These were rising in popularity as an appealing travel and sleepwear accessory. Her idea was to give this line a twist with a covetable lace version. “The initial idea was to have a broad range of silk products such as eye masks, newborn bedding, and pillow cases. The end goal for the company wasto produce a complementary line of silk dresses and scarves,” she shares. But just when her Singapore-based company Luneil Pte Ltd was about to finalise its first order, COVID-19 hit. It came as a shock to her.
Discussions with her friends and husband led her to recognise the benefits of a silk face mask. She shares with us how her company had to pivot to face masks, and how she overcame the odds.
Tell us about your business. What do you do?
I grew up in a Korean culture that is rich in a heritage of silk-making . I started my company after my curiosity about silk’s prestigious qualities was piqued.
As part of establishing the business, I spoke with Korean farmers and manufacturers. The Jinju area of Korea is closely tied with the Korean Silk Research Institute (KOSRI), and the innovative silk manufacturing industry is promoted here. They helped me understand that silk is more than a premium fabric for luxury fashion as it has so many benefits that people often miss.
Silk is an unmatched fabric for breathability, and perfectly complements tropical Singapore. It has natural breathability and is a good temperature regulator. An interesting niche for silk apparel is the teenage market – we have talked to mothers who found that their daughters’ acne benefitted from having using silk masks on their face.
My initial enquiries with Korean producers led me to find samples from China. When I showed these Chinese samples to the Korean producers, they concluded the Chinese had now surpassed their capabilities. It became clear to me that the manufacturing process in China has evolved beyond what my countrymen were able to accomplish, which left me with a twinge of sadness. The sceptic in me had heard of China’s lead in both quantity and price globally by a fair margin, but my field study in Korea cemented the view that this applies to quality too.
I left Korea behind and set out for my scouting trip to Suzhou, Jiangsu, with an introduction from one of the Korean factory owners. My aim was to find a factory to partner with that allows me to source high quality products, is adaptable to my designs, and produces in a sustainable way. Most importantly, I had to find one that cares about a small, creative business like Luneil and is not focused on the mass market. After a lot of deliberation, I found my match with a mid-sized factory which is also Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified and puts a lot of emphasis on the silk ecosystem. I was the first Korean customer.
What is a normal work day like?
I usually start the day with some light exercise, a run along the river, or a a gym session. I usually spend the rest of the morning catching up on Korean news and speaking with my colleagues in Korea and Singapore after they have cleared the day’s orders. We discuss a wide range of topics ranging from product ideas, customer feedback, marketing campaigns and channels, to the long term strategic development of the business. Over lunch, I sometimes meet partners and distributors.
Tell us what you prioritise most in your company.
We are a small company so we are passionate about our products and care about the experience they create for our customers. For instance, I add a personal written note to customers who have feedback whether it’s positive or negative. Brand identity and response is everything to us. Our products belong in the higher end of the market, so it’s fair that customer expectation is to receive superior service. We use the feedback we receive to improve our next range of products.
How hands-on are you at work?
At the moment we are only selling online, but one of the aims is to reach the shelves of department stores or speciality retailers. As the leader of the business, I tend to be a picky person. I recognise and admit to my tendency to micro-manage. With so much of myself invested in the business, it can be difficult to cede control. I trust a lot of the admin, finance and operational responsibilities to my staff but when it is about design and marketing, I am particular about it. I am responsible in driving most of our social media marketing every day.
As a child, what did you aspire to be?
It sounds cliché but I wanted to be a model when I was a child. I was a little bit of the princess in the family. Early on, my mum told me that I have the “it” factor to be a model or Miss Korea. So that dream was always there. In fact, I wore a corset for a number of years during my teenage years.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I need my down time and I use my time off work for a relaxed massage and sports. I manage my time so I can spend time with friends as the business can get busy these days.
What has been your biggest hurdle?
I wanted to give up many times and I owe heartfelt gratitude to my friends and family for pulling me through. Like most people, I thought my business would take off faster. Perhaps the greatest challenges have been in logistics and to ensure simple things like inventory and packaging materials are taken care off without a hitch.
How did you overcome it?
I resolve not to give up. When I believe I am right, I trust myself to see it through. For example, last year I ran a full marathon (42km) with the only preparation being one 21km run before and no major training. Of course it was a disaster. But I didn’t give up and that willingness to pull through has helped me a lot of times in my business. We had our early struggles and when the current pandemic hit, we had to pivot.
All images are courtesy of Luneil Group