Category Archives: Running a Business

Elly – Who we are

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since 2012 when we opened our single retail store in Cluny Court, barely filled with our dresses and crocheted toys. Over the years, I’ve been asked several questions in the interviews we’ve given and I thought I would share the story myself here.

How did Elly start?

Lil S was born in 2009 when I was still working in London. Carol used to send me her shopping lists for clothing before I came back for the holidays. She had a shopping list of brands she couldn’t find in Singapore or that were more affordable in the UK. On weekends, I would browse Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges which had gorgeous baby departments (albeit more premium) clothing.  This inspired us that we could fill a gap in the market for quality, beautiful and comfortable children’s clothes at affordable prices. The other thing is I had have a thing for fabrics. I would go to fabric fairs in Birmingham (where my husband and I single-handedly reduced the average age in the expo) and shop for fabrics all weekend. Back in 2009, I was already designing shift dresses for work and had tailors who agreed to sew baby dresses at the same time. Our first range was sold on Pupsik Studio, an established online baby retailer.

How did we get our name? 

Elly is the name of my favourite stuffed toy, an elephant.

How did we decide on the logo and colours?  

We wanted something fresh and eye-catching. We chose red for its boldness and turquoise because it’s a strong gender-neutral colour. We had bought our logo + website design from a designer online. We then hired someone to build our website technically on a platform we didn’t understand (and which is so archaic that we now can’t find any IT person in Singapore willing + able to upgrade it for us). Hence the need to start on a brand new platform.

How did we decide on the name of our website, ellyloves.com? 

To be honest, we would’ve picked Elly.com as first choice. But when we tried to buy the domain name, of course we learnt four letter websites were impossibly expensive to buy, oh and, erm Elly was the name of a famous Thai category III actress. Who knew!!!

Since we were being sold on another retailer’s website, we thought it wasn’t a big deal not to have an elly.com type of address.  But remember this was in 2010 – our online website wasn’t our main priority seven years ago. So we chose http://www.ellyloves.com, registered our company with the same name and started calling our collections “Elly Loves Spring”, “Elly Loves Planes, Trains and Automobiles”.

Why did we decide to open a store?

When I came back to Singapore in October 2010, we decided to sell our clothing ourselves. We started first by exploring fairs with our clothing every other month in 2011. It was exhausting. We had to take leave from our everyday jobs in order to stand on our feet, in the heat or rain, to sell our clothing. During that year, we figured our strengths (and also our weaknesses). We knew that fairs were never going to help us grow our business in the long run. We found a rare conservation unit and took the plunge and signed our lease in Cluny Court, quit our jobs and had our Grand Opening on 4 March 2012. We experimented by opening a sister store for tweens called Twelve by Elly in August 2013. Then Elly moved to a larger store on 14 November 2015 bringing in a wider range of shoes (with 10 international brands), toys and accessories. In December 2016, we had a new stockist, Motherswork at Great World City.

How did we decide on our brand collaterals? 

Because we were going to open a store proper, we sat down and looked at the bags and gift boxes from various international brands we had recycled over the years. We then designed our own. Yes, we did – we decided on every little detail ourselves, from the shape, colours to the little gift tag on the other side of the bag where you can write your name.

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We also designed our little gift boxes ourselves which turned out to be our most iconic collateral!

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The flip side of taking things one step at a time and doing it all ourselves is that we didn’t always have a big picture in mind as we went along.  We designed products on an “as-needed” basis. We used the concept from our old website and put it on our paper bags. We loved and still love our very first gift box – it was meant to pack our Elly clothing. But it wasn’t big enough to wrap clothing and other things e.g. rattles and toys. Hence we designed the hut box. Since this box was going to be rather big, we didn’t want it loud and colourful. So we toned down the turquoise to more of a light teal colour and shaped it like a cake box because we were starting to sell products of all shapes and sizes.

The last box we designed was to be able to wrap multiple pieces of clothing. The hut box left a lot of hollow space whenever we packed two or three dresses so we designed a striped box with a white satin ribbon around. We put an elephant in gold foil to make it special! We loved the look but it didn’t seem to fit well with our original elephant logo. In fact, if you stood all our collateral in a row, the different colours and look felt abit out of place.

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So we decided late last year that it was time to relook at our brand, our website and try to weave all the different adhoc looks together. We’ve worked with Fifth Column for the past six months (who thankfully has immense patience) and we’re finally ready to launch the new Elly brand and website on 10 May 2017.

So who are we, really?

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Elly – is our homegrown clothing line.

Our new Elly logo is inspired by Picasso’s drawings. Using a simple singular line to draw the shape of the elephant, we want to emphasise the design philosophy of Elly – sophisticated play.  Our new logo represents our timeless design principle – designed for comfort, classic style and playful simplicity.

Turquoise remains a core colour in the form of water splashes (derived from elephants at play) but now instead of a strong red, elly is in a softer coral colour, more befitting of a baby and children’s clothing brand.  (P.S. if you turn the logo anti-clockwise, you can see the E!)

Our flagship store at Cluny Court is The Elly Store – a store which stocks the Elly label of clothing, and curates the best toys, clothing and shoes for children.

