updated 9 Nov 2011, 18:01
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Wed, May 18, 2011
The Business Times
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Business unusual
by Melissa Lwee

Shout-out with silent auction

TTMD x Choo Yilin x Calliope Silent Auction

BUSINESS competition doesn't seem to have an effect on designers like Jade Swee, Choo Yilin or Alicia Kiang. In fact, three are better than one and the dressmaker, jewellery designer and bagmaker have joined forces to launch a one off auction event that could be a test bed for designers looking for different ways to market their products.

Jade Swee and partner Letitia Phay are behind Time Taken to Make a Dress, while Alicia Kang and Shirley Laila make up Calliope. Together with Ms Choo and her eponymous jewellery line, the enterprising group will put up one-of-a-kind pieces for sale in a two-hour auction session titled TTMD x Choo Yilin x Calliope Silent Auction.

The starting bid will be low (at least 30 per cent discount) with interested bidders placing increasing bids on a piece of paper next to the item.

The bids start at $300 for a romper at TTMD, $580 for a piece of Choo Yilin jewellery and $320 for a Calliope bag. The session will be held from 2 to 4pm at Spa Boutique on Nassim Road on May 29. "We actually came up with the idea because we were thinking of a creative way to sell off our sample pieces," reveals TTMD's Jade Swee.

"But to make things more interesting and to make the bidding pool bigger, we decided find other like-minded artisanal designers here in Singapore to join us and so we roped in Choo Yilin and Calliope as well."

Ms Choo adds that having such interesting sales platforms is key to the survival of young start-up businesses such as the three brands involved as they all have to manage their overheads very carefully.

"As designers, we create, and thus it's only natural for us to similarly invent new ways to reach out to our customers.

"Such events can be very effective as long as you give your potential customers a compelling reason to turn up. In this case, being able to buy one-of-a-kind, artisanal pieces from a range of brands below retail price is our unique selling point."

For the youngest of the labels Calliope, its main aim in taking part is simply to build brand awareness for the one-year-old bag label.

It also hopes that the experience would lead to a better understanding of what local consumers like, which would help when conceptualising new designs.

"Our bags are a lot about texture, shape and how they are worn on our customers, so we are very excited for people to have a chance to feel and try on the bags in a couple of Sundays' time," explains Ms Kiang, who says that Calliope bags are retailed at The Hansel Shop at Mandarin Gallery.

"Most of our business and brand-building has been through friends and family, and further through word of mouth. We definitely believe that TTMD and Choo Yilin's networks will bring new lovers of our bags and share what we do with a wider audience."

As this is the first time that the three labels have come together to stage such an event, exactly how effective a sales mechanism it will be is still up in the air. But the players remain optimistic about its prospects and are taking it as a learning experience in any event.

"If the sales are good, we may very well do it again as we've really enjoyed working with each other so far," says Ms Swee.

"Even if we don't sell as much, at the very least, we believe brand awareness for each label will grow.

"Plus, the auction also provides us with important information as we move forward with our businesses as it gives us an indication of how much they're willing to pay for our wares - and that sort of knowledge is really invaluable."

Where clothes grace walls as art

Ong Shunmugam

When you're a small design outfit like the five-month-old label Ong Shunmugam, it makes sense to have an online shop rather than risk putting all one's eggs into a physical store that may go belly up in Singapore's cut-throat retail environment.

Still, bearing in mind that people still like to hold things in their hand rather than move a cursor over them, Priscilla Shunmugam started to host a series of one-day guerilla shopping events.

Looking like a cross between a pop-up shop and an art exhibition, Ms Shunmugam says it's because "a trademark of our events is that we always display the clothes as if they were art pieces on the wall".

So far, she's done three events, with increasing success, as she sees more unfamiliar faces apart from her friends and family who show up.

"On average, I get about five sales each time I host one of these sessions but even if I don't close the deal at the event itself, I eventually will a few days or weeks later," she says.

