Homegrown label DMK which specialises in women’s footwear and accessories, first started out as a humble brick-and-mortar store in 2000.
Over the years, it expanded its footprint in Singapore to seven outlets, and has branched out overseas to several markets across Asia.
Today, DMK’s 2nd-generation owners — Eileen and Sophia Goh — have taken over the business to help bring it to greater heights.
On why their parents started a footwear business, Eileen said that her mother developed a bunion when she was 30 years old, and she had trouble finding stylish shoes that were suitable for her wide feet.
“Back then, shoes were either aesthetically pleasing or comfortable — there were no combination of both,” explained Eileen, who is now the company’s Chief Creative Officer.
“As my parents already had experience in the ladies’ footwear industry, they started DMK with the mission to design shoes to help women find fashionable shoes (that are) suitable for wide feet.”
Beyond making it stylish and comfortable, they also wanted to make sure that it’s affordable so it’s “accessible to most women”. This is especially important to Eileen’s mother, who grew up in a poor family.
Today, DMK is focused on creating value for women through two key areas: products and communication.
“We emphasise on designing shoes that are suitable for women, including women with wide feet, without compromising on style. Through two decades’ worth of experience, we have refined our production and design process to ensure that we are consistently able to provide women with shoes that look and feel good, staying true to our brand’s mission.”
“We (also) share and educate our community on many topics ranging from what makes shoes feel comfortable, to how to look and feel good in one’s own skin. We believe that the concept of looking and feeling good should transcend beyond our products and into the entire lifestyle of a woman.”
Joining the family business
Before the Goh sisters joined the business, their parents had actually received an acquisition offer for DMK.
The figure of the acquisition deal was enough to allow them to “retire very comfortably very early on”, but they turned it down because they wanted to pass on the business to their daughters.
Right after graduating university, Eileen made it a point to quickly learn the ropes of the business, but she also had her own personal reasons for wanting to join the business.
Firstly, it’s the sense of responsibility towards what my parents had built for (the past) two decades, and towards the team members who had been part of the brand-building process. We have staff who have been with us for more than a decade, and I wanted to see how I could help to elevate the business and the brand.
Secondly, as a woman myself, I see the value in the products my parents had created. I believe in what the brand represents, which is a revolution of the fashion footwear industry. I believe that a woman deserves to look and feel good in even the most stylish pair of heels, and the idea that “you have to go through pain to look beautiful” for shoes is something that should be changed.– Eileen Goh, 2nd-generation owner and Chief Creative Officer of DMK
The 28-year-old added that her parents had prepped her to take over the family business from a young age, which was what propelled her to pursue a business degree at the Singapore Management University (SMU).
“The funny thing was, although I majored in marketing and operations at SMU, I first started out learning the ropes of DMK in the design department,” said Eileen, who always had a knack for creativity.
“While (doing that), I also started looking into how we could market the brand through different online platforms beyond just word-of-mouth, which was done previously.”
She shared that one pressing problem they faced in the early days was the lack of brand awareness. Although there was limited competition back then, their advertising options were also limited.
While traditional media like print or television was an option, advertising costs were high and they don’t have advertising results that they could tap on. For instance, the audiences captured were not as defined and were hard to track.
Another way for them to increase brand awareness was to increase store presence regionally, which also required high capital costs.
As such, they strongly leveraged on word-of-mouth advertising, which allowed them to capture more customers at a lower cost.
Thankfully, the brand grew quickly through word-of-mouth because many women who tried the products really liked them and would share them with (fellow women). Hence, despite the high capital costs from expanding our retail stores very quickly within the first few years, it took only about three years to break even.– Eileen Goh, 2nd-generation owner and Chief Creative Officer of DMK
In 2000, DMK opened their very first boutique at Marina Square and within that same year, it expanded to three boutiques across Singapore. In just three years, they expanded further into five boutiques islandwide.
Franchisees soon started approaching them, which led them to branch out into Brunei shortly after. Today, DMK has 12 boutiques across Singapore, Myanmar, Nepal and Brunei.
“The interesting thing is, all our franchisees were actually our customers. They were women who had purchased our shoes, and believe in our products and what the brand represents. Because of their belief in the brand, they reached out to us to be our franchisees for their home country,” shared Eileen.
To date, DMK has also served 2.5 million local customers.
Embarking on a digitalisation journey
When the sisters formally joined the company, the very first thing they did was to embark on business digitalisation.
This includes setting up DMK’s e-commerce platform, revamping their social media pages, and improving on the business efficiencies through digital automations.
The company also went through another phase of rebranding last year.
When Covid-19 hit Singapore last year, DMK was forced to close all of its retail stores during the circuit breaker period. A pause button of sorts had been hit, and Eileen took this downtime to embark on a personal search on the “meaning behind life”.
She spoke to many people to understand how they stayed passionate and found a deeper meaning to their lives.
“For those who are highly passionate, I found a similarity in their stories — their passion was fuelled by their purpose, which always involved some form of giving back to the community. It went beyond the self,” said Eileen.
“Those conversations gave me clarity in finding the meaning in my life, and made me think about how I could add value and give back to the community.”
This prompted her to redefine the brand’s purpose and values during the circuit breaker.
DMK’s main purpose has always been to help women look and feel good — to create a balance in their life, and fashion is just a platform for us to do so. When you think about it, our shoes focus on balancing between the aesthetics and the comfort levels for women.
