists, albeit the arrangement “[playing] more of a secondary role”.
When asked if they’ll be planning to put more of their items offline, Poh states that “online is the way to go”.
Quipped Poh, “This is not to say we will never go offline to set up a retail store. We are always open to opportunities, and whatever and wherever is fun!”
As for their future plans, Poh is looking internationally, but sticking true to their core by “staying playful and relevant as ever”.
And to aspiring fashion entrepreneurs, Poh advices: “Have an identity and own it. And then, it’s all hard work. Get ready to work, work, work!”