This is partly because "my designs (ranging from $330 to $450) are a bit on the pricier side," she adds. "They certainly don't fall into the category of fast fashion which I'm against. I want to offer customers something that isn't mass-produced, but is lovingly made with lush fabric and detailing. So I thought the best way to show off the individuality of each piece is to display it like art."

On top of creating a gallery-like space, Ms Shunmugam also goes the extra mile with food and drinks.

From quirky dishes like maki lemak (nasi lemak maki rolls) and lemongrass creme brulee to fun drinks such as green tea with mint leaves served in traditional Chinese teacups, the experience is a reflection of her unique "contemporary Asian" designs and her own Chinese-Indian upbringing in Malaysia and in Singapore.

"It's an additional expense but I've always been very careful about building the brand and having contemporary Asian food and drinks really help to make my events an experience to remember," she says.

"More importantly, they complement my design aesthetics in the sense that I do like to work with a broad range of Asian-inspired elements such as batik fabrics and cheongsam silhouettes when I design."

Given the encouraging response, Ms Shunmugam aims to host at least one such party for Ong Shunmugam every month.

"I don't have a permanent physical shop space so these events help us get over that problem," she concludes.

"It also means that I don't have to worry about overheads, and I don't need to sit by a shop all day. These sessions give me the flexibility to still have a semblance of a physical presence but yet have the time to do everything else that I need to do at the same time. It's a model I will continue with for the time being."

To stay updated on the whereabouts of Ong Shunmugam's guerilla galleries or to make an appointment, e-mail [email protected]

Banking on niche flea markets

Sunday Eclectica by The Pigeonhole

Featuring My Vintage Jewel Box (Lauryn Tang) and Etincelle Creative Studio (Marie Brandelet) When marketing communications manager Lauryn Tang first started her jewellery label My Vintage Jewel Box back in 2008, she did what most beginners do - take part in flea markets. But things didn't quite work out as expected.

"In the beginning it was difficult because I realised that the prices of my jewellery aren't flea-market prices, while on the other hand, a lot of flea-market-goers are looking for cheap deals," says Ms Tang whose designs have an average price tag of between $100 and $300.

"I individually handmake all of my jewellery using sterling silver, 14K to 18K gold and precious stones so it's naturally priced higher, which made it hard to compete with mass-produced costume jewellery going at two for $5. Worse still, some people even thought my real gems were fake." Armed with that knowledge, Ms Tang became more selective about taking part in flea markets until she came across local book cafe and dynamic arts space The Pigeonhole's Sunday Electica series of flea markets.

Marketing itself as a curated platform for local artists, artisans and craftsmen to showcase their wares, the monthly event looked like the perfect platform for Ms Tang to show off her lovingly handmade jewellery. Hence, last Sunday, together with seamstress and designer Marie Brandelet, Ms Tang showcased her designs at the little hideaway along Duxton Road.

"I took part because I liked how they focus on local artisans for their flea markets as this means that the crowd will be expecting products like mine," she explains.

"Pigeonhole has a very distinct vibe, which attracts certain groups of people. There, I was able to meet the like-minded people who appreciate my jewellery, which is a mix of art and fine jewellery. So, I am happy."

She adds that the event went well and that she really liked the eclectic and cosy atmosphere there as it was a good place for her to catch up with existing customers while meeting new ones at the same time.

"I think the place is still fairly new given that it just opened in March. But I could see they are fairly known within the community. I was pleasantly surprised that they serve wine and beer but I wish they would serve food or at least little bites. Besides that, I think they are doing a fine job and applaud their mission to support artists and NGOs," she says.

According to Rayner Lim who founded The Pigeonhole together with his girlfriend Ave Chan, "We decided to organise this series of flea markets as a creative way to collaborate with local artisans and craftsmen," he explains.

"Their works complement our books, exhibitions and other arts events. Sunday Eclectica is, to us, a relaxing and cosy option for a Sunday afternoon - a curated art and DIY flea market held in a comfortable environment where one can unwind with a book and coffee."

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