There’s a certain restlessness that overcomes you right after graduating high school. You’ve spent most of your life in classrooms, constantly studying. But your university placement will take at least a couple of months.
What do you do in the meantime?
For Kedahan Ann Tan, she decided to launch Fash Grace, an online fashion business, in 2014. Only 20 years old at the time, her Instagram-based brand has since amassed 38K followers and many loyal customers.
The second time’s the charm
With an RM500 loan from her sister, Ann made a “mistake” that would define her future business model.
The full loan amount was used to buy ready-stock products. As Ann lacked proper experience with Instagram shopping, the brand didn’t do well in its first month. “I only managed to sell two items, with one skirt being returned to me because of a sizing issue,” she explained.
She was stumped. Facing the piles of unsold inventories only made her feel more defeated. It was then while worrying about how to finance her second launch that a thought struck—what if she operated on a pre-order basis instead?
Doing so would solve all her problems. There would be less trouble with storage, less concern with dead-stock items, and fewer financial strains.
So that’s exactly what she did.
Today, Fash Grace mainly operates on a pre-order basis, though it has some ready stock too.
Honesty is the best policy
If you scroll through Fash Grace’s Instagram page or website, you’ll notice that some of the products are similar to others in the online market.
This is because Ann sources a majority of her products from the largest textile manufacturing country in the world, China.
From a business perspective, it might not be the most sustainable model as customers could also purchase the products without an intermediary.
It’s what caused the collapse of Jujumello, a local lingerie brand that closed shop after six years.
“It is definitely impossible to compete with [direct retailers] in terms of pricing,” Ann said. “But I realised that so many customers came to me stating that they bought the same piece on Shopee from China sellers, but the material came in differently as compared to mine.”
In other words, customers find her method more secure than dealing with overseas businesses directly, since Ann’s years of experience in the industry have translated into reliable contacts too.
It also helps that Ann herself is interested in the kind of fashion style that Fash Grace carries. On her personal Instagram page, she’s seen frequently sporting her own products. This drives the brand to have a more curated collection, which makes it easier for customers to shop too.
Most of the brand’s offerings gears toward women who like a touch of femininity and those who like trendy fashion.
Ann emphasises on giving detailed descriptions for each of her products to assist consumers in decision-making. “Seeing that we are online based, our customers are not able to feel and touch the material themselves. So it’s important to display as many small details as possible,” she explained.
She believes that keeping their communication with customers candid and honest has helped with acquiring returning customers too.
On how Fash Grace stands out from other similar online fashion businesses, Ann shared that they scout for suitable products from Thailand and Vietnam to widen customer choices.
However, only Instagram Stories are used to sell the products from those countries, as orders close after a short window.
Compared to other businesses that only rely on ready stock, Ann also said that operating on a pre-order basis actually gives her the opportunity to offer more products in different variations, from size to colour.
Editor’s note: The information in the following sections has been edited to reflect greater accuracy.
As a follower of Fash Grace and other similar local brands such as Poppyland and Bash Clothing myself, I have personally noticed that there are comparable offerings across them. In terms of pricing, I have noticed that a printed chiffon mini dress from Fash Grace might cost RM55, but the same thing would be priced at RM72 by other brands.
However, since I have not personally shopped from any of them, I cannot comment on their quality and service. Pricing discrepancies across brands could also be due to varying business models, as a brand with a pre-order model is generally able to offer lower prices compared to one with a ready-stock model.
So, even though the brands may carry similar products, the pricing cannot be taken at face value, seeing as their business models and brand or company sizes might be different.
While pre-order prices might be lower, the trade-off would be that customers have to wait for their products. Meanwhile, a ready-stock model allows customers to get their products much faster. So, it really depends on what the customer prioritises.
Online to offline
As of now, Fash Grace is running solely online. Their previous pop-up retail space at Jaya One was shut down because of losses made during the pandemic.
“A portion of my online sales had to cover the rental and dead stocks. I decided it will be better to stop leasing with them,” Ann shared. The business continued without a hiccup for the next few years.
In fact, the business was raking up RM450,000 in sales in 2021. This amount increased again the next year, with sales totaling up to RM610,000. Ann shared proof of these records with Vulcan Post for verification too.
After the MCO was lifted, she started renting a 1,300 sq ft office space at Bandar Kinrara to separate her work and personal life. It’s currently being used as a space to keep Fash Grace’s ready-stock products, but Ann has bigger goals in mind.
“I did renovate a showroom at the front of the office. Having it as a retail space will definitely bring more benefits for my customers, but I will surely want to make it perfect before opening the doors.”
There’s still a way to go
After operating it throughout her four years at University Sains Malaysia (USM), Ann chose to continue managing Fash Grace and turned it into her full-time career. Although she’s currently still running the brand alone, she does foresee hiring new help in the near future.
“I am a one-man-show because I still think it’s manageable for me,” she said.
However, she’s been repeatedly receiving advice from other entrepreneurs (or sifu as she calls them) to onboard someone else for repetitive tasks.
“Like a packer for my parcels or customer service, because all these (tasks) are taking up my time to think of more ways to grow the business,” Ann explained.
That said, she admits that she’s not mentally prepared to hire anyone yet. The fear of hiring the wrong person, not training them well, and having another mouth to feed is stopping her.
“Hopefully, I am able to take the leap of faith in the near future because I know a business’s revenue can only hit a certain level of maximum just by working alone.”
Featured Image Credit: Fash Grace