Our all-new online store will launch on 10 May 2017 at a new domain on a brand new platform: www.theellystore.com

Our online store is, and always has been, a multi-label website designed to showcase the variety of international products sold in The Elly Store. This website will be mobile-enabled so you’ll be able to finally shop from your phone with ease! We’ve enabled a Quick Shop feature so when we launch our CNY collections and you can just add the pieces you want from the main catalogue page without having to click on individual products.

If you would like to create an account for easy checkout, you will need to register a new account on this website even if you have shopped with us before. We’ll be blogging about our new website in a separate post because there is just so much to say about it!

Will there always be clothing (or other products) you can only find in the Cluny Court store and not online?

The answer is, absolutely.  We want you to come to our store to have the full Elly experience, which is not just our products, but our service as well.  We will however also have special online previews and/or sales, so you will always have reasons to shop with us in both spaces.

How about your tween store, Twelve by Elly (or TBE in short), for 6 to 12 year olds?

From 10 May 2017, we will consolidate both our online stores and our social media accounts and marketing. The physical “Twelve By Elly” store will remain at #02-06 Cluny Court. After spending three years curating TBE, we are really loving the mix of products now. TBE will no longer maintain a separate instagram, Facebook page or mailing list. It will be merged with Elly’s so you will find at Elly a whole range of products for children from newborn to tweens sold on http://www.theellystore.com – this is especially useful for shoes in sizes up to EU36.

What can we expect from your rebranding exercise?

We’ve taken a back seat with designing these past two months because it was too much managing a store, trying to port over 800 products to the new online store and get new collateral created with the rebranding exercise.  We have still been launching new products in store regularly – in the past two months, we’ve launched the Monster clothing collection, Sticker Makers from Stickiemail, a new collection of books for your toddlers and new collections of shoes from Bobux, Old Soles and Livie & Luca.

We’ll be having a Mothers’ Day crafting event with Stickiemail at our store this Saturday 6 May between 2 – 5 p.m. so do look out for a post about it soon!

It feels like a reset for us – like a fresh start. But at the same time, it is an opportunity to return to why we are doing this in the first place, to remember everything about the kind of store and brand that we want to be.

When we started, we were accidental entrepreneurs – we just loved making clothing and it so happened that selling it helped us make more. Carol and I don’t have exciting entrepreneurial stories which inspire the young to quit their boring desk jobs and start their own company. We aren’t instagram savvy – in fact, we’d rather not manage personal accounts because it’s strange to post pictures of ourselves to the world or do Instagram Live.  In fact, we feel totally out of place in the e-commerce / social media generation. What we loved doing in the first place was (i) designing clothes and (ii) selling them. We loved meeting children wearing our clothing. Carol loved decorating the store and making it her own.  I loved fabrics and dresses. That was it.  Along the way, we got completely caught up with managing the store, stocking and restocking other products which weren’t even our own label, having constant meetings, marketing meetings, cold calls, collaborations etc. We were/are buried under HR/accounts/admin, trying to shoot our own Instagram photos or product pictures, uploading pictures on our website and trying to run two stores. There was never any time to think and we stopped having time to do what we wanted to do/loved doing and we let the work dictate how each day would turn out.

In many ways, a big part of who we are today was a result of what we needed to be as we grew – we catered to customers’ needs and filled a gap in the market for solid quality, non-kitschy shoes and clothes.  But it’s dawned on us these past few months that we perhaps have lost our own path in who we are in trying to just keep up, take new stock, inventorise, stick price tags, restock, pay rent, hire staff, do sales reports and accounts and chug along daily.

Because in fact, the best part about running your own business is that we get to write our own story at Elly. So the question we have to answer for ourselves is what kind of store do we want to be?

It starts with knowing what we don’t want to be. We don’t want to be just another kids’ store in this day and age with social media constantly in our faces that it all gets overwhelming with that media noise. We don’t do over-inflated pictures of our products. We don’t sell our products by bad-mouthing other stores in the mall to our customers. We want to be a different kind of business.

We want to be honest retailers. We tell it as it is. We tell you as we see it. The quality of our products, especially our shoes, speak for themselves. If you cannot find a shoe that fits, we would rather suggest another brand which might fit. Over time, we want to share with you our experience these past five years in selling products (such as shoes for your toddlers) so we can help you make the right decisions for your own needs.

We want customers to love shopping in our store with their children because they can find beautiful and timeless children’s clothing, well-curated and unique shoes, toys and accessories. We want to continue to make comfortable, easy to wear and classic pieces for your child to wear and be able to hand it down to his/her siblings.

And we want Elly to be a place for everyone. Starting this May, we will have a Quiet Hour shopping for special needs children on the third Tuesday (from 7 – 8.30 pm after closing) and third Saturday (from 8.30 am to 10 am before opening) every month (there will be a separate post on how to make prior appointments so we ensure that we have one team member for each child).

We love watching your children grow up with us. My team loves that the children come by for hugs every week after class just to say hi. We hope you will continue to love shopping with us so that we can keep growing and bringing you more unique things for your children. At the end of the day, we want to do what we love, which is to always find new ways to make retail fun so that you can look forward to coming to Elly week after week.  That’s why we started this in the first place.

And so the rebranding countdown begins for us – join us on 10 May 2017 for the launch of our new website.

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x, Audrey

 

f: facebook.com/theellystore
i: @theellystore
w: theellystore.com
e: contact@theellystore.com

 

Designing Elly’s CNY 2017 collection

I’ve just spent days staring at the CNY pictures from The Studio Loft wondering how I would tell you about the past few months worth of stories which culminated in this large collection, all in one blog post.  There’s so much to say!

