We recently sat down with Cecilia Ooi and Xin Yu, the Co-founders of Bash Clothing, to share their personal experiences of starting and running an online retail business. Here’s a short transcript of how our interview went.
What inspired ‘Bash Shit Ever’?
Xin Yu: We started Bash Clothing 4 years ago during our college days, the both of us have the same passion for shopping and fashion and since we were from the same college as well we decided to start something of our own. At that time there weren’t many online shopping platforms yet, so competition was less intense.
Cecilia: We wanted to provide young, trendy clothing at an affordable price for girls like us, who are in that “limbo age” between student and adult. Because when you look at ZARA, Berskha and Forever 21, clothes there can be quite expensive and above the budget of a college student. Thus, we dived into the market and provided similar high-street inspired clothing designs with good quality at an affordable price.
What is Bash all about ?
Xin Yu: Bash clothing is not just about selling clothes, Bash clothing is a community for girls like us who share the same passion for clothing and we aim to empower each other to be confident in what we wear. Our approach is different, some businesses may prioritize profit margins, which skew their decision making by bringing clothes that may not be able to relate with their target market. We really try to engage and interact with our customers to cater to their needs and wants.
How do you position your brand and what was the idea behind it?
Xin Yu: When we first started, there weren’t many shops like this to begin with, let alone ones that promised to provide clothing below RM50. We wanted others to think ‘if I need an outfit for a function this Friday with only RM40 to spend, where should I shop?’ We want them to immediately think of Bash. I think it’s always important to have a unique selling point that differentiates yourself from others.
Cecilia: We try to think from a consumer’s perspective since we are consumers ourselves. Like, would we buy this? Would we wear this? How much would we pay for it? Hence, our tagline ‘We don’t sell clothes we don’t wear’. We created polls to see what our girls prefer to wear.
We even try on the clothes ourselves and mix-and-match it to help provide our personal review for customers to gauge and have sort of a reference when purchasing our products. That’s why we try to select clothes that are free size to cater to a wide range of customers.
Xin Yu: Initially, we also match clothing pieces in ‘combos’, allowing customers to buy the whole outfit from top to bottoms.
Cecilia: Because not every girl wants to or has the time to plan their outfit, so we wanted to help these girls by giving them ‘outfit inspirations’. Initially we mainly brought in the ‘basics’. But as our business grew we started bringing in more quality clothing in a variety of chic styles. Now our normal collections are below RM60, and only our premium collections are above RM60.
Are you two running this full time or part time?
Cecilia: Technically this is our part time, we both have a day job actually, but I wouldn’t call this our side business. This is our passion, our ‘baby’.
How difficult was it for you to juggle work, studies and Bash?
Xin Yu: Initially when we first started out, the workload was more comprehensible as the business wasn’t that big yet, but when the business started to grow things got harder and harder to manage. With that being said, the 3 years of juggling Bash with studies really helped prepare us and now we’ve already gotten used to the routine.
Cecilia: We actually have to sacrifice a lot of our free time to run this business, it’s either work or our ‘baby’.
Xin Yu: I think it’s a lot easier to work on something when you have the passion for it, if you work solely for money you’ll eventually get worn out and lose the drive. You need the passion for your business to thrive. Even before we sleep, we get excited thinking of what plans we have for Bash the next day. (Laughs.)
Did you buy your clothes first before selling it?
Xin Yu: Yeah we do.
Cecilia: We believe in seeing and trying the clothes ourselves before selling it. Because if the quality is bad we wouldn’t want to sell it. We don’t do pre-orders. There are some online businesses that do pre-orders, they would post the suppliers’ photos on their page as reference for customers to buy from. The issue with this is that, sometimes the pieces you buy may not look the same as the reference picture. The quality, material, or cutting may be off.
Our philosophy is that, we will take the risk of buying in bulk to ensure that the quality of the clothes are up to par before selling it to our customers. If the items are defect, then that’s our issue that we have to solve.
Xin Yu: You have to be ethical when you run a business and think from a customer’s perspective. When customers aren’t happy, bad news will spread and your business will not be able to survive in the long run. So, we prioritize customer happiness and satisfaction.
How did you source for your clothing? What was the sourcing process?
Cecilia: We started sourcing locally at first, then slowly we expanded out to other countries. We don’t just source from one person, we try to have a variety of suppliers. We have clothes from Taiwan, China and even South Korea.
Did you have to look for suppliers or did they approach you?
