How Female Entrepreneurs in Singapore Adapted Their Businesses Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic
Members of social enterprise the Crib Society share the challenges their businesses experienced during the circuit breaker and re-opening of Singapore, and how these local brands innovated to survive the tide
When the circuit breaker was implemented on April 7 for almost two months, many businesses and industries were hit hard as their retail outlets and offices had to close for the partial lockdown.
This is especially true for small and medium enterprises, who have been forced to adapt their business plans and implement new infrastructure in order to keep it going.
To find out how some brands in Singapore have innovated to thrive during this unprecedented time, we reached out to the founders of five local enterprises.
JeannieRichard, Zerrin, Eden+Ellie, Candles of Light and Binary Style are all member brands of the Crib Society, a community founded by Elaine Kim, Tjin Lee, Marilyn Lum, and Mei Chee to empower female entrepreneurs.
More than just a jewellery brand, Eden+Elie is a social enterprise that trains and employs artisans with autism. Putting a modern spin on traditional bead-weaving techniques, each jewellery piece is handmade from the finest materials, and no two are exactly alike.
The biggest setback from the circuit breaker was the fact that Eden+Elie’s 10 artisans could no longer produce pieces from the workshop, which provided visual structures and a calibrated environment for them.
“Because of the short notice we were given at the start of the circuit breaker, we had to send them home and keep them home with very little preparation on how best to use their time. We have, however, continued to support them with full wages, during the entire circuit breaker and even until now,” Stephanie Choo, founder of Eden+Elie, explained.
To support their time at home, the brand worked with job coaches and communicated with the artisans to create Mother’s Day necklaces for their mums, and also tested the implementation of an At-Home Kit to help the artisans work from home.
“Some of the mums wrote to us that they really appreciated having a piece of jewellery that their son or daughter helped to make. It meant a lot to us that we were able to do something for them to communicate how important they are to our company.”
Eden+Elie’s studio has reopened in phase two, welcoming customers on alternate weekdays by appointment only. The brand has taken caution to space out the appointments, with only a party of three related guests served at a time, while the team is working staggered shifts between home and the studio.
Sustainability is at the heart of Zerrin, which operates as a one-stop guide to sustainable fashion and beauty. The media platform and multi-brand online retailer is founded by former fashion and beauty editor Susanna Jaffer with the idea of connecting a growing community of ethical emerging brands with busy modern women.
Without the extra engagement from physical pop-up stores, Zerrin strengthened its online platform via social media, with live-streamed product showcases, as well as an Instagram Live series called #RealTalk, where it engaged the community by interviewing brands, industry experts, and inspiring individuals who champion sustainability in fashion and beauty. The brand also experimented with at home set-ups for their creative shoots to bring their content to life.
“Despite being an e-commerce platform, we focused on putting out meaningful content to promote our values as a brand, rather than just pushing products. We already do this year-round so it’s not exactly innovating, but we doubled down on it during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Jaffer.
As restrictions lift throughout phase two, Zerrin is ready to amp up both online and offline platforms.
“We’ve just relaunched our online platform, our new brand directory and are planning a series of webinars with international speakers and fashion change-makers from mid-July to September. We will also be relaunching our pop-up The Lounge at The Social Space from September for the long term.”
Candles of Light
Purchasing a scent is an intimate and sensorial journey, and it is hard to be convinced without experiencing it yourself. So we can imagine how the circuit breaker must have caused much difficulty for Candles of Light, a local fragrance studio which specialises in natural, botanical-based scents infused with spices, herbs, essential oils and natural aromatics.
Offering candles, home and linen perfumes, scent elixirs and more, its core scent range is inspired by different times of the day, counting “Dusk” a cult favourite.
The studio operates from e-commerce and partnerships with stockists, which includes Essential Extra, Gallery & Co, Plain Vanilla Tiong Bahru, and Isetan Scotts.
“Traditionally if we had customer enquiries on our candles or product range, we would normally tell them to head to our physical retailers. But because of the Covid-19 situation, we are soon launching a range of samples and tester kits online for potential customers to purchase as a trial, with credits for a return purchase,” said Daphne Tan, founder of Candles of Light.
While it is back to business as usual for its stockists in phase two, Tan shares that they are focusing on new ways to bring their “scent experience to the customer in their own space”.
Founded by twin sisters and trained architects Santhi and Sari Tunas, Binary Style offers accessories inspired by Singapore’s history and diverse culture. Its signature collection of more than 60 scarves are woven with local patterns, shapes and colours that tell the nation’s story from past to present.
However, because their clientele is mainly made up of travellers or locals purchasing souvenirs and gifts rich in heritage, the brand had to quickly recalibrate their target audience amidst travel restrictions, turning to produce reusable fabric masks instead. 20 per cent of proceeds from the mask sales benefited migrant workers, through a charity organisation.
“The aim is not to make a profit from this but to do our part to help. The response has been very good so far—through the masks, new audiences are discovering our brand, and even if they don’t buy it, they will remember us,” said Santhi and Sari Tunas, co-founders and directors of Binary Style.
With retail partners closed, the brand also made sure to strengthen their presence online, actively engaging their community with positive content, and even a downloadable Binary Style Zoom background.
“Our brand’s unique proposition is about inspiring happiness, emotional comfort and sense of belonging. From day one, we wanted Binary Style to be a brand with a smile on its face, and during this time we feel it is more relevant than ever to communicate in that tone.”
The brand’s studio at National Design Centre has resumed operation in phase two, with reduced workdays and staff entering in alternating shifts in the office.
Helmed by wife and husband team Jeannie and Richard, JeannieRichard offers Art Deco-inspired modern jewellery that is designed and handmade with love. The brand is also committed to supporting a charity body annually with 10 per cent of every purchase.
Already operating as an online business with plans to engage clients via physical pop-ups, the circuit breaker made the founders reevaluate their plans and strengthen their offerings online instead. According to founder Jeannie Yeo, the brand stepped up in design and production, releasing at least two new designs every week.
The brand also took the opportunity to maximise their social media presence, collaborating with local brands Jo Kilda, Tria the Label and Nodspark; Singapore influencers; and engaging followers in various social media campaigns.
These campaigns have earned the brand an increase in followers, many of whom were converted into loyal customers. And as we progress through the phases, JeannieRichard will continue its online model, offering contactless delivery to customers.
“While the circuit breaker period is over, the residual effects of it is going to stay for a long time. Hence, we are in the midst of migrating our website to another platform that will allow features such as Hoolah to allow customers to deflate their expenditure and still enjoy the simple pleasures. We are also in the midst of developing our own proprietary hardware to heighten our branding,” Yeo shared.
“Our way of innovation is not so much about technology but rather, using it to bring people back to what truly matters, especially loved ones that we so often take for granted. JeannieRichard is, after all, about sentimental jewellery to remind everyone of life’s precious moments. Most importantly, we keep our hearts on the lesser voices by supporting the Children’s Society.”