We started working on this CNY collection in June (way before we started working on our Holiday 2016 collection which you can read about here).  Coming out of CNY2016, it was always going to be hard to do something different again. CNY2016 was about embroidery. We wanted our 2017 collection to have two distinct looks – a luxe collection and an everyday collection.  Two looks to give you a good variety to select for each day of Chinese New Year (and this year there are 3 days)!

The Luxe collection

Without hesitation, Carol knew she wanted gingko leaves as a theme because it was traditional and yet when drawn as an outline, it looked modern. I guess you could say the luxe gingko collection is the “Carol” part of our team.  She loves pretty florals and traditional colours and trims.

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The result as you can see is really something different.  It’s something you can wear not just for CNY, but suits any other formal occasion too!

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Our new Sarah dress design!

We’ve been known for our jade buttons on our Cheongsams, which have always given them a touch of luxury. In our luxe collection this year, we used gold foil and gold piping for our gingko prints, which just brings them to a whole new level of luxe!  The best thing is that for us, luxe doesn’t mean expensive.  We are keeping our prices for the luxe collection the same as the rest of our collection so you don’t have to think twice about buying them as gifts or as extra dresses for day two or three!  Just like anything else that is precious, you need to treat these pieces with gold foil with extra care – you must only lightly hand-wash and iron on the reverse with a cloth over it.

Our luxe collection comes in three colours for the Cheongsams- red, turquoise and fuchsia, and two colours for the Mandarin-collared shirts – red and turquoise. Moms can also choose from red and fuchsia for their matching Ladies’ Tops!  (P.S. If you’re buying our outfits for a CNY Family photoshoot, the red gingko leaves and pandas photographed really well in our studio shoots.)

To cater to tweens who might prefer not to wear dresses, we’ve designed a halter top in two colours. You can get light cotton pants from us or wear them over a pair of leggings or jeans.  Your tween can dress them up or down according to their mood!

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Carol’s second theme was cherries and birds.  We didn’t like the solid red / round / symmetrical cherries you commonly find on fabrics, especially nearing Christmas. We wanted a faded vintage look and we added a touch of gold foil so that the birds would shimmer in the light. I love how special this fabric turned out with the highlight of gold foil on what would otherwise be a normal cotton fabric. Subtle luxe!

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In keeping with our luxe theme, Carol and Stacy handmade gingko leaves and painted individual squares of our rainbow wall sets for the shoot and our store display.  I love how our sets bring out the prints so clearly.  We can’t wait to show you our pictures from The Studio Loft taken specially by Maryann and her team!

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The Everyday collection

Of course, we can’t forget the fun part of everyday Elly  – the crazy fun that we, as a family, are sometimes all about. When we started to think about designing this year, we realized that in our earlier days, a lot of what we designed had been inspired by Lil S, before Lil E came along. Even this year our Holiday collection (which you can find here) was inspired by Lil S soon becoming a tween. So we thought it was about time Lil E got a collection inspired by her! She inspires us all the time anyway with her constant laughter and crazy antics.

So this year, we chose “pandas” as our theme.  Yes, PANDAS! Although I bet some of you were thinking I’d choose Pokemons (if you heard how Carol and I went abit mad playing Pokemons back in September, even making our staff follow us at lunch to catch Dragonites and Snorlaxes near our office at Bukit Merah and Telok Blangah Hill Park)!

So why pandas?  Because earlier this year around the time we were designing this collection, Lil E was crazy about pandas!  We brought her to a toy shop at Serene Centre and the ONLY thing she wanted from this huge toy + Lego shop were two tiny pandas which she could hold in her hand.  (Ok luckily that makes her more affordable between my two nieces to bring on outings since that present cost me only $6. Haha.)  For days, these two pandas followed her around in her chubby little hands. She would hold them in the car, to Grandma’s house, to dinner and ever so often, would ask, “Where my panda?” whenever she couldn’t find them.

So we thought it would be so fun to have them on our cheongsams as our theme this year!  But because pandas are black and I’ve been told by customers that grandparents can be superstitious about wearing black on the first day of CNY visiting, we needed to include festive colours and other themes! So our panda prints come in two colours – with a bright red or a blue lattice!

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When this print was first drawn, we showed it to Lil E and asked if she liked it. She excitedly got down on her mat and showed us the panda’s poses (because “Eme panda”).

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Safe to say, I think she liked the pandas!

But pandas alone were not going to be enough.  As you know, Elly is about variety as well so you can choose your entire CNY wardrobe from us!

So what else does Lil E like?  Ice-cream!!!  She has such a happy face whenever she gets to hold a cone!

(I know what you’re going to say… bad auntie… ice cream is a terrible bribe!  But how can you say no to that face???)

So for our final print for CNY2017, we decided to put together a combination of what Lil E loves – pandas and popsicles.  And this is what we got:

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We played around with the Pantone shades on the actual piece to ensure the grid didn’t obscure the popsicles on the fabric.  I think the finished fabric has just the right effect to ensure there is not too much white on the dress. So there you go – the final product.

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Side note:  I was having fun during the shoot with this tua pao which I asked Hayley to gamely pose with (much to my prim and proper older sister’s horror).  Before that, I tried asking two other children but got snubbed by them because, well, I guess the bao is so uncool… Hayley on the other hand hammed it up for the camera and got us such adorable pictures!

