Being customer-oriented is crucial when running your own business.
And it’s even more critical when your clients are brides-to-be, as Corinna Yap found out as the sole owner and dressmaker of her bridal boutique BluMesh.
A frown breaks across Corinna Yap’s face as she hunches over her sewing machine to examine the damage. The delicate piece of cloth for a new dress she’s been working on in the past half hour was ruined, no thanks to the machine’s damaged needle.
“It’s gone – I have to do a new piece,” Corinna sighs as she sets it aside. “It’s a good thing I still have material.”
It’s obvious Corinna seldom tolerates imperfection and never cuts corners. To those who knows her, it’s this obssessive dedication to perfection with which she approaches her craft that makes her a consummate designer. So much so she is reluctant to find additional people to help grow her business.
“See, I’m stubborn,” she readily admits. “I want to see through everything myself to make sure that the quality’s there. I still do all the detailing work and I can’t let go.”
In The Beginning
Not surprisingly, fashion courses through her blood. Since young, she’s always wanted to make pretty dresses and today she’s living that dream.
Corinna started BluMesh together with a partner, whom she met and studied fashion with at LaSalle International (now known as Raffles LaSalle). They had made a very good team when they did projects together in school. After graduation they had parted ways, but one day her partner – who was freelancing – asked Corinna if she wanted to start a bridal boutique business together. “I was working for someone and I wanted to move on in life,” she remembers.
BluMesh started out as a very small shop, on the upper floor in the row of shophouses at Bali Lane it currently occupies. It was a heavily bootstrapped business. To lower costs they shared space with another business, an insurance firm owned by her partner’s husband. Their capital – the partners having invested $2,000 each – went mainly to materials and their share of the rent.
Fortunately in those days there weren’t many so-called young tailors especially in Arab Street, and so they managed to attract business from the surrounding bridal and specialised tailor shops. Still, it was tough. Both Corinna and her partner had to work horribly long hours for a perod of two years before they finally made enough money to move to a better location.
“By God’s grace and timing, it so happened that our landlord told us someone was giving up their shop (in the same row of shophouses), with a storefront, and asked us if we were interested.”
“That’s kind of how the bridal thing really started.”
They invested more than $20,000 to renovate and outfit their new shop. However, just after two years her partner decided to give up to become a full-time mother. Corinna decided to forge ahead alone.
Today her business is mainly word-of-mouth – in fact 90 percent of her business comes from referrals. And she prefers it that way. Corinna sees through about three to four weddings a month, and along with other made-to-orders such as cocktail or weekend dresses as well as outfits for bridesmaids, she’s kept extremely busy.
Her customer service philosophy is very simple, yet one that can escape even the most established of businesses. “I always try to put myself in my client’s shoes. If you always want to get the best service from others, you should also give your best as well.”
“So I listen to them and communicate with them closely.” Although she’s dressed luminaries like Andrea de Cruz, as well as Haylie Ecker from the girl band Bond, Corinna’s most happy when she’s able to make her clients happy. She can be so close to her clients, in fact, that many of them become her friends.
Her favourite part of the business is when she gets to do cocktail dresses. Besides watching Prison Break whenever she wants to, that is.
“I live and breathe dresses and materials. I love to source for materials on my own, and then drafting and sewing the dresses,” she gushes.
Unlike more self-minded designers, Corinna gets inspired by materials, and most importantly, her clients, instead of her own tastes and fancies. “My clients have to be my inspiration, because they are the ones wearing them. They (the clothes) should reflect who they are, and their personalities.”
“The dresses are supposed to compliment them.”
The Future is Blu
Corinna has no big future plans for BluMesh.
“I just continue doing what I do best, and hope that I get the best of the best clients for the coming year,” she laughs.
Although Corinna has no qualms about working for someone else (according to her she’s got great bosses in the past), she says has learnt so much more on her own. “Being on your own makes you more disciplined and independent, and is far more satisfying.”
“When you work for someone else, you don’t really have to bother about much. You just do your job and that’s it.”
She considers passion, independence, patience and a good attitude to be the most important qualities for someone who wants run their own business. When asked if she possessed such qualities, she replies with a certain and unequivocal “yes”.
With such confidence and pride in her craft, Corinna gets my vote to win Project Runway if it ever comes to town.
You can contact Corinna at firstname.lastname@example.org.