Photo: The Straits Times
Husband and wife Guo Zhiyong and Ho Shi Min juggle many hats. In 2015, the couple started children’s shoe e-tailer, schocs ‘n’ schues, as a one-stop shop for trendy and affordable leather shoes for children up to age six.
Seven months ago, they started The Playfair, a pop-up storethat stocks the shoe brands they import as well as a curated selection of 50 local brands selling children’s lifestyle products.
And in October last year, they launched their own leather shoe brand, Shokunin, for adults and children. Their first collection came after successful funding on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, on which they raised $21,000.
All this despite neither having any background in entrepreneurship or fashion. Mr Guo comes from a corporate finance background, while Ms Ho continues to hold a full-time job as an auditor in a bank.
The desire to start a business together and venture into the children’s fashion industry was sparked only after they became parents in 2014 and found themselves with few options for high-quality, affordable shoes for their son.
“You had to go the designer route and splurge on a pair of leather shoes or settle for something quite basic,” says Ms Ho. “There was hardly any middle ground and we found ourselves, like many parents back then, constantly trying to shop online for something unique and comfortable for our son.”
Realising there was a gap in the market, they decided to explore the idea of a curated, e-commerce shoe store for children – offering an imported selection for kids.
At the time, Mr Guo had just left his job in corporate finance, giving him the time to visit local trade fairs and speak to brands from countries such as Brazil, Australia and the United States about selling their shoes online.
“It took a lot of convincing,” he says with a laugh. “Many brands were apprehensive because we were contemplating a new enterprise and didn’t have experience running a fashion-centric business, nor did we have a shopfront. Even the ones we managed to convince came around only after much coaxing and many Skype calls.”
It took four months for the duo to get their first few brands on board and launch their online shopin 2015. With the venture taking shape, Mr Guo decided to focus on the business full time instead of going back to the corporate world, while Ms Ho helped with marketing and social media while juggling her full-time job.
The couple started off marketing their shoes at local pop-up fairs over weekends, which got them acquainted with founders of other local children’s brands. Realising, however, that these short pop-ups were time-consuming, the idea for The Playfair was sparked – a concept showcasing a range of brands and changing location every six months or so.
The first iteration of their pop-up opened in Millenia Walk in June last year with about 15 brands. The brands pay the couple a commission for the sale of items and do notpay rent, which is fully absorbed by Mr Guo and Ms Ho.
After a successful six-month run, The Playfair reopened last week at a larger space at Suntec City, this time offering more than 50 curated brands.
Also available for the first time at the pop-up are the Shokunin shoes, which they designed and are manufactured in Spain. The high-top leather shoes cost $129 for children and $219 for adults. A new collection is slated for release next month.
For the duo, making difficult decisions about their steady careers and keeping their fashion enterprise going has been challenging and rewarding.
“We’re enjoying it,” he says. “Even though it requires a lot of sacrifice – of time, money and sleep – it’s been a small price to pay to build something from the ground up.
“It’s a very proud feeling to not only start and grow our own brand, but to also help other local businesses along at the same time.”
This article was first published at The Straits Times.