As always, we will have four other prints from the U.S. joining our CNY collection. Do note that only the blue satsuki print comes in a cheongsam design. The other four have been made in our everyday dress designs – so you’ll have a variety of options for CNY Days 1, 2 and 3.

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The best news this year is that we will have bigger sizes for boys (finally)!  Our shirts and bermudas will go up to sizes 8Y, 10Y and 12Y.  Instead of just our usual red or white, we will have four new colours of bermudas so you can mix and match!  I find yellow and chambray a really nice departure from the usual red and best of all, these new colours will be usable every day of the year, and not just during CNY and National Day!

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Because this collection turned out to be massive with the increased number of sizes, designs and prints, we didn’t have time to run the Chinese knot buttons or the sling bags and clutches which we had last year.  Instead, moms can choose from four ladies’ top designs to match their children.  Look out for our launch promotion in our CNY 2017 FAQ  here.

We hope you’ll find something you love! Look out for the complete album on 19th December on Facebook and our blog.

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When we look back at all the stories in getting this collection (and the Magic collection and the Holiday collection) completed this year, it is impossible to jot down in one blog post how we feel – the constant vacillation between the feeling of accomplishment and of failure, of joy and of tears, and so many moments where your heart is on the table – that, is the difference between running your own business and working for a large corporation. This is our heart on the table.

We proudly present Elly CNY 2017 – Spring – launching online at 9 p.m. on 21 Dec ’16 and in-store at 10 a.m. on 23 Dec ’16.  

x, Audrey

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Elly – Holiday 2016 collection

It was right around this time last year when we opened Elly number 2 (or larger Elly). Just when we thought we were settling down, we leapt into our expanded shoe range with 11 shoe suppliers and a whole host of other new products we were finally able to stock with the larger space (which meant even more suppliers, more sale reports, more re-ordering etc).  The one thing we didn’t have time to focus our energies on was our clothing, which was rather ironic.  At some point, we promised ourselves to re-focus our energies this past twelve months.  To be honest, there was a point running a retail front (actually two!) and an online store started to wear us down, especially when we were having to design our own clothing plus manufacture plus constantly manage inventory for thousands of SKUs in a retail front that had to stay open for 362 days a year.

So, we sat back down and re-prioritised how we worked, what we did, what we didn’t or shouldn’t be doing; and the most wonderful thing that came out of re-prioritising was first of all, really being able to go on breaks without carrying the burden of work through the holiday and that meant being more energised to come back and pick up where you left off. It also meant being able to take the time to design our pop-up store at the recent Boutiques, work with bloggers, do professional photoshoots again, make our own props and of course, design more collections like this one.

In previous years, we skipped Christmas collections because Christmas was / is too close to Chinese New Year (when we normally launch our largest collection in the year). But this year, we thought it would be a good change to have a sea of blues, whites, blacks, cream or pastels and turquoises before the CNY red hits the store.

We wanted this Holiday collection to be special. We were so busy just “doing” anything and everything to keep our store going that for awhile, it stopped being fun. We stopped doing what we loved (i.e. designing, pouring through fabric catalogues regularly, being able to spend time conceptualising and creating) and it stopped having meaning to us. (Yes I’m an idealist about life having to have some meaning.)  So I roped in family members to help me brainstorm. This collection we worked with Lil S and a cousin from overseas – you’ll see how Lil E influences CNY2017 when we blog about that in December.

We chose the Love and Hearts theme. Why?  Because in the many years before her mei mei came along, Lil S would have sleepovers at our house and she would always leave notes for us to find if we were away or if we didn’t come home early enough to say goodnight to her. They would be stuck on our walls with a lot of tape!  The top left one she did years ago but the bottom right one, she just wrote for us yesterday when she spent the day at my house being baby-sat.  She has formed smiley faces with the peas at the Japanese restaurant and then made me take a picture to remember our solo dinner date. She asked for heart balloons! If these hearts do have smiley faces, I noticed she draws the eyes with long curly eyelashes (like the pokemon goldeen).

The hearts did stop for awhile when Lil E came along. We found it harder to reassure her that she wasn’t being neglected especially when everyone would rush to cuddle the baby wombat. It’s been tough putting time aside to spend with her now that she’s in primary school. We can’t just take off randomly like we used to when we first started.  Our week days now are crazy intense and relentless.  This year, I didn’t even get to spend her birthday with her until dinner because we were at Boutiques fair all day.

In June, I told her to draw something for me.  If she worked hard at it, I would print it for her on a tee and it would be her design.

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So, this tee is by her, for her.

Her dad remarked that she’s been “promoted”. No longer just a model, now a designer too! You should’ve seen her face when she saw the finished tee for the first time. She grinned like a cheshire cat.

Why black? Because this 7 year old is starting to look for black tops. She scoured our tween store, Twelve by Elly, and remarked there was no black for her!  I don’t know why they start this early because I remember turning grunge-y only in Secondary 3!  But just as she likes black and wants to attempt to look cool in hip shorts, she’s still young at heart and loves long skirts and being a girly girl.

