Trixie Khong was in her first year of university when she founded her own jewellery business.
It first started out as a hobby as she has been into jewellery crafting since she was 16.
“I have never properly worked on its branding until a friend helped me with a logo, and that was how By Invite Only started,” said Trixie.
She founded By Invite Only during her first semester of university in 2009 and when she graduated, she told herself to try running it full-time for a year to see how it would pan out.
“If it didn’t work out, I guess I could always find a job in marketing or public relations,” said the National University of Singapore (NUS) graduate nonchalantly.
She had started up with S$500 and within two years, the brand turned profitable.
An Accidental Entrepreneur
By Invite Only is personally something that I stumbled into very organically when I was young. I didn’t decide that I wanted to be an entrepreneur or had any big ‘a-ha’ moment that my product solved a big existing problem in society.
It was something that allowed me to earn money off something that I made myself. That is how I would personally describe By Invite Only: a passion project that (gained) traction.– Trixie Khong, founder of By Invite Only
In her younger years, Trixie had worked part-time and interned in banks, F&B and retail as a way to supplement her allowance.
“However, nothing gave me as much joy as working on my own brand,” she said proudly.
When asked how By Invite Only stood out from other jewellery brands, Trixie said that they are different because of their “identity and values as a company.”
For one, By Invite Only is big on sustainability. Trixie is determined to go carbon neutral by 2021, and create pieces that truly do not cost the Earth.
With prices ranging from S$39 to S$139, all their jewellery pieces are made without the ‘toxic three’: nickel, lead and cadmium, which are often culprits of skin irritation.
Trixie herself has a sensitive and eczema-prone skin, so she often suffered skin breakouts from various items like perfumed shampoos, harsh soaps, and even jewellery.
“With jewellery, my experience is usually with ear piercings where it would get red, itchy or infected if I wear something that doesn’t sit right with my skin,” she lamented.
By Invite Only also makes it a point to use ethical factories, and it neutralises all shipping emissions that contribute to climate change.
Scaling The Business
When she officially launched By Invite Only as a business, it was a no-frills affair.
“There wasn’t really a big press launch or anything like that. I simply uploaded anything I got online and wait for people to chance upon it,” said Trixie.
“I didn’t know anything (about) marketing or public relations when I (first) started, but because of that, I decided to major in Communications and Media in NUS. From there, I learnt how to better present ourselves and the idea that everything stems from who your customers are.”
She also shared that the early days of By Invite Only was a bumpy journey with struggles, but she simply sees it as part of the learning process.
The business journey was also very rewarding as it gave her a “sense of purpose”.
As I bootstrapped it from the beginning, cashflow was always tough but it made me creative in thinking of new ways to reach new audiences that didn’t cost too much money.– Trixie Khong, founder of By Invite Only
She admitted that she received a lot of help from friends when she first started. For instance, budding photographers gave her a free photoshoot in return for growing their portfolio.
Currently, a big business challenge of theirs is scaling the business and ensuring consistency in their service and product quality as they grow.
“It can only be overcome with time and building a great team that is focused on improving every single day.”
As part of their business growth plans, By Invite Only has recently acquired fellow local jewellery brand The Mindful Company in July 2020.
Ciara Yeo and Lim Wen Ling started The Mindful Company in 2015 to promote mental well-being and kindness through jewellery like Reminder Cuffs, a series of bands with engravings of purposeful messages for mindful living.
The brand was stocked in over 20 stores across five countries and sold online, but back in February, the founders announced they had decided to close the business “on a high”.
“When I learnt about (it), I was shocked. As I have always admired the brand and liked their ethos, I decided to reach out to them to see if there was anything we could explore,” said Trixie.
She added that the acquisition has opened up their product portfolio to include personalisation for their customers, which they previously did not offer.
“The brand also goes deeper with meaningful reminders that allow us to connect with our customers on a deeper level.”
Overcoming The COVID-19 Crisis
COVID-19 presented them with a new host of challenges. The biggest problem for them is the uncertainty of the pandemic and the constantly evolving landscape that it brought about.
One day we were operating as usual, and then the next, sales dipped. People were wearing masks … and then two days later, the circuit breaker happened.
Our stores had to be shut (and) we had to figure out SOPs that was never created before. The first few weeks of the circuit breaker was very chaotic and we had to adapt, act and react very quickly.– Trixie Khong, founder of By Invite Only
Thankfully, the government grants and initiatives such as rental rebates and grants helped them cushion their staff wages, which helped a great deal, said Trixie.
She added that they were in a “very lucky position” because their digital presence enabled them to continue operating and take in revenue despite the closure.
A silver lining to the pandemic was that since many big retail brands retrenched their sales associate, they managed to hire and build a team of people who were trained by LVMH or the Lane Crawford Joyce Group to work at their stores.
In the past, it was difficult for them to get good job candidates as they often have to “fight with big brands” for great salespeople.
“With retail stores, we are also receiving many offers from reputable shopping malls offering us prime spots at prices and terms that we would never receive before as a small brand,” said Trixie.
“But as it is a tenant’s market now, we get the opportunity to get really good retail spaces and we plan to take advantage of this unique opportunity moving forward.”
She added that thanks to this opportunity, they will be opening its third retail outlet at 313@Somerset next month. Its other two outlets are at Vivocity and Wisma Atria.
By Invite Only is seeing such a phenomenal growth that it has hit a “7-figure revenue” despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Adapt Or Die”
Imparting a piece of business advice, Trixie said that one should always reach for the stars, but keep their feet firmly planted on the ground.
“I always adhere to this because our goals constantly shift, but we never forget why we started. Our values (and) mission forms the foundation of our company as we grow.”
And with the ongoing pandemic, she feels that the mantra “adapt or die” rings louder than ever.
There is always an opportunity even in an economic depression, and it is vital for me as an entrepreneur to identify them and act quickly.– Trixie Khong, founder of By Invite Only
By Invite Only is currently looking at expanding their demi-fine and fine jewellery range, and also toying with the idea of opening a piercing bar with a focus for people with sensitive skin, or for parents with young children.
“Our plans are always fluid and changing, but these are some ideas that we are floating around for the next two years.”
Featured Image Credit: By Invite Only