Close friends since secondary school, Kit Ong and Michelle Chen were both expecting in 2010. Being pregnant and on maternity leave at the same time gave them plenty of time to talk and share ideas with each other.
It was then that Kit shared with Michelle about her dream of creating a unique line of baby clothes that was simple but fun, big on quality, and small on environmental impact.
By the time the two mummies delivered, three weeks apart from each other, a third “child”, Little By Little, their new business venture was also on the way.
Say hi to Kit and Michelle from Little By Little and other Mumpreneurs at the Mama’s Bazaar & Family Fun Weekend (organised by Mums@Work) taking place on 28 and 29 September 2013 at SAFRA Toa Payoh.
EXPECTING SOON?: Read This as You Prepare for Baby's Arrival
Tell us about Little By Little?
Kit: Little by Little is about providing parents a healthier, more ecological and more ethical choice when selecting apparel for their children through using 100% organic cotton. Such seriousness aside, we also want to make each item a fun piece by incorporating a tagline that parents can identify with, and accompanying it with delightful graphics.
What inspired you to start the business?
Kit: My ‘obsession’ in all things kids started when I had my first boy, Josh. I knew that if I ever started a business, it would have to have something to do with kids.
Michelle: A baby and toddler apparel business caught my interest as I was about to take up the new role as a mother. I was then exploring an opportunity for a career change, one that would allow me to spend more time with my son, Lucas, who is now 3 years old. Besides, Kit’s business concept was fantastic and I felt excited to be part of something great and make a dream come true.
How are Little By Little’s clothes different from other clothing lines available in the stores?
Kit: Our clothes are made from 100% organic cotton via a GOTS-certified process (Global Organic Textile Standard) and feature original print designs centred around a tagline. Because we know what we liked and disliked about the clothings that our boys had, we were able to incorporate what we liked and exclude what we didn’t.
For example, My elder boy Josh had always been distracted and sometimes irritated by the brand/size/washcare label in his clothes and so I used to cut all the labels off his clothes. It was all good until I had to sort his clothes out to hand down to my friends’ kids – I had absolutely no idea which clothes should go to whom since there was no size information!
Hence, parents will not find any physical labels in Little by Little apparel that might irritate their kids, yet we have ensured that all the necessary information is printed right inside for whenever it is needed.
The clothes have cute taglines printed on them. Who comes up with these?
Kit: We draw inspiration for these taglines from our experiences and interactions with our little ones and we believe that many of these would strike a chord with other parents alike.
Michelle: Parenting is “heart” work and it demands a lot, both physically and psychologically. The taglines on our apparel are inspirations drawn from the daily interactions with our sons, for example, “Extending my charm little by little”. We believe that many parents would share similar experiences with their little ones.
Other than clothes, what else does Little By Little sell?
Michelle: We also bring in Keptin-Jr organic cotton toys for babies and toddlers. This range of products provides good visual, audio and tactile stimulation. Most importantly, they are safe for the little ones to chew on. We are also constantly on the lookout for like-minded suppliers who offer quality products to expand our product range.
There is a huge emphasis within Little By Little on being green and adopting fair labour practices. Why do you feel that this is important?
Kit: We believe that businesses should not be purely profit-driven but should serve as an avenue to benefit the wider community, be it by making lives better through fair labour practices or minimising negative impact on the environment through green practices. We want our customers to know that in the process of taking care of their children by choosing our organic apparel, they are also taking care of the community involved in producing the apparel and the environment at large.
Do you think this approach to business has an impact at a personal level?
Kit: It is a great way to inculcate such values in the next generation.
Michelle: I wish my boys would grow up as responsible individuals, both to themselves and to society. To make this happen, I need to inculcate values in them that would guide them properly in their actions. Taking small steps everyday to make the world a better place for the next generation is a great way to pass on these values.
What is it like having a business partner to work with?
Kit: I couldn’t be more grateful for the fact that I have Michelle as my partner! We are really different – I am bursts of high energy, while she is the steady calming force; I push things forward, while she keeps things going. We didn’t quite go into the partnership knowing that we would complement each other, but we discovered how much we actually did after working closely together.
Michelle: Years of strong friendship between Kit and I made for a good start. Sharing similar values, we work together professionally even when we have different views. Having someone to bounce ideas and discuss possibilities helps with business planning and development. We are each other’s cheerleader, and it is comforting to have a partner to celebrate the ups and embrace the downs along the journey.
Did you face any challenges entering into the world of business? How did you go about overcoming them?
Kit: Lots! Most fundamentally, we knew nothing about running a business! Also, because our start-up funds were limited, we relied very much on DIY efforts to keep our set-up cost low. We took our own product photos and set up our own webstore, and these took up a whole lot of time. Thankfully, we were able to rope in family members and friends to help. We definitely have a strong support base.
How do you balance your responsibilities between being mums and business owners? (Kit has two boys, six and three years old, and Michelle also has two boys, three years old and three months old!)
Michelle: My second boy Kristen is coming to three months old and I am still learning how to better manage my time as a mother of two princes. I do what needs to be done when my elder son Lucas is in school or at night after he sleeps. If I have to work when he is around, I would break down the work in small tasks. At the age of three, he now understands that mummy has to work and he will leave me alone for 15 minutes before he goes “Mummy…” again.
Kit: Yes, mummy duties take precedence when my boys are awake, although this is easier said than done. I try to work on the business only when they are at school or after they go to bed at night. When there are really urgent matters to attend to, I try to involve them in the process as well.
One thing that surprised you when you started out in business was…
Kit: How difficult it is to draw a line between work time and personal time. Unlike regular jobs where there are official working hours, running a business is more or less a 24/7 endeavour. I found myself checking and replying emails first thing after waking up in the morning even before getting out of bed! It takes much discipline to institute some form of working hours and not let the business take over your life.
Michelle: Thankfully we have supportive family members and friends. There is a lot to learn! We were also very lucky to meet new friends who offered kind advice and suggestions on how to improve our business practices.
Are there any essential skills aspiring Mumpreneurs should have?
Michelle: Communication skills are very important. Be ready to step back and see the situations from different perspectives before responding.
Kit: Yes, the most important skill is communication. With suppliers, you need to be clear and precise on what you need or want. With the customers, you need to be sensitive to their needs and respond in a tactful manner. As the saying goes, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Little By Little’s Michelle (centre) and Kit (right) with their collaborator Woon from Vines and Roots (left).
What advice would you give to friends who are thinking of entering into business together?
Kit: The risk of entering into business with a friend is that you might end up losing the friendship. So, agree in advance that you would not let the ups and downs of running a business affect the friendship. Above all, have fun doing things together!
Michelle: Be open in communication and speak your mind especially when you have different opinions on how to run the business. Focus on making the best decision for the business’ growth.
My favourite time of the day is…
Kit: Giving my boys their goodnight hugs and kisses just before they go off to bed.
Michelle: Spending time talking with my husband after our sons sleep.
If I had an extra hour every day, I would …
Kit: Read the books that I have bought but haven’t had the time and energy to go through. My reading materials are mostly related to children development and I would very much like to gain and apply these knowledge while they are still relevant to my boys!
Michelle: Sleep! It is my basic need as a breastfeeding mum!
My perfect day out with the kids in Singapore would be …
Kit: Bringing them to the park together with their daddy! It gives me great joy to see the boys (daddy included) play and bond together.
Michelle: Going to the park or beach and getting close to nature.
If I only had 12 minutes at the end of the day to bond with my kids, I would…
Kit: Certainly read a book or two with them. It is a perfect bonding activity, with lots of interaction and close physical contact.
Michelle: Read storybook together. A very interactive way to spend quality time.