Most mums we know who want quality clothing in adorable prints are familiar with local children’s clothing brand Sea Apple. After all, it was a love for prints and great design that paved the way for Ho Su Mei set up the well-loved children’s label Sea Apple in 2016 that produces thoughtfully designed clothing for munchkins aged six and under. Why the name Sea Apple you may ask? Well, it’s named after one of the trees that grow along Singapore’s coastline, signifying Su Mei’s desire to be authentic and make this a Singaporean brand with international relevance.
In this interview, the 34-year-old mum of one shares how she started her business, the challenges she faces balancing family and work and the next steps that she hopes to take with her business.
Can you share how Sea Apple came about?
I have always been drawn to design, art and handmade objects, and was always encouraged to spend lots of time on my hobbies. This contributed greatly to me being fascinated with good products and great design.
Hence even as I held a great job doing policy work with the government, I always felt a deep draw to start something design or experience related and when I came upon designing clothing for children, things just clicked. I found there was lots of space to do honest and creative work, be hands-on, and pursue an innocence of purpose.
What differentiates Sea Apple from other similar children’s brands?
We work on original print designs and pay as much attention to the mood, feel and story behind a collection as we do the final garments. This allows us to uncover more unexpected motifs, ideas or colours than you would typically find in children collections.
I’d like to think of Sea Apple as a little print and design studio where we experiment and run things in limited batches so we can constantly push new ideas, and though we are only making clothing for children at moment, I’m hopeful that we’ll be producing other things in time to come.
What was it like when you first started your business and how have things evolved since?
Like any business, starting out is never easy and for me, one of the hardest things to do was to find the right supply chain partners and convince them to take us on without a track record. I quickly learnt that I needed to be prepared to pitch everywhere I went and be fully prepared at every engagement that I had that was business related – this allowed potential partners and vendors to see how committed I was to my brand and business.
The personality and values behind the Sea Apple brand have been pretty consistent since we started, but I am trying to explore how to incorporate elements that make our region so unique into our design, such as the many different cultures that live together here in a lush tropical environment that is also a hyper urban city.
Is there any one product in your lineup that you are particularly proud of?
Our organic fabric, which we spent a lot of time sourcing for as we wanted something that was durable, yet soft, cosy and nice to touch. All our clothes are made with a double jersey fabric called interlock that is knitted from 100 per cent GOTS organic cotton. We’ve received great feedback from the mums who have bought from us and the best type of endorsement is when we hear that there are children who want to wear our clothes every day and even request to sleep in it.
What’s it like being a mum and an entrepreneur at the same time?
When I started Sea Apple, I tried working at home as much as possible so that I could be around my daughter more often. However, I realised that this was not a very good arrangement as I ended up not being able to fully concentrate on one thing alone as I was distracted by the many things around me that needed my attention. This left me feeling very unaccomplished each day.
Things became better and easier to manage when I started compartmentalising my week instead. Now I work in bursts when I get time away from home, and when I’m at home spending time with my daughter, I try to put my phone aside and not be distracted by business matter, and be present with her.
Being a mumpreneur, you need to have a combination of three things – family support, honesty and put in lots of hard work.
Is there anything you wished that you had earlier known about being a mumpreneur before you started?
You shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself as it is not possible to be everything to everyone. Trade-offs and sacrifices will have to be made on all fronts because it’s simply not possible to have your eye on your business, family and yourself all at the same time. Once you accept that, you will be able to find a right balance of everything for yourself.
What are some misconceptions that you think people have about mumpreneurs?
Entrepreneurs, in general, face the same issues that normal working parents have, needing to find good support, care arrangements for children and a balance in life is the same, as are the pressures and expectations. The only difference is that you get to have a flexible schedule as an entrepreneur but that in itself is a double-edged sword as though you get more control over your time, you tend not to know when it is time to switch off your work mode and really find time to be present with the people around you.
How do you remain motivated and what plans do you have for Sea Apple?
What I’m most excited about is working to come up with something that surprises or delights people in an unexpected way and I hope that that is what people will feel when see Sea Apple products. I plan to work the way I have all along, intuitively and taking things a step at a time, and pursue the right opportunities when they come to grow the brand.
Any advice for other mums who are looking to start their own business?
Trust your instinct and prioritise action over planning. Plans are good, but it is only when you do at least one thing a day will you set things in motion and you may just find yourself on a different and sometimes, more interesting path.
Want to read more stories other mumpreneurs? Click here.