As someone who had never sewn anything in her life and was “horrid” at home economics, running a business selling handmade bridal robes was something Singaporean Amanda Koh (30) never imagined.
“By nature, I’m rather impatient, and sewing just struck me as something that’s very painstaking,” she admitted.
The young Amanda was also a tomboy, but her style change in her late teens “to ultra feminine” opened her up to the world of lace, tulle, and embroidery.
“I would wear these sometimes over-the-top dresses out casually, and my obsession with fabrics started.”
Realising that “there was something ‘imperfect’” about the dresses she bought, Amanda toyed with the idea of sewing her own outfits, but the real push came only after receiving photos taken during her wedding day.
She sighed: “I didn’t have a bridal robe for my own wedding, and I absolutely regretted it!”
In fact, having a bridal robe wasn’t even something she knew was part of the wedding planning process.
“[But] I believe [it’s the same] for a lot of people as well,” she said.
It was also around then that she noticed a lack of local stores selling bridal robes.
Needless to say, Amanda was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, and decided that a Singapore-made business specialising in handmade creations was overdue.
With that and an investment of S$30,000, Bells & Birds was born in 2014.
From Side Gig To Full-Time Job
Fortunately for Amanda, her mother-in-law was very experienced in sewing, having done it “passionately for almost her entire life”.
While she managed to secure a shifu she could learn sewing and pattern-drafting skills from, Amanda still found “the start was painful” as she kept losing her patience with the intricate process.
When she first started sewing, it took her “weeks of trial and error, sewing from fabric scraps, altering it, and going back to the drawing board over and over” to finish a single piece.
Now, Amanda takes “at least 4 hours” to sew a short lace piece, but more complex designs can take up to “days or even weeks”.
While Bells & Birds started in 2014, it was only last year that she “decided to get serious”.
By that, she meant making it a full-time venture.
Then, she had already worked in the retail industry for 8 years, doing marketing and market research for luxury brands.
Running Bells & Birds as a side venture also meant that she didn’t have full concentration on cash flow, and it came to a point when profits “weren’t proportionate to the sales”.
“I Thought I Had To Spend A Lot On Influencer Marketing”
Amanda also revealed that at the beginning, she thought that there was a need to spend “a lot on influencer marketing, fancy photoshoots, and ads” to grow the brand.
“It technically isn’t wrong, but on hindsight, there were a lot of things I would have done differently,” she sighed.
“The past year was challenging,” Amanda admitted. “I had to cut back on expenses and rethink my business strategies.”
While “actively seeking influencers who were getting married or keen to work on photoshoots” was the strategy for Bells & Birds 1.0, their new approach to influencer marketing is more selective, “only working with personalities who resonate with the brand”.
“But influencer collaborations have definitely helped in branding and exposure,” she quipped.
One of these instances was when Amanda’s creations were spotted at popular American Youtuber Jenn Im‘s wedding last year.
When asked about how she managed to get the attention of the beauty influencer, Amanda shared that even approaching her was a gamble.
“A few months before her wedding, she was scheduled to come to Singapore for a beauty event, and I toyed with the idea of turning up at the event and gifting her a robe,” she said.
“Then I realised there might be so many fans that my robe would possibly not even reach her! So I took a chance and reached out to her agency, who were [fortunately] delighted to work together.”
Jenn chose her favourite colours, white and peach, for the silk robes, and each piece was made by hand by Amanda and her team before being shipped to the US.
“We Don’t Need An Occasion To Dress Up”
Currently, a mix of brides and mums-to-be make up a bulk of Bells & Birds’ customers, but there are also customers who wear the pieces just for vacations or just lounging at home.
In spite of the very luxurious look and feel of her robes, Amanda reiterated that she wants her robes to be something “comfortable for every day”.
“We don’t need an occasion to dress up! Some people think it’s a lifestyle change to wear something fancy to bed, and it’s impractical to walk around the house in lace. Hence I created the silk robes.”
She also expressed her hope that more would show their support handmade products.
“It’s a dying trade but there are a lot of local designers and makers who are dedicated to their craft, and we really appreciate it when you see the value and beauty in wearing our handmade creations.”
I’d like to thank Amanda for her time!
Check out Bells & Birds online here.