So we created this collection carefully to cater to the girl who’s struggling so hard to want to be like the “big girls” but really, is still only 6, 7, 8.  Our tween is a ready-to-wear shorts and tee child, just as she is a twirly girl with fairy skirts and long twirly dresses. We deliberately didn’t design themes or allover colourful prints and kept our designs classic, understated and extremely easy to mix and match because our next collection (CNY2017) will be all about prints.

We’ve styled this Holiday collection quite deliberately to pair tank tops with tulle skirts and shorts and to include turquoises and fuchsias alongside blacks and whites. Our collection is meant to be worn after the Holiday season – for school holidays and also for weekends when school re-opens.  Our skirts are just as versatile for dressing down after the festive season!

 

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So whilst we designed matching onesies and rompers so babies could match their older siblings, the inspiration behind this collection was the tween we had started this label for many years ago. You can find love and hearts in all shapes, sizes and forms!

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And, to complete our collection, we roped in our young cousin who is a truly talented artist to draw this print for us. She is hard at work in college and we hope she pursues art because talent like this is a rare find. I hope she never stops dreaming.

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Yes there are days I feel like that clown with the party hat. Most of the time, we feel amazingly inadequate with designing, IT technology, accounts and well, basically everything we are confronted with every day. But hey, you should never stop dreaming.

Love.

x, Audrey

(Photo credit: The Studio Loft)

Designing Elly’s CNY2016 collection

Every year, designing and launching Elly’s CNY collection is both the most exciting thing we do and yet also the most stressful. It certainly feels like just yesterday when we were furiously packing CNY2015 orders.

Back in 2012 when we first launched our distinctive cheongsams, we started out by buying fabrics from the US. Later as sourcing fabrics became more common, we started designing our own fabrics for CNY 2013 and we have continued to do so ever since.  Every year, we work hard to come up with new ideas, new themes or new details to make each collection different. Especially for those of you whose children have grown up wearing our CNY clothing, we want to give you a reason to keep coming back with a different look each Chinese New Year.

This year, we didn’t want as strong a red colour as we have had in the previous Horse Parade 2014 and Home 2015 collections.  Our fabric designer (a wonderful lady who has had the tough task every year of having to dream up prints from our email instructions) started us on our whole collection with these two red and yellow geometric prints.  Intuitively, both Carol and I immediately wanted it in our collection.  It was a break from the strong red/white and red/orange colour theme in the past two CNY collections. This shade of red is more subtle and yet retains the festive spirit.

BUT our last CNY collection with the Japanese fans was also about geometrics.  So we decided we still needed something different to make this a truly special collection.

So this year, we asked our designer to design a placement print as well. We both knew we wanted a vintage, classic look, so we asked her to design this gorgeous set of blooms.

ELLY FLOWERS PLACEMENT PRINT CNY 2016 B

But to print this over a strong geometric print would have been problematic because it would make the material too stiff (with the additional colour layers) and the design of the flowers would be drowned in the geometrics.  So how could we make this beautiful?

how

We decided to take it vintage all the way – by using embroidery.   You can see the result yourself! I love the finishing of the embroidery on the dress. Enlarge the picture of Lil’ E above to see how the flowers are carefully stitched onto the base print. Custom designed embroidery! Something we have never done before.  That’s a two-stage process just to get the fabric!!!

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I’ll bet mommies of boys are wondering whether something like embroidered flowers would work for shirts? Well, we thought it would work if we toned down the flowers for the shirts and the little baby cheongsams so the flowers wouldn’t be over-powering. And here’s the final effect.

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(And yes, you may have noticed we added Chinese knots for the boys’ shirts!)

This look – the sunshine yellow geometric print with the subtle floral embroidery – has become my personal favourite of the whole collection.

For siblings, we added a second embroidery option. The blooms were mainly red embroidery against a red geometric fabric.  We wanted a contrasting embroidery and decided on lanterns!  We thought this was more “traditionally Elly” and would be perfect for siblings to mix and match across the whole collection.

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That’s 3 designs! We wanted to add 3 more to complete the Elly prints. So the next 3 prints comprise umbrellas and a mosaic print. Why umbrellas? Because we were looking for something oriental that could be turned into a modern print and umbrellas turned out perfect!

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If you like the red umbrellas, wait till you see the turquoise!

The mosaic is a modern take on what is essentially a vintage look (think of those traditional ceramic tiles on our kitchen walls).

tween cheongsam

We wanted this year to be about bringing together the old and the new – mixing the traditional with the modern. When I think of embroidery, I always associate it with traditional frocks and smocking which sometimes can be old-fashioned.  But mixing the embroidery with a geometric print gives this year’s cheongsam a modern look.  Mosaics and umbrellas could also be seen as traditional but, with the right design and colours, becomes the modern prints we put together. Modern yet traditional. Everything Elly is all about.

Rather than describe it more, I’m proud to present, our 2016 CNY fabric designs:

2016 fabric designs

The collection turned out to be really varied and took longer to produce because of the number of new elements we introduced!  There are a lot of details in our collection that made it stand out – each Chinese knot on the shirts and baby cheongsams had to be individually hand knotted and, together with the jade buttons, painstakingly hand sewn onto the cheongsams. The best part is that although we are adding all these intricate details, we are keeping all our prices exactly the same.

This year, we have a new flare baby cheongsam with Chinese red knots to replace our baby girl onesie. I think the turquoise lantern embroidery is a gorgeous contrast with the red.

