Quirky prints in comfortable cotton

Sisters Carol (far left) and Audrey Ng, founders of children's label Elly, at their store in Cluny Court. With them are Carol's daughters Sophie, seven, and Emelie, three.
Sisters Carol (far left) and Audrey Ng, founders of children's label Elly, at their store in Cluny Court. With them are Carol's daughters Sophie, seven, and Emelie, three.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

When Ms Audrey Ng, 38, co-founder of local label Elly, was living in Britain, one of her side jobs was to buy childrenswear and bring it back to Singapore for her newborn niece.

The former lawyer also sourced interesting fabric - with prints of objects such as scooters, birds and fruit - to send to a tailor in China to make simple A-line dresses for her niece.

Ms Ng says her sister Carol, 40, also a former lawyer, often sent her shopping lists of specific brands of clothing she wanted for her baby. Many of these brands were available only in Britain.

Back then, about seven years ago, the prices of these items, she says, were up to 30 per cent cheaper compared with items of similar quality sold here.

"There was less variety for children's clothes here at the time. People just went to Mothercare and there were very few brands that were just for young children," she recalls.

The lack of variety in the kids' department here was what prompted the sisters to launch Elly in 2010. They quit their professions and pooled together about $12,000 from their savings to set up the brand, which is named after Ms Ng's favourite soft toy - a pink elephant.

The label started with just four styles for girls. It now has more than 20 designs for girls and boys.

Both sisters design the pieces and the clothes are made in Indonesia, China and Vietnam in factories that they sourced for themselves.

As to what inspire their designs, Ms Ng says: "I believe children should still dress like children. We like prints that are not mainstream. They should remind us of childhood."

The garments are mostly made of 100 per cent cotton. The duo source the fabrics - from China, South Korea and the United States - themselves and also design their own prints.

On the career change, Ms Ng says: "Our relatives thought we were mad to start our own business. But there's never a good time to quit a stable job and start something of your own."

The sisters gave themselves two years to see if Elly would work. In that time, they broke even and started turning a profit.

Since then, the business, which started out online, has grown.

A 300 sq ft physical store opened in Cluny Court in 2012. This expanded to 650 sq ft in 2015.

Apart from clothing, it also stocks toys and children's shoes from countries including the US, Australia, New Zealand and France.

Sales has doubled in the past year and in October, the label expanded its range from clothing for children up to seven years old to outfits for kids up to 12.

They get more than 100 customers a week, mostly Singaporean families who love their whimsical patterns, which have included prints of pandas eating ice cream, traditional paper umbrellas and Singapore's landmark dragon playground, popular in housing estates in the 1980s.

Ms Ng, who is married with no children, says: "The ones who shop with us often, they'll regularly ask about upcoming designs and consult us on what cuts and sizes will suit their kids. And because we get to know them, after a while, we can also suggest prints that suit their taste."

Ms Carol Ng, who is married to a lawyer, has two daughters, Sophie, seven, and Emelie, three. The two girls often model for the brand's online store.

Prices range from $32 for a baby onesie with a ginkgo leaf detail to $69 for a tiered cream dress with gold trim.

Going forward, Ms Audrey Ng says she hopes to expand the variety of clothes for tweens.

"It's exciting to be able to design for slightly older children," she says.

"The journey getting here has been 10 times harder than we had imagined, but it has taught me a lot and I like being able to decide what my future will be. It has been worth it."

•The Elly Store is at 02-31 Cluny Court, 501 Bukit Timah Road; tel: 6466-8718; open: 10am to 7pm (Mondays to Saturdays) and 10am to 6pm (Sundays and public holidays).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Quirky prints in comfortable cotton'. Print Edition | Subscribe