Family bonding can come in various ways and activities.
From going to the beach together to supporting each other in their ambitions.
The little things matter, too. Like, having dinner together to wearing matching outfits.
This mother-daughter pair took #twinning to the next level with their boutique batik label in Singapore.
Accomplishing A Childhood Ambition
YeoMama Batik is the brainchild of 56-year-old Mama Yeo and her 28-year-old daughter, Desleen Decinda Yeo.
Desleen graduated from SIM-UOL with a Bachelors degree in Business and taught piano full-time after graduation.
As she ended work at 10pm usually, she couldn’t hang out with her friends till late because they have work the next day, and she missed that.
So, she decided to stop teaching and worked in event planning agencies for 4.5 years, handling creative direction and event and campaign conceptualisation.
She left her job in May last year because she was bored and tired, she told me with a laugh.
“I’ve had enough of agency life, so I quit without any plans.”
Desleen recalled that she’s told her parents since young that she couldn’t imagine “working for somebody for life” and have always thought of starting her own business.
“I [played] business games with my bros [when we were] young. I make the paper money and assign them businesses,” she continued.
“Like masak-masak but big scale. I run a petrol station with little chairs as cars and I stick paper around my room indicating 98, 95, and diesel,” she said before bursting into laughter.
But during that period of time, she got comfortable and thought it was “better to be an employee” because once she gets off work, she’s done. As the boss, she thinks she has to worry a lot.
“Then suddenly I found my old ambition again,” she said happily.
Getting The Business Up In 3 Months
Since she was little, Desleen and her family has been wearing beautiful batik pieces made by Indonesian-born, and “lovely A-star model housewife”, Mama Yeo.
After she quit, Desleen was doing some freelance work she found online just to pass time but that wasn’t fulfilling for her.
So when Mama Yeo suddenly had the idea to start a batik fashion business during one of her “usual batik shopping trip in Indonesia” in October last year, Desleen jumped at the opportunity.
“She called to ask if we should turn this into a business and at that same time, I broke my ankle and was recovering from the surgery. I became immobile and was stuck at home feeling extremelyyyyy bored [because] I’m super active,” she recounted.
“I told mom that people tend to spend more for Chinese New Year and if we don’t catch the CNY crowd, it will be difficult to start this batik brand.”
As soon as Desleen could walk, the family travelled around Indonesia to find quality hand-drawn and hand-stamped batik, staying up late brainstorming and designing.
Mama Yeo’s phone call gave her an opportunity to create something and she was excited thinking of the brand name and coming up with the logo and web design.
“I started with a free template on Shopify and then realised that it wasn’t good enough and purchased another template and did all the customisations on my own. It’s pretty easy!”
“And yes, the candid copies are written by me,” she admitted with a chuckle.
She figured out how Facebook ads worked by herself and a friend volunteered to help her with Google AdWords.
The boutique also has a wide variety of sizes because Mama Yeo felt that it’s tough for curvy ladies to find pretty clothes online.
“She’s UK14 and we don’t think that she’s fat, but most of the local fashion brands only cater up to UK12. So we churned out a series of cheongsams that would fit both the slim and curvy ladies (UK8-UK16).”
“We have cheongsams in bodycon style, fit-and-flare, rompers, barebacks, sleeved and sleeveless designs… and we made it just in time!” she gushed.
YeoMama & Daughter launched online in January this year, and it is now their full-time job.
Desleen credited the family’s tailor in Indonesia, who makes their matching outfits, for helping them get the stocks ready.
“Also through mom’s connections in Indonesia, we got a few more home seamstresses to help get things up and running. It was nerve-wracking just seeing a few samples and then going all out, having faith in them and going straight into production.”
Support From Family
Product-wise, Desleen said sizing is the biggest issue for them as they work with home seamstresses who mainly tailor to size so they are not familiar with international sizing standards.
She recalled getting a few international sizing charts online and went to Marks & Spencers, Topshop, and Zara to try clothes in different sizes.
“[We] went into the fitting room saying, ‘Oh, we are trying to gauge if it will fit my sister,’ and then started measuring the clothes in the fitting room,” she laughed.
She remarked that some of their clothes have bigger cutting but Mama Yeo would assure her that it’s fine because other brands do not have uniform cuttings too.