Baby CS Red Geo Lantern 3

We never forget the boys! We also have a new baby boy romper (without embroidery) with Chinese red knots (as promised to some customers who asked us to look into it during this CNY2015)!

Boy romper mosaic 1

Boys have a new casual option of a mandarin-collared polo red t-shirt for Day Two!

Red Polo 2.jpg

We also have new tween sizes for the girls’ cheongsams – we have added 8 years, 10 years and 12 years.

CS Tween Turq Umbrellas Large

Last but not least, we added a mommy’s top because we think this collection is subtle enough to create matching sets.

Mother daughter pair

Mother and son

To complete our collection, we’ve brought back our clutches for mommies and slings for little girls.

Red Geo pair.jpg

As with previous years, as part of CNY 2016, we have a capsule collection of cheongsams, shirts and other dresses in fabrics purchased from the US (although these won’t be available in the mommy’s top and baby collection).  The Red and Gold flower fabric with its shimmery gold detailing on the fabric and the more pastel Rose Squiggle fabric will bring our CNY2016 collection to a total of 8 prints for boys and girls!

2016 other fabrics

OK I admit – from today till Saturday in-store, I’ll be having sleepless nights worrying what everyone’s thinking of the collection, the prints, the styles, the pictures etc and it’ll be torturous.  I guess all that stress is part of the excitement. 2015 was a turning point for us – for finally figuring out how to get the balance between running a business as a family right.  My takeaway from 2015 is that you just have one life, live it and live it well; keep your head down and chase that dream and work your butt off to get to where you want to go; don’t spend too much time mulling how things will work out cos they just do. With our new re-designed store, it feels like we’re back on that path we wanted to be on when we first began this journey and boy, has it been a roller coaster ride!

So this whole collection actually has parts of both of us (whenever we look at a fabric, it’s either “very Carol” or “very me”. I tell some customers that once you get to know us, when you look at the fabrics in our store, you’d probably be able to tell who chose it!).  Sometimes I worry if having two completely different characters within a creative concept is the right thing to do.  But if you look at the outdoor shoot – you can see the style and colours which I like and when you look at the studio shoot, the pastel and calm and artistic vibrant flowers and brollies is everything Carol. And with that, with our two strong and different characters, somehow, we have made it work.  So whilst I named this collection “Blooms and Brollies” because I wanted to add some fun into this classic collection, it was my sister’s creative vision that ties it through.  We hope you love it as much as we do!

blooms and brollies blog post

x, Audrey

Photo credit: These pictures were taken by the talented Maryann of The Studio Loft. In all the morning craziness, she and her team did a fantastic job shooting our collection again. A Big Thank You to The Studio Loft!  xx

Getting our ducks in a row

It’s been awhile since I wrote a post about running our small business so I thought I’d do a summary of what we’ve been holed up in our office/warehouse/studio doing this year!

We started January 2015 with the launch of pre-orders for our CNY 2015 Home collection and for days after, we were hit with an avalanche of pre-orders and online sales (which we didn’t see coming). Obviously we had planned for our normal peak period with staffing based on last year’s crowds BUT we didn’t plan for growth. I know everyone says it’s a great problem to have but it really wasn’t. It was miserable because we were constantly trying to catch our breath and chase our tails, despite having thought we had planned everything neatly in the weeks before that. We barely slept all week!

By 2015, we had two stores running at full steam and it felt as if we couldn’t stop for a day to go through our to-do list or plan ahead because we were constantly managing staffing, incoming stock, production, promotions, events, marketing and admin / accounts etc etc etc.  There was always a longer list of missed deadlines than the ones we actually made.  And that felt miserable too.  Running two physical stores meant that we would continue paying rent and salaries, and customers would walk by and continue to want to be excited by their shopping experience. So in turn, we had to constantly update the store and come up with promotions or events or new products.

At some point, it was all just too much and so, we decided it was time to stop and fix broken parts and press the reset button.  We spent March looking for a warehouse, April setting up our new office-warehouse-studio, and May and June were for checking the boxes for “the things we still hadn’t done list” and boy, was this list long!  July was finally for “the things we always wanted to do list” and for putting systems in place.  WE HAVE SYSTEMS IN PLACE!!!  Good grief, I’m so chuffed I could shout this from a mountain top I tell you.  Yes sure we are still hacking away at the last outstanding bits but it feels so good that we managed to chug through the whole list!  On one hand after four months, it felt like we barely accomplished anything because it was just clearing up backlog (as opposed to taking nice big leaps ahead) but at the same time, it was vital we cleared up everything that was holding us back before we took our next step forward!  Taking time to focus on clearing up backlog also meant ignoring the stores for abit whilst our staff “held the fort” and took on additional responsibilities.  It also meant we would consciously not chase new ideas, new partners or new products which at the time required more time and effort than we could offer. In short, it was really about putting aside things that wore me down and made me constantly fed up about being behind and having to problem solve and never being able to get a system in place or “get better” at doing what we already did.

More importantly, the past three months finally gave us a chance to think about what we wanted to accomplish for both our businesses and for ourselves. For a while, I think we were taking every new thing that sounded exciting or new (rather than what would actually be in keeping with who we were) and as we kept doing that, we started to lose sight of what we had actually set out to be.

My 3 takeaways from this is to: (1) get your systems in place before you start anything; (2) fix a broken leg before you start running again (and I’m not really talking about running here); and (3) keep at it.

