Adaptation is key to surviving in the fashion industry. Just ask the founders of fashion brand Biro, brothers Kenghow and Kage Chong. The pair have adjusted their business strategy to a coronavirus world, but have continued their commitment to sustainability. The Singaporean sibling duo have managed to garner the attention of the competitive denim industry with their minimalist and meticulously crafted designs. The brothers were able to find a few moments to speak with FashionUnited about how they grew their brand, navigating running a clothing line during a global pandemic, and what's next for Biro.
What background did you all have in fashion before starting Biro? We did not have any formal training in fashion schools, however from a very young age, we would witness and help out our mom who used to be a tailor with basic tasks associated with clothing making. Before Biro, we actually spent three years importing street labels from the U.S and also subsequently attempted to develop our own. We grew out of importing during the development phase and went on to plan for Biro instead.
Who was the customer you had in mind when creating your first collection? When we did our first collection it was more for a discerning individual, an individual that exudes a quiet confidence in his or her work and everyday living. They would also pay more attention to the finer details in life and appreciate craftsmanship and artisanal values in a product.
What markets are Biro's strongest customer base? Currently, our strongest market base is still Singapore, especially after we have established our own store here. However, given the nature that Singapore is also constantly full of tourists and expatriate talents, 75 percent of our customers are international while 25 percent are domestic.
How many years have you all been in business? Biro was launched in 2013, this is our seventh year.
Kenghow and Kage Chong talk growing their Biro label
Since there's two of you, describe your design process to me? How do you all bounce ideas off of each other and finalize a design? Usually Kage will come up with the blueprints to be included in a collection, then we will go through item by item, talk about fabric choices, the trims, the styles, the cut, overall look and details to be added. We are also very open to new additions from something that any one of us got inspired by and bring it to the table to discuss and maybe add to the collection.
How was it trying to navigate your business through a global pandemic? It was challenging as it is something no one has dealt with and we weren't sure what to expect. While the pandemic slowed things down a lot for what we usually do, we took this time to take a step back and re-evaluate, re-think and re-invent ourselves and business to bring new alternatives and values that we care about to our consumers. We had to close our physical store for months and we doubled up on channels where usually we put in less emphasis. Creatively, we have to think of campaigns, launches, and content creation in a way that is different and more meaningful than before when we had the luxury of a physical space to pull these off. From a business point of view, we have to set our mind to make swift decisions to roll out the above ideas in order to continue sustaining the business, bring awareness to the brand online and to “win” in this current situation.
Where do you all do your sourcing? We do most of our sourcing in Japan.
What were some challenges in creating a business that was global from its outset? Through the conventional ways of Fashion Weeks, trade shows and showrooms, the challenge lies in little recognition for smaller brands. Not many people would have faith in a brand unheard of, not even locally, let alone in oversea markets. With that you will also be pitting yourself against many good designers and brands all over the world. To want to enter a market, to educate their consumers and compete with existing brands; not being there physically will not be helpful for the development. When we started the brand, we also tried to emphasize more from the approach of meaningful consumption. i.e. to understand and appreciate how well your clothes are made, who made them, are they made ethically in a way that will provide a positive light back to society, and how much one really needs to consume. It was really a different approach back then and to consider sharing that idea to an already conformist industry was tough.
What are some of your next key target markets? Japan, China, Indonesia, Europe.
What were some key factors in you all being able to grow the business at scale? I think one of the key factors was how we preserved through time. Friends and customers have seen us being around not 1-2 years but 7 years now, that has over -time helped to grow our pool of regular customers and supporters. Secondly, the network that we have built throughout the years, from supply chain to media, customers, retailers and business partners.
How large is the Biro team? Currently it’s still just 2 of us.
What are your next goals for the company? The most immediate goal is to set up a presence in Japan and to expand our business into other parts of Asia. In the next five years, we hope to open our boutique stores in all the major fashion capitals.
photos: courtesy of Biro