Kelly Ong, 32, has been in the fashion industry for over a decade now.
Both of them were only 20-year-old communication studies undergraduates at Nanyang Technological University then.
Although they were young and had zero experience in the fashion industry, they went ahead to set up MISSYPIXIE anyway.
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“We were selling handmade accessories at that time and made them from scratch,” said Ong.
We wanted to earn extra allowance, and also liked the idea of making our own charm necklaces for half the price they are selling outside.
Both of them started out with just $500, spending it all on materials to DIY with.
Every aspect of the business was done by themselves to save on expenses.
They did the product shoots with their personal cameras and even modelled their own accessories, as they didn’t want to waste extra money on renting a studio or hiring models.
“Since the initial investment was so small, we broke even in a month,” said Ong.
Broke Even In A Month
As the business started seeing profitability, they started pumping in more money – amounting an estimated $5,000 each – as further investment.
Starting out, many family and friends showed their support by buying from the blogshop.
But thanks to word-of-mouth, their brand awareness heightened and they started receiving orders from strangers.
This was a true accomplishment for them because they didn’t tap on any social media platforms to market themselves, yet many people began learning about them/their brand through other blogs and online reviews.
Despite the increasing sales, the downside was that it was time-consuming to craft the accessories on a daily basis, especially when they have other commitments in the day.
Moreover, “the profit margin wasn’t worth the effort,” she added.
Hence, she figured it will be a better move to pivot the following year, and switch to selling apparels instead.
Business was “booming”, according to Ong. However, their supply was inadequate to keep up with the high demand.
Every collection was almost a sell-out, and we had to keep going back to our suppliers to replenish stocks.
A Young And Fearless Entrepreneur
After graduating from NTU, the two co-founders secured full-time jobs – Ong worked in events management, and Lin in public relations.
Then in 2007, Ong opened a physical store at City Plaza with another partner in 2008 to dabble in wholesale apparel.
She was only 23 then, yet she was a rather fearless entrepreneur.
I think it was because I was so young, so if it didn’t work out, I can just move on to a ‘proper job’ later on in life. At that age, there wasn’t any commitments or fears holding me back so everything was worth a gamble.
“Business did really well, but I decided to leave it the following year to focus on MISSYPIXIE. My then-partner took over running the business, but it later closed down sometime in 2010.”
In 2011, both Ong and Lin quit their full-time jobs so they can better devote their time and attention to running MISSYPIXIE.
“I decided to quit working because I happened to see one of the accounts that my boss billed a client for my services, and it was way higher than I was paid. So I figured that if I am worth that much, that I might as well earn all of that myself.”
“Also, it was getting tiring to work a day job, then come home at 7pm and start working on orders, packing them before bringing them to the post office between 11pm and 1am every day.”
Ong refuses to disclose their monthly revenue, but said that it is comparable to what they used to earn in their former jobs.
Rebranding To The Willow Label
When Lin left MISSYPIXIE to help her husband run his business, Ong figured it would be a good time to take a hiatus and re-evaluate the brand’s direction.
“MISSYPIXIE was known to be very girly, and it was actually very close to my own personal sense of style then.”
However, we have customers who have stayed with us from the start and it was becoming obvious that as we got older, the style was also becoming a bit cutesy for our age.
As such, she wanted MISSYPIXIE to take on a whole new look, choosing to sell clothes that are more suited to her current style and age.
Rebranding to The Willow Label in the 2015, Ong said that it is a “more grown-up label as compared to MISSYPIXIE”.
“I like to pick items that are more wearable that can be easily integrated into one’s wardrobe, which makes more practical sense.”
“So for every season, I will highlight a few trends like stripes, ruffles, plaids, and incorporate them into my pieces while adding on other basic items to build a look.”
According to Ong, she sources her apparels from China, but also self-manufactures some items.
Dismissing the notorious reputation of made-in-China products, she emphasised that she is particular about the quality of her sourced items.
She insists that the cutting of her pieces must be good, and the material and workmanship must both be superior.
While this new direction sounded like a good call, the rebranding wasn’t exactly very timely as it coincided with her pregnancy.
This didn’t allow her her to fly to meet with suppliers or personally source for items, causing sales to “drop by quite a bit”.
Ong only returned to the business proper this year, and happily shares that the business has bounced with a 100% growth in revenue.
Staying Relevant In The Fickle Fashion Scene
It clearly wasn’t easy sustaining a brand for the past 12 years, and Ong humbly credits all the success due to sheer hard work.
“People always think that when you are your own boss, you get a lot of perks, but we also work extra hard.”
“I often have to travel to meet my suppliers on weekends, so I am missing out on spending precious quality time with my son. Supplier meetings usually end at 1am, and I have to leave by 7am the next morning to do factory visits.”
But despite the hectic schedule and sacrificing personal time for work, Ong said that she still loves what she does.
The only reason you would check your emails on weekends, or pack parcels late at night is the fact that you love your job. I’ve never dreaded going to work, and I have no Monday blues – I think that’s a pretty good sign!
Sharing more about The Willow Label’s plans, Ong said that she is focusing on social media marketing and enhancing the customer’s shopping experience.
“Social media forms a big part of one’s business today. My team and I are working to expand our follower base by posting content more frequently because this was something that I placed on the back burner in 2017 because I was too busy dealing with the business’ logistics.”
“I am also looking at building an in-house showroom at the office so customers can come by to try the outfits, as well as see and feel the outfits in person. It would be great to be able to chat with them, and offer any styling advice if needed.”
When asked if she would ever set up a physical shop, Ong revealed that it is on her business map, but added that she is not looking to set up a store in Singapore just yet due to the high rental costs.
Instead, she is currently exploring opportunities to enter the overseas market via a retail space.
Featured Image Credit: Kelly Ong