Our Online Store

In the past two months, we have (1) expanded the products available online, and (2) created a Gift Section especially for newborns also on online!  Over the past two years, we have had numerous requests to upload more of the products we sold in the store online as well so you wouldn’t have to trudge to Cluny Court and also for baby hampers of varying sizes and price ranges, some for corporate gifts as well. We’ve finally been able to do both!

T foxes 2

 

– You can find more Elly clothing online and we’ll be growing our Elly range in the course of this year!

TTM3P- Tootle Tortoise Pink Medium_1

– You can find over 120 Jellycat plush toys, books, soothers, rattles and stroller toys!

i-nrsmrgS-M classic assortment-2

– You can also find the beloved Paddington Bear plush toy!

Shark - PYJAMAS SET SS

 

– We’ve uploaded organic pyjamas and underwear from Maxomorra for boys and girls!

tip truck_group

– You can find Kid-O toys (some of which make great bath toys)!

Fun Sundae Girl Gift Set 1

– If you’re looking for a newborn gift, we’ve put together a unique selection of gift sets!

gc4w- glasses cat wash bag

– There is even a category for mommies! Mommies can shop for Catseye makeup pouches, travel wash bags and coin purses!

And if you need to send any of these as a gift because you might have missed a birthday or not be able to attend a birthday party, opt for the courier option and add on one of our gorgeous gift boxes for just $3. We’ll include your gift message as well!

2 boxes Big box

So it’s almost August when we’ve finally gotten our ducks in a row!  Ok it did take a month longer than I anticipated but it feels so good to de-clutter and start each day wanting to actually be at work. Now for the next leap forward!

 

x, Audrey

8 tips on managing a small retail business

Hi!

If you’re a customer who prefers to read about our products than our processes as a small retail business, you probably can skip this blog post!! I needed to find somewhere to record these tips more as a gentle reminder for myself of these things! Here are our 8 tips on how to manage a small retail business!

(1) Have a weekly schedule and stick to it as far as possible.

As a small business owner, you don’t have teams to do separate types of work e.g. admin staff, accounts staff, inventory management, design etc. We’ve managed to keep it within the family and do all the ordering, production, stock takes, mundane admin work etc ourselves. But on top of that, in any given day, we get calls from sales and marketing people looking to work with us from various print or online media, new and old suppliers looking to showcase their new collections for us to select from, and as a retail front both in-store and online, we receive regular customer email and Facebook queries on designs and sizes available. A lot of these typically look like they should take precedence over our admin work, which means, in the past, I would always allow whatever time I had allocated to doing these things to be snatched away by “more important” work. In the end, our filing had a 2-month backlog easily (if not more). Now I find it best to spend an hour or two on allocated days just writing cheques, paying bills, sorting out paperwork, and for those 2 hours, I only deal with the most urgent queries. I’ve also allocated nights to prepare emailers and blog content because it’s the longest time in the day where I can focus on writing undisturbed (with the TV running of course)! I now set aside at least 2 days to finish each campaign which consists of a Facebook post, blog post, emailer and Instagram pics. Not because there is so much to write necessarily but just cos some days, I find it harder to write anything meaningful when I’m flatout tired. And don’t forget we have 2 stores so that’s 2 days per store every time each store has something new to write. Ugh. But it shouldn’t only be about scheduling work – the scheduling should also include time outs where you’re not thinking about the business and for me, that’s usually dinner time. I’m not one to take a whole day or weekend where I don’t work at all. That’s just not me. I like working on the computer after dinner and I find that makes tomorrow more livable because I know what to expect. But when you do schedule timeouts, take the timeout and don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t muddle about work through dinner with friends, don’t bring your work to the table and learn to switch off just for the short period. This is the same advice I’d say to young lawyers as I’d say to small business owners: the work will always be there. You will need down time to recharge so you don’t burn out too soon.

(2) It’s ok to say no.

Businesses grow at their own time. The time it takes to grow has to do many factors such as how hard you’re willing to work at the expense of other things, what other priorities you have in life, what finances you have available to you, what manpower you have etc. This answer is not one that other people can impose on you. At the start, we thought a lot longer and a lot harder before we said no. We were worried about the doors we were closing, the opportunities we were leaving behind and the successes that could have been.  But to be stuck wondering so hard on how we can take an opportunity could itself be a sign that we were simply not ready to take it on and to do it poorly would be far worst an outcome. Now I think we have a clearer picture of where we are going and how we are going to get there. So everything that doesn’t fit in that scheme of things right now can wait – even if it means not working with big players in the industry, be it media or stores. On hindsight, we are happy we turned down several opportunities in the past 3 years because we can totally see how we would have killed ourselves trying to get it done at the expense of building our own store and brand and we might have flopped the opportunities when our production wasn’t up to scale yet. So sometimes it’s ok to say no (or maybe just not yet).

(3) Keep plodding along.

There are days when everything and anything seems to be going all wrong at the same time. 3 years ago, I probably would have sat on the floor and bawled my eyes out and freaked out. Today, I keep doing what I was doing in the first place, totally nailing them one email at a time. Ok that’s a total lie. Today, well there are times when I know if i don’t have an immediate answer for problems, but mulling about it for 2 more hours isn’t going to help me. So i just keep plodding along doing what I do know how to do first. After I’ve finished the first couple of things on my To Do list and don’t feel like a complete failure, I go back to the original set of problems and try to kill them off one at a time. Of course it’s easier said than done, but panicking never helped anyone. So my motto is to keep plodding along, one foot in front of the other.

