If you love something but it’s too expensive, you can always try to find a way to have it made locally, writes Oon Yeoh.
A Graduate with a Business and Commerce degree, Goh Ai Phing worked for several start-ups before launching Florette The Label (florettethelabel.com) recently. Her aim is to make wrap dresses affordable for Malaysians, and eventually for Southeast Asians.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO JOIN START-UPS RATHER THAN BIG, ESTABLISHED CORPORATIONS?
I loved the flat hierarchical structure which usually exists within a start-up. The camaraderie of working in a team that’s building a product from scratch is also very rewarding. When you work in a start-up, you’re immediately thrown into many roles, so you end up wearing many hats. That is great for giving you exposure to how different functional groups work together.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR?
I grew up in a family where both my father and sister are successful business owners. I have learnt a lot growing up in this environment. I felt this was the right time for me to go into business after clocking up four years of experience working in e-commerce start-ups.
WAS IT DIFFICULT TAKING THAT LEAP?
I’d be lying if I said it was an easy decision as I was doing well in my job at the time. The idea came during Chinese New Year when I casually shared with my sister and brother-in-law my ideas for starting a wrap dress label of my own. They gave me the moral support and confidence to do this.
WHAT GAVE YOU THE IDEA TO START FLORETTE THE LABEL?
I’ve been a fan of Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dresses, and am aware that it is a classic wardrobe staple. Despite being such a timeless design, I was surprised that there were no local labels out there that truly specialised in wrap dresses.
The wrap design is a piece that is relevant at any stage of a woman’s life. From moments of a svelte silhouette to pregnancy, and even when she packs on a couple of kilos, the dress will still fit nicely due to the way it’s constructed. It truly is a universally flattering dress that looks good, feminine and professional.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A WRAP DRESS?
The wrap dress has been around since the 1970s. It was largely popularised by Diane Von Furstenberg. The wrap dress is constructed to wrap around the body with two built-in sashes found on opposite sides on the dress.
It is worn by feeding one of the sashes through an eye hole, and securely fastened by tying a loop at the front. I dare call it a classic piece. There’s a reason why it’s still around after 40 years and worn by iconic women such as Madonna, Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton.
WHAT’S YOUR GOAL FOR FLORETTE THE LABEL?
To make quality wrap dresses at accessible price points for Malaysians. The next step will be to expand to a wider target market beyond Malaysia. We are looking at our neighbours with the closest proximity such as Singapore, Australia, Thailand and Indonesia.
HOW MUCH RESEARCH WAS INVOLVED?
There’s only so much research one can do to minimise the learning curve. I think it’s pivotal for any entrepreneur to get the ball rolling. Experience is truly the best teacher for both market validation and understanding your target segment.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE FIRST STEPS YOU TOOK WHEN STARTING THIS BUSINESS?
Since the dresses are manufactured locally here, the initial steps included sourcing for the right seamstress and understanding the characteristics of different fabrics that work best for the wrap dress design. This includes testing out countless prototypes until the perfect dress is achieved.
WOULDN’T IT BE CHEAPER TO MAKE THE DRESSES ABROAD?
I initially thought of manufacturing them in China. But as I delved deeper into this, I realised that Malaysia already has all the resources required to kick-start the business.
Manufacturing the dresses locally means a shorter turnaround time for production, ease of communication with suppliers and a greater degree of control over the quality of the product. There are many advantages to making the product locally.
DO YOU SELL ONLINE ONLY?
Yes, the label is currently 100 per cent online. I’m an online shopping advocate and believe it’s the best way moving forward. Being 100 per cent online also lowers the overhead costs which translates into quality dresses at competitive prices to customers.
Would I ever open a bricks-and-mortar store? Never say never... perhaps a pop-up store might be something we could try. It will offer an experience that online stores can’t, which is the actual sizing, fit and feel of the products.
ANY SPECIAL PRODUCT LINES IN THE OFFING?
Yes, actually we’ve just launched our first custom print design, the Sixty-One Collection, which marks Malaysia’s 61st birthday and Malaysia Day.