Q How did K.Blu's IP journey begin?
A I was in my prime, doing a lot of sea sports to relieve stress from working in banking - I worked at firms like Merrill Lynch, covering hedge fund sales for foreign exchange products.
I had a difficult time buying swimwear as many brands did not fit me. I said then that when I get the opportunity, I want to create my own swimwear.
I took a sabbatical year, started the company with $500,000 out of my apartment in 2014, and went knocking on doors.
When other Asian women wore my swimwear, people thought they fitted well. So, I started with an online presence.
When I first planned a business model with a brand consultant, I saw myself on a level playing field with international brands across borders. We agreed that a luxury brand should have no room for error in terms of brand strategy.
We sought IP protection for the brand logo - a turtle, which to me means the "mother of the sea" and suggests a feminine touch - in 2014 and, three years on, people say it's the best thing I've done. It has to happen when the brand is born.
In the near term, it's about staying nimble in a downturn. We hope to work with more collaborators across industries and to keep a lean inventory to stay competitive. I have a small boat with three employees, my crew wears multiple hats and, thankfully, understand how we have to work harder and turn around strategies faster than bigger companies.
We are looking for more IP protection in different markets as we expand, especially in emerging markets.
Q What was the process like?
A The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) has a hotline you can call to find out things like the various types of IP protection. The process is not difficult, and the officers are very knowledgeable about their services, which makes it easier for us to choose wisely which part of our design process should be protected.
If it's about the logo, you can, for example, protect the image, font and the corporate colours you use, as these are important. I also learnt that if you're starting your business locally, you need to get yourself protected here first. When you go overseas, Ipos can tell you about treaties with other countries on reciprocity.
I didn't know IP was such an important thing and was impressed. I came from banking, where the brands are big, and never thought a brand like mine would need IP protection, or about building a brand strategy.
It makes a lot more sense, especially when it's a young brand. When I checked on our IP, there wasn't anything similar in the same space.
We've grown our revenue over the last three years. The first year saw more than 50 per cent growth, and we had 10 per cent growth on sales for the year ending this March, compared with the same period a year ago.
Fashion may be hard to protect, but at least I know I've done it. Having a strong brand identity today across social media channels means you get eyeballs easily. I've seen other online brands go viral easily but, without IP protection, there are a lot of replicated products.
Q K.Blu has several designs with unique prints that are inspired by Asian elements such as porcelain or henna. Where does IP come in?
A Our prints are designed in-house, which is in K.Blu's DNA, so we've been doing IP protection on them.
Last year, I worked with Design Singapore to create bonded-fabric thermal swimwear, which protect swimmers from the elements, and it has first-mover protection. (It helped) an 80-year-old with arthritis who was told by her doctor to swim, but felt cold in the water.
Usually, it takes about a month to get our designs granted protection in Singapore.
I learnt, earlier this month, that key changes were proposed to the Registered Designs Act. They include a broader scope of registrable designs or features, where colours may now be protected. You could even protect a colour-block (a popular fashion trend) swimsuit .
The designer will also become the owner of the design by default, rather than just the commissioner.
There will also be extended and broader grace periods for design applications, so designers do not lose the opportunity for design protection because of public disclosure before an application is filed.
Singapore-based designers and businesses can create, protect and commercialise their designs with confidence as there is an updated design regime that keeps abreast of the latest industry and international developments.
Q How else are you looking to grow K.Blu?
A We started a home-accessories line K.Blu Home, in collaboration with Commune Home of local furniture-design and lifestyle company Commune.
It's about creating an exclusive lifestyle concept. We placed our prints on athleisure and home products, a popular idea with haute couture brands.
We also started dabbling more in lifestyle categories like resort and athleisure wear - something we'd like to explore further in the next two years.
We hope to accelerate our business in Indonesia - where K.Blu has three points of sales - and the United States, where K.Blu is stocked at retailer Anthropologie and beachwear brand Calypso St Barth.
The swimwear industry has evolved over recent years, and shops and malls are starting to see that swimwear can be categorised under fashion or lifestyle, rather than just under sports.
We will have a flagship shop and be a permanent tenant at Mandarin Gallery, after having had a pop-up store there for nine months.
In the near term, it's about staying nimble in a downturn.
We hope to work with more collaborators across industries and to keep a lean inventory to stay competitive. I have a small boat with three employees, my crew wears multiple hats and, thankfully, understand how we have to work harder and turn around strategies faster than bigger companies.
I always tell them, when the boat is small, we can steer easily and faster than bigger vessels. I recently started my employee option pool to reward and retain talented crew in my start-up.
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