However, we also wanted to go beyond that and see how the brand can serve as pillars of support for women. This led us to realise that the nature of our products, shoes, are what people wear to support their journey whenever they go out, regardless of every milestone – such as the first job, first interview, first date, first wedding, and even in daily life. What DMK is meant to do is to help women create products that support their roles and milestones.– Eileen Goh, 2nd-generation owner and Chief Creative Officer of DMK
As they realise that their products must be aligned with a women’s journey every step of the way, DMK now places a stronger focus on other product categories and is delving deeper into product diversification.
Giving back to the women community
Eileen also wanted to see how she could place a focus of their contributions back to the women community to add a deeper meaning behind the brand and in life.
For the first and biggest campaign since their rebranding, they wanted to dive deeper into this idea of “feeling good” and chose to focus on International Women’s Month in March with a ‘self-esteem’ theme, which is one important aspect of looking and feeling good.
Eileen shared that she struggled with self-esteem issues growing up, which even led to self-harm, so this was a campaign that personally resonated to her.
The other highlight of this campaign was to increase awareness about domestic violence and The Star Shelter, a safe haven that supports domestic abuse survivors, including women and children.
To support the cause, DMK donated 38 per cent of the proceeds from the #feelgoodDMK collection for the month of March to The Star Shelter.
“The reason why we wanted to contribute to this cause was because firstly, there was a 22 per cent increase in reported cases of domestic violence during the circuit breaker period,” said Eileen.
“Secondly, when speaking with the personnel at Star Shelter, she mentioned that due to safe distancing measures now, the shelter is looking to expand their space because of a lack of capacity, and they would require funds to do so. We hope that by using our brand as a platform, we can help them to achieve their expansion plans sooner.”
However, they mentioned that it is not a sustainable strategy to keep expanding the shelter. Instead, the ideal scenario is for women to leave domestically violent relationships when they can. Therefore, this campaign hopes to inspire women to strengthen their self-esteem and to walk away from harmful situations.
“This campaign is the first step of the many we will be taking to give back to the women community, that we hope that through utilising our brand as a platform, we will be able to contribute more moving forward.”
Coping with Covid-19 challenges
According to Eileen, one of the key business challenges that they faced during Covid-19 was the fact that their product lines were predominantly focused on workwear.
This means that as people started to work from home, their workwear lines became less relevant.
However, with the new branding and renewed focus on supporting women at every milestone, they managed to quickly pivot their product lines by working directly with their factories.
Another challenge faced was that prior to Covid-19, DMK primarily focused on brick-and-mortar stores. When the lockdown happened and even during the recent Phase 2 Heightened Alert, it impacted the footfall across all their retail boutiques.
Thankfully, they were able to quickly shift focus to their online store to continue serving customers from the comfort of their homes.
During the circuit breaker period last year, DMK’s online sales increased by five times compared to the same period in the previous year.
Beyond that, during Chinese New Year period in 2021, our online sales tripled compared to the pre-Covid period last year. Covid-19 has accelerated the shift in consumers’ shopping habits, and more people are gradually getting used to making purchases online.– Eileen Goh, 2nd-generation owner and Chief Creative Officer of DMK
As they witness an e-commerce boom, DMK plans to expand further into the digital space to reach out to more women internationally.
During the pandemic, DMK has also been actively providing complimentary virtual styling workshops for women, which are focused on helping them to create a versatile and functional wardrobe without breaking the bank.
“Although we are a ladies’ fashion footwear brand, we actually research on apparel trends as well because we believe that shoes are meant to be pillars of support to compliment an outfit. Hence, during the styling workshops, we also share apparel tips, on top of (ways on) how to style shoes and understand whether the shoes would feel comfortable for the wearer.”
Additionally, DMK’s expansion plans with their franchisees have been inevitably shelved due to the ever-changing Covid-19 situation.
“I think regardless of the business challenges, the key is the ability to pivot, change and/or adapt quickly to mitigate the challenge,” said Eileen optimistically.
How to stand out in the competitive retail space
When asked to share her thoughts on Singapore’s retail landscape, Eileen shared that she foresees the creation of more brands moving forward, especially with the advent of technology as the barriers to entry become significantly lower.
In order to stand out from the crowd, it’s important to understand what the brand represents in the minds of consumers, and even more important to deliver exceptional value consistently to consumers. Having a consistent, well-thought omni-channel experience is going to be very crucial.– Eileen Goh, 2nd-generation owner and Chief Creative Officer of DMK
To succeed, technology would have to be at the forefront. However, she stresses on the importance to understand if the technology that’s being adopted will provide actual value for the stakeholders involved.
Hence, understanding the user experience will be very important – not just externally with customers, but internally with the team members who will be adopting the technology.
“AR, VR, and gamification would be some of the key areas to look into for disruption opportunities as well, but it’s very important to do enough research about the consumers to understand the adoption rate and value that will be provided before diving straight into it,” she added.
Many times, as a brand, what we think customers would need might not be what the customers would even want. At the end of the day, customers will have to be at the heart of any technological disruption game plan.– Eileen Goh, 2nd-generation owner and Chief Creative Officer of DMK
For now, DMK is focused on revamping their online site to ensure that the look-good-feel-good factor transcends beyond the products and into customers’ experience as well.
“In line with the government’s direction, it will incorporate smarter technology to eliminate pain points when customers make a purchase from our site, while ensuring we are able to keep our workforce lean by improving productivity and efficiency.”
“Some of the solutions we are looking to improve on involve the biggest pain points, such as sizing issues when purchasing shoes, how to automate most processes to reduce reliance on manpower for logistics, and how to improve on the customer experience for a better omni-channel experience.”
She is confident that these solutions will help them take their next step to move into the international market digitally.
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Featured Image Credit: M Malls / DMK