Women Who Launch: Bebe Bamboo
Chan Mei Yen
38, Founder of Bebe Bamboo
It is hard to believe this soft-spoken mother of 4 runs a distribution business and has her own brand of award-winning products for babies. The secret to this stay-at-home mom’s innovative success is creating practical and functional baby wear. Armed with a Master in Psychology, Mei Yen has a knack for knowing exactly what mothers and babies need. Once a 400m-national-runner, she is now a full-time mumpreneur; who goes the extra mile ensuring all her products pass through Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s (CPSIA) test for product safety and compliance before hitting the shelves.
What were you doing before starting your business?
In 2004, I was in the States under a dependent’s pass while my husband pursued his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) for two years. While I was there, I volunteered at a NGO (non-governmental organization) doing administrative work. I also helped destitute old folks and families by collecting buns at bakeries at the end of each business day and delivered them to their homes. After my husband graduated, we started a family, moved back to Singapore and I have been a full-time homemaker since.
What made you start your own business?
After having 3 kids, I thought about going back into the workforce but it was not long after I found out I was having my 4th! I wanted to be with my children and still keep my sanity. As a mother of 4, I would buy a lot of baby products online. It was natural that I ended up doing an online business selling baby products that I would also buy for my kids. That was in 2011.
How did you go from being an online seller to exclusive distributor of other people’s products to having your own line?
A year into the online business, I started another distribution company. This time I distributed a few imported brands from overseas to local retail. That was how I started selling Woombie swaddles online. My husband is a big fan of Woombie! In 2012, Woombie swaddles were not heard of in Singapore and I got exclusive distributorship. Not long after, I added more products like Hana baby wrap and Mii baby feeding system. It was tough at the beginning because business and sales weren’t my forte.
Along the way, I started to manufacture some smaller items just to learn the trade. I decided to do my own branding for baby essential products in order to expand my company. Bebe Bamboo was officially launched in October 2014. This move definitely gives a better profit margin as well!
What is the difference between bamboo and cotton?
By touching the fabric, you will know that bamboo is much softer and more cooling than cotton. Bamboo is also hypo-allergenic, anti-bacterial and more comfortable to wear.
Please describe how you got Bebe Bamboo going.
Like paper, bamboo has many types and grades. It took me a few months going through samples to decide on the fabrics I like. I spent a lot of time on pre-production and even flew to China to look for factories and laboratories for physical and chemical testing. For me, the factories have to be in good standing and able to produce high-finished quality products. Another area I spent a lot of time on is packaging. I find good packaging helps a lot.
What is the most challenging part?
Everyday is a challenge – juggling business and family. But so far, I think I’m taking it quite well. I enjoy my work and it gets me excited when I learn new things and see my kids love my products.
In the US, bamboo clothing is a huge industry. Are Singaporean consumers willing to pay a premium for bamboo instead of regular cotton products?
Bamboo is getting popular everywhere. My Snap Waist Pajamas, which have won the North American Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA) award, are selling quite well on Amazon. People seem willing to give bamboo pyjamas a try. Usually parents who have tried bamboo products, will buy more and recommend to their friends. In Singapore, our bamboo towels, fitted crib sheets and muslin swaddles are doing well. Sales for pajamas are starting to pick up.
Speaking of your Snap Waist Pajamas, how did you come up with the idea?
One day, as I was watching my daughter sleep, I noticed with every turn or movement, her pajama top kept rolling up. I kept having to tuck it back down! The idea came to me to sew on some snap buttons. I figured this must be a nagging issue most parents face.
What are your points of sale?
Online and selected retail outlets. I also actively participate at baby fairs and exhibitions. I find this helps a lot!
Please describe your typical work day.
I start work around 7:30am after all my kids go to school. I do as much work as possible before they come home around 2pm. When they are home, I spend time coaching and being with them. In between, I reply emails, take calls and do other administrative work. When my kids go to bed around 8pm+, I start work again. If I need to correspond with my brand principals in the States, I will probably work until 1-2am!
You are a wife and mother of 4. How do you cope with work life balance?
My decision to work from home allows me to be with my kids because my husband travels a lot for work. I try not to work on family days like weekends. My work is usually done when my kids are away to school or sleeping. Everyday is hectic for me. Maybe being an athlete when I was younger benefits me in having a can-do attitude.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs in Singapore?
Know your priority, have good learning and working attitude. Most important, be brave!
Who inspires you?
My kids! Most of my products are made for them. My youngest child has very bad eczema and bamboo garments work really well for her.
Do you practice eco-conscious living?
About 20-30%. It is not easy being green but I do make recycling a priority.
To find out more about Bebe Bamboo products, you can visit the website.
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