A gripe was what launched cheongsam label Lark & Peony.
A friend of its owner, Junie Yeo, had complained in early 2012 that she could not find affordable and beautiful cheongsam anywhere. Pieces from Hong Kong luxury fashion brand Shanghai Tang were too expensive while cheaper alternatives at online and retail stores looked tacky.
"What was on the market then were mass-produced cheongsam from China. I wanted to create something more artisanal," says Yeo, 35, who opened Lark & Peony in late 2012 while she was living in Tokyo, Japan. Her husband, who works in the banking industry, was posted there that year.
Following her instincts paid off.
Revenue has gone up by 25 per cent year on year since she started.
Her Undercurrent cheongsam, with its design of teal lace layered over a blue Seigaiha print - repetitive arches meant to symbolise waves - sold out within five minutes of its launch in December 2015. She says she still receives requests for that piece to be made again.
She now finds it difficult to keep up with demand. Recently, she put a stop to new orders until after Chinese New Year as her sewing team had reached its maximum production capacity. She plans to "find more seamstresses to help with production".
Her cheongsam are sold online and through trunk shows held at her home in Bendemeer every four months. Limited slots for about 45 customers, spread over three days, can be booked online and require a refundable deposit of $25.
Only up to 25 pieces of each design are produced. Her customers, she says, often wait in anticipation of certain designs to be launched on www.larkandpeony.com.
"I do not want to make too many pieces of the same design because I want to preserve its exclusivity. That's also the reason I try not to reproduce designs from previous collections," says Yeo, who moved back to Singapore with her husband in 2015. They have no children.
While her customers, mostly teachers and professionals in their late 20s to late 40s, like the traditional cheongsam silhouette, which is fitted at the waist, Yeo also has a number of designs with an A-line silhouette.
Her customers have also requested tapered skirts. Prices range from $118 for tops to $288 for a cheongsam and $318 for a two-piece lace- and-batik style cheongsam.
Yeo's designs are a mix of different printed fabrics and textures, such as a quirky animal-character- print fabric paired with a geometric pattern; and batik fabric layered with feminine lace in a contrasting colour. She sources fabrics from Japan, South Korea, Australia and other parts of Asia, including Singapore.
"I like to push the boundaries in terms of print, but I stay away from childish ones. We're living in a modern society where a traditional silk brocade cheongsam doesn't really match our environment."