Xin Yu: It goes both ways, because we can’t possibly look for 20 suppliers at one go. Some we had to approach, some will approach us instead. At the beginning, we had to actively look for suppliers, and there was a lot of trial and error in bargaining and negotiating for the best deals.
One of the main concerns of starting an online retail business is inventory management. Some businesses may not be able to get ‘bulk prices’ because the quantity they purchase is too small. So how did the both of you overcome this challenge?
Cecilia: Undeniably, our quantity will be far lesser than some online retailers out there, so we were willing to accept smaller margins. Sometimes we have to make certain sacrifices because some manufacturers are less willing to negotiate with us as our business is still relatively small. Thus, building a strong relationship with your manufacturers is very important. Eventually, they will be more willing to negotiate with you because they see potential in your business.
What were some of the main challenges you both have faced till now?
Cecilia: One of the main challenges we faced were competition from other similar businesses. Recently, there have been a lot of new online retail shops emerging in the market and the competition is starting to become more intense. Now every other day I get follows from new Instagram accounts trying to pique your interest to promote their business.
Xin Yu: And most of them usually do pre-orders, so there will be very little risk for them. Instead, the risk will fall on the consumers because they won’t be sure if the online store will bail out on orders at the last minute and just take off with their cash. Besides that, since it’s on a pre-order basis, if the business is new, they may not know how to handle missing parcels that were lost during shipment.
Cecilia: We also had to deal with copycats. Some businesses used our photos without our consent to promote their own online store. We are quite blessed actually because our customers were the ones that informed us about these copycats.
In terms of digital marketing, what platforms are you using and why?
Cecilia: We started our business through Instagram and it worked for us so we just stuck to it. With that being said, we do have a Facebook account, but we decided to focus our efforts and energy on Instagram.
Xin Yu: I think it’s important to understand your target market. From our observation, most of our customers are more active on Instagram so we decided to make Instagram our core platform. It wouldn’t be efficient to allocate our resources on another platform where our customers are not active.
Did you have to spend on marketing, or was it all done organically?
Xin Yu: We didn’t really spend on marketing, most of it were done organically.
Cecilia: I think the most we have spent on marketing was 10 dollars on Facebook advertising.
Xin Yu: I think there’s a lot of ‘free marketing’, you just have to be clever about it. For instance, you can promote yourselves through Facebook groups. You can even host small giveaways to get people to tag their friends and help spread the word.
When you guys just started your business, did you guys already have a ready customer base, or did you have to build it up?
Xin Yu: We had 0 customers, we really had to build it up slowly. We build it up through word of mouth.
Cecilia: We needed the instant boom at the very beginning, so we asked our friends and family to help us share. We managed to get 300 followers after a week of sharing.
Xin Yu: I think we had the first mover advantage. Like we mentioned there weren’t many online retail shops in the beginning, so our concept was new and refreshing.
Do you think it’s necessary to obtain social media influencers to promote your business?
Cecilia: I think it can be quite important.
Xin Yu: It depends on how much advertising you need to push a certain product or campaign. If you’re running a big campaign and you urgently need the push, then yes you might need those influencers.
Cecilia: We’re quite thankful that some of our friends are influencers so they were willing to help promote it for us.
What is the vision for this business?
Cecilia: Our vision is to build a community of girls who share the same love for fashion and beauty, loves having fun, and everything in between. We do plan on opening a physical store somewhere down the road, that store will not just sell clothing but host workshops and classes on weekends for baking, makeup, etc. These workshops and classes may not generate income for us, but we feel it is important to treat our customers as a community.
Lastly, what advice would you give to other university/college students who want to start something of their own?
Xin Yu: Don’t give up when you don’t see results. Results don’t come instantly. If your first idea doesn’t work out, it’s okay, just try again. Another aspect is research. Do sufficient research so that you’ll be able to push your product with confidence.
Cecilia: We are quite lucky, because there are two of us running this business, so we have two brains working together. We give each other feedback on our ideas.
Cecilia: Be passionate in what you do, money will get you started but it will not keep you happy forever. It’s the inherent satisfaction you get from building your own brand, your own community that supports each other. Your business will reflect your passion and the sales will come after that. Don’t worry about sales first.
All else aside, we are really blessed to have received help from everyone, even our customers. We have really kind, nice, and supportive customers. Maybe it’s because we try to channel as much positivity as we can in our community where everyone empowers each other and lives positively.
Thanks, this is the end of our interview. Any parting words?
Both: Go like Bash!
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