Home-grown brand Yacht 21 sails to success

Singapore label Yacht 21 founder and designer Jaren Ho (left) at its travel- lifestyle-themed store in Plaza Singapura; and an outfit (below) from its Resort 2016 Collection.
Singapore label Yacht 21 founder and designer Jaren Ho at its travel-lifestyle-themed store in Plaza Singapura.PHOTOS: AZMI ATHNI, YACHT 21

Womenswear brand Yacht 21's Jaren Ho believes that having creative concepts can help the label stay afloat

Ideas can strike in the unlikeliest of situations.

For Ms Jaren Ho, 32, founder and designer of womenswear brand Yacht 21, inspiration came on a yachting trip with friends when the boat starting filling up with water due to a leak.

As her friends hurried to scoop as much water as they could out of the vessel, Ms Ho realised that they were "inappropriately attired" for a yachting trip, as they were in jeans and tops made of thick material.

That incident in March 2009 gave her the idea to design clothes that women could wear for both work and leisure and led to the launch of womenswear brand Yacht 21 three months later.

With an initial investment of $100,000, the brand broke even in its first year and now has 10 stores and points-of-sale across the island.

On Sept 15, it opened a 1,000 sq ft shop at Plaza Singapura, a multi- label travel-lifestyle-themed store. It also opened a smaller 420 sq ft outlet at Wheelock Place, carrying only Yacht 21 clothing, on Oct 5.


An outfit from its Resort 2016 Collection. PHOTOS: AZMI ATHNI, YACHT 21

Last year, the brand recorded a seven-figure revenue and Ms Ho hopes to up this year's by 10 per cent.

And while it may seem ambitious or even foolhardy to open two stores within a month of each other in the poor retail climate, she thinks it is "not a bad time".

"I don't think everyone will just stay home - there will still be a need for shopping," she says. "A lot of shops close because they try to replicate their concepts in every mall. As long as we are creative with our shop concepts and shopping experiences, it's doable."

That is the goal of the brand's flagship, which resembles a resort- style boutique with its dark wooden floors and potted green plants.

The brand's membership card, which gives regular customers discounts, resembles a hotel check-in card. Gift vouchers look like boarding passes.

Items are also curated to fit the theme: The store carries other brands such as casual Californian shoe brand Toms; South Korean leather bag brand Yurt, known for its croissant-shaped clutches; and local labels such as fragrance brand Six, which concocts scents inspired by places such as Tribeca in New York.

"We want to carry items that complete the Yacht 21 woman when she packs for her travels," says Ms Ho.

The brand's clothes are usually either in solid neutral colours such as blue, white or black, or classic patterns such as stripes or florals. Prices start at $50 for a sleeveless cotton-polyester collared top to $90 for a tweed jacket with white lace overlay.

Ms Ho says: "People perceive the brand to be a nautical one, but I want it to be more travel-inspired and not just design clothes that are blue or striped, but also introduce more colours and prints."

The brand initially sold a mix of clothes that were sourced from places such as Thailand, Hong Kong and China, together with some of Ms Ho's designs.

In 2012, she started designing the clothes herself and manufacturing them in China. Fabric is sourced from the Chinese city of Guangzhou.

The brand's e-commerce site was launched last October. There are plans to expand its online presence to Malaysia and Indonesia next year.

Yacht 21 is Ms Ho's third business.

Her first one was launched at age 21, after she dropped out during the third year of her civil engineering degree course at Nanyang Technological University.

It was a fashion and accessories brand called Folk's Leaf, which designed jewellery using Chinese herbs such as rosebuds and lotus seeds. It shut a year into operations due to difficulties with production.

Her second business, which she started in 2006, was womenswear and accessories brand Hurs.

It had five stores in malls here such as Far East Plaza and Jurong Point. These were closed in stages from 2012 because she wanted to concentrate on Yacht 21.

Despite these setbacks, Ms Ho is confident Yacht 21 can stay afloat.

She cites being a local brand as a trump card: "Being a Singaporean brand, we are in a better position to know what Singaporeans want and adapt to their needs. We can do a better job than international brands and we're more sensitive to market changes as well."

•The new Yacht 21 stores are at 03-41 Plaza Singapura, 68 Orchard Road, open: 11am to 9.30pm daily; and 02-09 Wheelock Place, 501 Orchard Road, open: 11am to 9.30pm daily.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Set to sail with new looks'. Print Edition | Subscribe