updated 22 Aug 2012, 21:01
user id password
Tue, Feb 28, 2012
The Business Times
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Designs on high-end bespoke
by Melissa Lwee-Ramsay

Kyle Keefe

LIKE most expatriates, Kyle Keefe made full use of her move to Singapore to explore the rest of South-east Asia. But unlike the rest of her brethren, she ended up doing more than just chasing sunsets or knocking back fruity cocktails. She found her true calling as a designer of shoes and accessories.

"I was travelling in Thailand when I found a little hole in the wall that manufactured leather goods so I went in with some sketches of shoes and handbags that I wanted made," recalls the 25-year-old American who used to work in luxury marketing and public relations.

"When I went home for a visit and took them with me, I got so many compliments that I thought to myself, hey, I could really turn this into a business."

Upon returning to Singapore, the self-confessed shoe lover quit her job and started her own eponymous label specialising in custom-made women's shoes and accessories such as clutches and belts.

At her launch roughly three weeks ago at The Fullerton Bay Hotel, Keefe showcased samples of her wares that come in a variety of leathers and exotic skins such as sea snake, stingray, ostrich and crocodile.

"I felt there was a real niche in the market - in Asia and particularly in the United States - for high-end custom-made shoes that were trendy and comfortable," she says.

"I keep the styles simple so that my customers have the flexibility to tweak them as much as possible - ultimately, the colours and textures of the skins really speak for themselves."

Keefe adds that offering a more bespoke shopping experience allows a small business like hers to stand out from her competitors. "I think my unique selling point is the personal relationship that I build with my customers and I am happy to keep making changes to the product until they're happy with it," she explains.

"I meet them at a venue most convenient for them to make the shoes and accessories that they want. Plus, because they are taking part in the design process, it's extremely unlikely that someone else will have the exact same thing."

So far, she says, the response has been positive with customers having to wait only between three and four weeks before their goods are delivered.

Her prices, though certainly not low, are kept competitive with shoes ranging from between $400 and $600 a pair, with the majority of her clutches priced below $600.

"I was very careful with pricing because, realistically, it is hard for an emerging designer to sell shoes for $1,000," she admits. "But I am still competing in the luxury market, and what I do offer is a shorter waiting time and better prices than the European and British brands offering similar services."

Not that she hasn't faced any challenges in the run-up to today. As she has no formal design training whatsoever, Keefe has had to learn the art of designing shoes and accessories from scratch. Also, she learnt that it can sometimes be difficult communicating with the artisans in Bangkok as she doesn't speak their language.

But even these setbacks could not stop the enterprising young designer from making plans to start a ready-to-wear collection, and her own shoemaking factory in Thailand within the next few months. This is vital if she is to gain greater creative and quality control during the manufacturing process. And, of course, there are plans to open her own shop within the next five years.

For the moment, however, she knows the importance of concentrating on getting her name out there.

"I need to build my brand both here in Singapore and internationally if Kyle Keefe is going to succeed," she says.

"Sometimes I wonder if I'm too young to start my own business but this is something I've always wanted to do and I figured, if not now, then when? Ultimately, I believe that so long as I'm passionate about what I do and put my heart and soul into this, people will appreciate my work."

This article was first published in The Business Times.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2012 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.