(4) Be flexible.

This seems to contradict item (1) I know but it’s really about drawing the right balance being disciplined with doing the things that need doing regularly and always being ready to adapt the minute someone throws you a curveball. This isn’t just relating to a daily or weekly schedule. It’s knowing when to call it quits on a marketing strategy or a particularly unsaleable product and also knowing when calling it quits is far too early in the game. So, just keep it in the back of your mind to be ready to adapt when the time is right. When is the time right, you ask? I think if you’re immersed in your business every single day for 365 days a year, you’ll know soon enough when the time is right (and wrong).

(5) Be ready to work like you’ve never done before.

If you thought starting your own retail business meant you could work from home, have a flexible work schedule and take off whenever you want to, then you’re probably better off doing a Monday to Friday 9 – 6 pm desk job. Running a small retail business is the antithesis of flexible hours and having holidays whenever you want to. The thing is, if your staff is sick or has an emergency, you’re back at the store working. On weekends when no one can work a shift, you’re working. When you’ve got new stock to put into the store, you’re redecorating the store. When you’ve got a big sale coming up, you rope in anyone and everyone for 3 weeks to tag and stock take. When you’re running a sale, you’re at the store 4 days in a row from 9 am to 7 pm on your feet, having to be at your chirpiest and most efficient and then after 7 pm you’re busy tidying up the store for the next day’s sale. (The husband says I was being Grumpy (as in the dwarf) by the third day of our August sale so I’m definitely not a good example of being at my best behaviour and I’m sorry if i snapped at you!) The point is, the hours are relentless; the work is relentless, the competition is relentless because the barriers to entry are low and you’ve got to be constantly thinking on your feet. So no planning to go on holiday during peak holiday periods, and I’ve discovered my new weekends start on Tuesdays! Weekends are the busiest periods and Mondays are for regrouping after busy weekends to restock and take stock of the week ahead. So Tuesdays have worked out to be the best days to make dinner plans!

(6) Chat with people who have owned businesses in similar fields before.

A few years ago, I was attending a wedding dinner and sat next to a friend’s husband who had joined the family business which was in shipping. We were from law backgrounds so I asked how he managed to even start in such a different industry. He said he went to all the uncles in the business and sat them down at a coffee shop and bought them beers and tapped on their years of experience. Chances are these industry players would’ve faced the problems you’re facing now – good time to ask them how they went about fixing it. Sometimes there isn’t an immediate fix, but at least, it’s good to know that just so you don’t bang your head against the wall in frustration. And, well, the beer never hurts. At the same time, I would also caution against talking to everyone. Not everyone will appreciate what you’re trying to do with your business and some people will dismiss whatever hard work you’re doing and whatever small achievements you’re accomplishing. Don’t let things people say eat at you. There’ll be friends in your corner and people who aren’t.

(7) Research and read.

Sign up for entreneurship articles on Forbes, New York Times, Huffington Post, and read up on everything to do with running your business and the market you are in. When you first start out, you’re your own creative director, inventory controller, traditional marketing manager, social media marketing manager, visual merchandiser, designer, production manager, QC manager, HR manager, and administrative assistant – all snazzy “managerial” terms but they mean squat. Call yourself whatever you want but it just means you are going to do it all. OK luckily for me, Carol’s the inventory controller, visual merchandising and administrative assistant, and now accounts assistant to the chief accountant too. Hahahaha. At least she does the tasks i loathe. Ok I digressed. From time to time, I get people asking me for advice on all of the above (and its funny cos i don’t really know the answers to most of their questions either!) but these days, the answers to these things are a lot more common sense, matter of fact, based on past experience. It also helped to read books and articles on various topics that were so unfamiliar to me because I realized that some of the answers of must-dos and must-reads in these books were either things I knew by trial and error, things I knew by practising constantly or things I had already read about. I know it’s daunting to read a whole book on social media marketing or inventory management and don’t expect every single chapter to be entertaining and useful. But grab a notebook and jot down key points you want to remember which may come in useful for future marketing campaigns.

(8) Always know what your numbers are.

The stress from not having a healthy cashflow is not something anyone wants to have to deal with, not whilst you’re dealing with being an administrative assistant, designer, inventory controller….(well, you get the picture). The worst thing that can happen is not being able to pay rent because there’s no point stockpiling inventory if you don’t have a store to sell it at, is there? (Note: This doesn’t apply if you own a gold mine to begin with and have unlimited resources.) If you have limited resources, then closely keep an eye on your numbers. It’ll help you decide how much stock to hold in advance, what kind of marketing activities you can do, and you’ll be able to plan your budget for the next couple of months. Also, you should know what each product is bringing you in terms of revenue and profit. In a small retail store particularly in a country like Singapore where rental is astronomical, it doesn’t make sense to have some products take up a whole display space and only earn you a tiny tiny percentage of your profits, especially if it has no aesthetic value.

If you’re looking to start your own business or already own your own business, I hope this helps you in some way! We’re still finding our way in our retail journey so I find it nice to stop once in awhile and take stock of what I’ve learnt thus far. If you have a more specific question, do leave a comment or send us an email and we’ll try to help!

x, Audrey