- She’d crash lectures and tutorials at NTU’s business school instead of attending her own classes for her Civil Engineering degree, and would participate in any school bazaar.
- In 2009, Jaren Ho went on a yacht trip with her friends which inspired her to start up YACHT 21, her third business venture.
Had Jarenis Ho decided to complete her studies at Nanyang Technology University (NTU) in 2005, the 35-year-old may not have become the founder of successful homegrown fashion label, YACHT 21, today.
Better known as Jaren, she dropped out of her Civil Engineering course during her third year to start her first venture, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)-inspired lifestyle concept store called, Folk’s Leaf.
Her interest for entrepreneurship overshadowed her curiosity for her field of study and her “hope [for] a good career prospect”.
As written by an old blog post in 2014, Jaren would spend her academic stint in the lectures and tutorials at NTU’s business school.
She said, “I was caught by a Marketing tutor once because eventually he noticed that I haven’t been raising my hand every time he [took] attendance.”
Her time in university became her testbed for her business ideas and new products as she participated in school bazaars selling handmade accessories and tie-dye batik dresses.
“I really enjoyed the feeling of working hard, and being able to count the cash I earned at the end of the day. So when I was running my stalls, I subconsciously fell in love with managing a business. This led me to quit school and start my first business,” she told Her World in 2018.
When she embarked on her first venture, like this self-taught entrepreneur, Jaren picked up skills of her trade meeting friends who are artists and makers whom she had known during her bazaar days.
She spent evenings in shopping malls observing shoppers’ behaviours and came up with visual merchandise ideas, and bought ready-made pieces of clothings to unpick and learn about garment construction.
A Life-Changing Voyage
YACHT 21 was inspired by an eventful yacht excursion with her friends on a Sunday in 2009, when water suddenly started filling up the luxury vessel they were on because of a leak.
As they rushed to salvage their situation while stranded in bad weather, Jaren noticed that her friends were wearing “tank tops and denim shorts”, clothes that were “thick” and unsuitable for a yacht expedition.
Jaren then decided to research on the market for cruisewear and found that it typically launched in certain seasons in a year and by luxury brands, she told Her World.
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Three months later, she launched YACHT 21 with $100,000 and a collection of self-designed cruisewear that can be worn for “both work and leisure” all-year round.
The style is reminiscent to resort wear, as its clean-cut silhouettes are described as travel-inspired and are made to be worn in warmer climates.
“We consider ourselves ‘indie fast fashion’. Our clothing are not designer nor mass produced, but they are of good quality and priced from $50-$100 – affordable but not super cheap,” she said in an interview with Her World.
Early customers thought it was a nautical-themed brand but it is now recognised and established as Singapore’s first cruisewear label.
The business broke even in the first year and she had 10 stores and points-of-sales across Singapore in 2016, according to Straits Times (ST).
In 2015, six years after breaking the bottle on YACHT 21, it recorded a seven-figure revenue and Jaren told me that there was a 5% increase in revenue in 2018 compared to 2017.
Monthly sales reached six figures, according to an interview she gave in 2016.
As YACHT 21 continues to evolve with the waves of change, Jaren shared with me that the product concept is now steering towards urban resort wear “to better suit the needs of everyday women since Singapore is a cosmopolitan city”.
“The concept of Urban Resort Wear would be a fusion of ‘work wear x resort wear’,” she explained.
“Moving into our 10th year, we want to design things that reflect our lifestyle. Not everybody is going on vacation all the time, it’s about having statement pieces to live and travel with, wear it for holiday and work.”
From Her Maiden Voyage
When the then-21-year-old Jaren embarked on her start Folk’s Leaf, her family was initially not supportive.
Folk’s Leaf was a wordplay on Fook Lee, her grandparents’ TCM hall that used to be situated along Kim Tian Road before it had to be shuttered to make way for a new property.
Jaren thought that by doing something related to her family, she’d get support from them, she told Her World.
Through Folk’s Leaf, she wanted to “spark an interest in TCM among young people”, which is evident in its products – t-shirts with ginseng prints and earrings made out of lotus seeds and rose buds.
She set up shop at the second floor of Bugis Street because rent was affordable, then later moved to Far East Plaza, then Raffles Xchange.
Her family later came around when she she got some media attention.
“With no experience and no one to turn to, I learnt to build and manage a business from scratch with Folk’s Leaf,” she said.
“When I first started, I had no idea where to manufacture my clothes, how to look for factories, or even where to print name cards. I was learning new things every month then.”
However, she decided to wind up Folk’s Leaf after a year, citing “difficulties with production”.
“[I lacked] retail experience [and] I realised I emphasised too much on showcasing the concept. Creating handmade products from scratch took too much of my time and I neglected an important part of the business: sustainability,” she explained.
Jaren didn’t let that discourage her though, as she began on her next venture right away in 2006 with HURS, a vintage-themed fashion retailer that curates clothes and accessories made by local crafters targeted at the younger crowd, she described to Her World.
YACHT 21 came along and Jaren ran both businesses concurrently for four years, she told me.
“[In 2013], I took over both businesses from my ex-partner, ended HURS and relaunched YACHT 21 with a new design team.”
A Voyage To The Wide Ocean
She has come a long way, navigating choppy waters.
According to ST, the brand had initially sourced clothes from Thailand, Hong Kong, and China, and sold them along with her own designs.
For example, she said in this interview that it took her two to three years to secure a good factory and fabric supplier for YACHT 21.
It was in 2012 that Jaren started designing her products herself and manufactured them in China using fabric that was sourced from Guangzhou.
Jaren also noted that business challenges have also evolved in the past 10 years as social media is added into the mix.
“Understanding how technology and social media can help my business to communicate cost-effectively with customers on a global scale [and discover] new opportunities for sales and growth,” she shared.
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Jaren’s business approach is one that might seem old-school as she began her journey from brick-and-mortar and eventually adopting other platforms to expand and scale – their online store only started in late-2015.
She attributes YACHT 21’s modern-day relevance to her adopting the “blue ocean mindset”, a type of marketing strategy and theory.
This year would mark YACHT 21’s 10th anniversary, and its fourth flagship retail store is set to open at the new and highly-anticipated Jewel Changi this April.
Yet, the businesswoman of 14 years still finds the night before a store opening memorable.
“Watching the teardown of the store’s hoarding [is] like unwrapping a present,” she said.
YACHT 21 is only available in Singapore at the moment, but Jaren shared that they are actively looking for overseas partners to expand.
Featured Image Credit: Jaren Ho