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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Fashion with a Passion

Homegrown online retailer MDS Collections is setting its sights on becoming a fashion emporium
The Business Times - June 15, 2011
By: Rebecca Liu
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Fashion with a Passion

TYPE 'online fashion store' into search engine Google Singapore, and MDS Collections will rank as one of the top five results produced.

One may be forgiven for mistaking the homegrown fashion retailer as just another player in the online retail industry, among the many that have sprouted from blogging sites such as Blogger, Livejournal and Wordpress - typically known as 'blogshops'.

But apart from using an online interface to market their products, the similarities end there.

'We are not a blogshop,' emphasises Georgiana Yeo, founder and creative director.

'Although we started out as a dotcom business, we have (branched out into) retail outlets, and offer a very different online shopping experience as well,' adds managing director Joe Phua.

MDS has retail outlets in two very prime locations - one each in Plaza Singapura and the basement of Wisma Atria - which opened in November 2009 and 2010 respectively.

The partners have engineered the growth of MDS from a home-based start-up selling second-hand clothing to a brand that holds a one per cent market share in the local online shopping industry.

One of top 10 fashion sites

It is also the largest online store with four million visits to date, of which 70 per cent is unique traffic. This has led hitwise.com, a site that tracks website visits, to name it one of the top 10 fashion sites in Singapore.

MDS also has two registered business, an LLP dealing with the online market and a private limited arm dealing with retail stores.

MDS was first conceived in 2007, when Ms Yeo was in her third year of reading business management at Singapore Management University, and Mr Phua was working at Citibank.

Ms Yeo sold new and pre-loved clothes owned by her on a website, taking it as a way to clear her closet and earn some pocket money. Mr Phua, however, saw something bigger in that small online business of hers.

Being 'one of the first players', MDS was largely sustained through passion: hers for fashion, and his for seeing the business grow and sales targets being met and exceeded.

They also had to tread carefully in working out a viable business model, with 'no other example to follow' at the time.

'The market was still new. We didn't know what we should include in the job scopes of our staff,' says the effusive Mr Phua. 'It was like, should we hire a fashion stylist or a fashion stylist-cum-writer?'

But it all worked out, as 'the people here are very passionate, they love their job', says the petite Ms Yeo, whose small team ensures that very personalised service is provided to customers.

MDS now designs and manufactures 60 per cent of its stock, importing the other 40 per cent.

Its products, with cute and quirky names such as 'Melody Of Dots Frock' and 'Tales Of Yore Blouse' are highly sought after by working women aged 25 and above, with items selling fast. Online purchases have been made from more than 165 countries, including Malaysia, Australia and Canada.

'We also have a small group of regulars who have spent about $5,000 to $20,000 since they first started shopping (with us),' says Ms Yeo.

It is this demographic of clientele, with 'higher spending power', that MDS targets its products. It closed its first 'unofficial' store at Haji Lane as the 'customers were mainly students with (insufficient) spending power'.

But in a market with little to no barriers to entry, how does MDS maintain its competitive edge?

'Reputation is definitely the most important', says Mr Phua. 'We differentiate ourselves through the small things. There are many little things on the site that customers don't see, but it's there.'

These 'little things' include a seamless credit card payment interface, where all transactions are kept within the website itself, as well as a three-click purchase rule that ensures customers need only make three clicks to choose and pay for an item.

This makes transactions safe and convenient, allowing for a smooth and pleasant shopping experience. Customers can also choose to collect online purchases at the Plaza Singapura outlet, and MDS has a 30-day return policy - 'the first in Singapore'.

And if you are unsure as to how a piece will fit into your closet, do not fret. Just click on 'Talk to a MDS Stylist' to put your worries to rest.

All these efforts have paid off, with MDS forecasting $4 million in revenue for 2011, according to Mr Phua. Net profit soared by 75 per cent, while sales jumped 41 per cent from 2009 to 2010.

Yet, despite their exponential success, Ms Yeo and Mr Phua are not resting on their laurels, constantly brainstorming ways to improve customer experience as well as grow the business.

On the MDS website, www.mdscollections.com, a weekly magazine is published that allows customers to purchase immediately a piece that catches their eye, simply by clicking on it.

In the pipeline is a 'MDS marketplace', whereby users can sell their own garments on a common platform - the MDS website.

A mobile application that allows users to tag and upload 'Outfits of the Day' to share with friends is also in the works, modelled after photo-sharing app Instagram and fashion website Lookbook.nu, but 'more customised'.

'We want to create communities, where people of the same interests can gather,' says Mr Phua. 'They may not be buying our clothes (referring to the MDS marketplace), but they will be using our platform.

'After we gather (this database of) online shoppers, we'll see what we can do. Maybe push one or two items.'

What is certain is that MDS has its sights set on becoming a 'fashion emporium', such as Amazon in the US and ASOS in the UK. It already offers a range of shoes, bags and accessories in addition to clothing.

'We're constantly reviewing our product line, so that . . . you don't have to go anywhere else. Everything will be in one place,' says Ms Yeo.

With affordable, stylish designs and a savvy, youthful team behind it, MDS looks set to more than weather the challenges ahead.

Quips Ms Yeo: 'Women will always buy clothes. No matter what, they still want to look pretty.'

 

 

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