Desleen thinks it’s “cute” the way Mama Yeo finds inspiration for designs.
She takes photos of anything that catches her eye, like when she watches TV and an actress is wearing a nice cut or design she likes.
“And it’s all those little details like the cutout collar, the cheongsam button; she likes the sailor moon-style collar. Even on the plane, watching movies, she will randomly take out her phone and snap photos of the actress’s clothes,” she said.
Like when she watched ‘Midnight In Paris’, she took a photo of this scene:
And she designed this:
Disagreements are inevitable in spite of their close relationship.
They had contrasting opinions on the furniture in the shop, like the clothes rack, carpet, and decoration.
One memorable episode they had was with hangers.
“I got a bunch of nice white hangers from Ikea, but it wasn’t enough so mom went to get the uglier hangers. I reluctantly used them while still insisting they were ‘so ugly’ and ‘I’m going to get more Ikea hangers’,” Desleen recounted.
“So mom thought that if she acted fast enough and got more of her hangers, I would be left with no choice but to use it. So she went to buy 200 pieces of her hangers and proudly passed them to me, telling me, ‘You don’t need to buy hangers already!'”
“I secretly sold all 200 pieces away and bought like 600 pieces of white wooden hangers from China. So when we were preparing for the opening of our shop and hanging the clothes up, some of the hangers I bought broke,” she continued.
“Mom was like ‘Aiya. You see these hangers nice but low quality. Pass me the hangers I bought.’ I told her, ‘Sold liao. I sold all.’ She looked at me, stunned,” she told me while laughing.
Until now, Mama Yeo would still nag her about the hangers but Desleen thinks these are all “harmless little differences” and they never had any major problems with each other.
“Mom has an eye for detail and is super strict on quality also so that’s a very good thing!”
She said her mother knows when she has a lot of work to do so she’d help as much as she can, like securing the labels on the clothes so Desleen can code the items and tag the price.
Papa Yeo is a businessman, she said, so he’s always pushing her to get things done efficiently which she thinks is helpful to her.
She giggled saying, “He is also the iPhone photographer behind the photos. His skill is having no skill and [so he spams] the camera button. [That’s] why a lot of our photos are candid.”
“My brothers are very cute. They see that I’m busy and will ask if I’m hungry, they can cook for me. They also spread the word to their friends and I make them wear batik shirts out,” she enthused.
They’re Bringing Batik Back
As Desleen reflects, she said running the business with Mama Yeo “feels funny and unbelievable” because out of the three children, growing up, she had the “most tension and arguments” with Mama Yeo.
But, as seen from the way she talks about her mother, this venture has only brought them even closer.
“It’s heartwarming to see daughters bringing their mothers and mothers-in-law to our shop, and even more heartwarming when younger customers turn up with clothes they ‘stole’ from their mother’s wardrobe so that they can buy clothes to surprise their mom!”
“YeoMama is a common auntie size and she will end up trying the clothes for them to gauge if their mom can fit. And YeoMama will always end up saying, ‘My backside is very big, is your mom’s backside as big as mine?’ and give a little butt jiggle,” she laughed.
Despite feeling worried that people might not like their designs and receiving lukewarm response from friends and relatives initially, the business is doing well now.
They’ve invested about $40,000 so far and are earning a 5-figure monthly revenue, and sees about 100 orders a month.
“I think it’s not bad for a business that started in January. There’s a lot of growth potential and right now, we are looking at getting a warehouse office space and growing the company,” Desleen said.
On whether they are going down the sustainable fashion route, she said, “When we first started, everything was taken straight from suppliers. We didn’t really check because we were scrambling to get all our supplies to rush production for CNY.”
“But now we are taking straight from the artisans. Yes, we want to go down the sustainable fashion route but it’s not going to be our main marketing angle as we want it to be a given that our clothes are made ethically.”
They are looking to expand in manpower and to doing wholesale globally. They’re also launching more designs in more sizes up to UK22/24 now, and more quantity per size because they can get more fabric from the artisans.
The boutique is making a maternity range and are working on an evening collection too.
“We hope to spread the love for Indonesia’s wearable art to fellow Singaporeans, and to also share the message that it’s never too late to chase your dream! Look at YeoMama designing her own pieces in her 50s!”
Visit their website here or check them out yourself at their store!
Featured Image Credit: YeoMama Batik