The story of Pew Pew Patches: How a niche fashion brand uses omnichannel to build visibility and trust among consumers
Dawn Bey, CEO and founder of Singapore-based Pew Pew Patches, took a leap of faith to study fashion design at SCAD Hong Kong shortly after finishing her marketing degree at the National University of Singapore business school.
What piqued her interest in patches was a fateful visit to a local trade show where she came across the quirky items for the first time. “I looked at it and remember saying I’ve seen these before. But what you typically see are the Simpsons, Mickey Mouse, and other typical 80s stuff. It didn’t look very classy,” explains Dawn.
But the idea stuck to her head. Dawn recognized how patches are valuable items of expression and a nod to individuality. She wanted to recreate patches in a more millennial and retro setting. She believed they had the potential to foster a sense of community and draw people towards their culture.
“It individualizes you but also identifies you in a bigger group. Scouts used to have patches for achievements but you could also have them for events and excursions,” says Dawn.
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Work on Pew Pew Patches as a business idea began in 2013. Dawn began by reaching out to others in the industry, inquiring about things like pricing, inventory, margins, and the like. After gaining an initial understanding of the business, she proceeded to lock in suppliers from Alibaba and made a small capital investment to develop the first batch of her patches.
“At that point in time when I was in Hong Kong, I didn’t think too much about how it would be relevant for Singapore. I was designing it from a millennial standpoint. I’m definitely inspired by pop culture and I realized Singaporeans see things in a different way. I wanted to make patches for humor about things in life that we overlook and would like to celebrate in some sense,” says Dawn.
Starting Small, Dreaming Big
Dawn didn’t invest a ton of cash when it came to marketing her first batch of patches. She simply created an online store and listed her items for sale. There were no visits to hawker markets or popup stores, but, as luck would have it, shoppers from Singapore discovered her products and really liked them. The traction lead to an opportunity to display the patches at a popular retail outlet in the lion state which helped in visibility and word of mouth.
“My sales really increased when I moved back to Singapore [from Hong Kong] and took part in a market called public garden. Consumers there are diehard followers of this market and they go really to shop. Once you are found there I started to be stocked in much better shops in Singapore and that helped build my credibility a lot,” explains Dawn.
Pew Pew Patches was starting to go from strength to strength but Dawn was reluctant to double down on digital marketing channels to further solidify her brand. She explains she didn’t do many “marketing campaigns”, and excluded Facebook from her strategy completely.
“I believed a lot of my target market uses Instagram so I stuck to that. In some sense that does limit my consumer type but also I felt more intimate with it. However, I think it’s very important that even if someone starts an online business you need to merge it with an offline strategy because people still like to shop for tangible items. They want to see how the patch looks like and how big it is, and seeing it offline is so different as compared to on a website,” she adds.
Dawn’s strategy is entirely spot-on. An onmichannel marketing strategy is increasingly being deployed by large retailers such as Zara, Allbirds, H&M, and more. A 2016 global study indicates that 70% of millennials prefer to shop in-store; despite the fact that the same demographic spends an average of 7.5 hours on the internet each day. Physical stores are far from redundant and remain an important part of the customer acquisition mix.
Dawn’s decision to seek out partnership with well-established brands has served her business well. Some of the companies that have promoted Pew Pew Patches in their stores include luminaries like Vans and Uniqlo.
“Their customers got to know about us and because they are very credible brands, it reflects well on us,” says Dawn. “At the same time we tried to keep releasing new items online first before they reached the store so that we can continue to push our online presence.”
She’s also started to talk to users and design patches based on interactions with them. Dogs are an important aspect of Singaporeans’ lives so a part of her collection has focused on them. Other iterations include patches for specific geographical locations, such as a recent collection she designed focused on Malaysia and another one for Japan.
So what are the tools that have helped Dawn as she’s grown her business to meteoric heights? With a collection of over 200 designs, varying sizes and colors, and numerous satisfied customers, Pew Pew Patches is an indelible part of Singapore’s pop culture.
Dawn explains her early forays into online commerce were facilitated by ecommerce enabler Wix. But she wasn’t satisfied with the user experience; it was decent for hosting blogs and content but not so much in terms of the customizability and plugins. Shopify was a natural fit as it helped her with inventory management, sales reconciliation, and cash flow analysis.
“When I started selling at markets, I would bring like 50 designs but I had to come back home and count every single one, and tally the discrepancies manually. With Shopify, I could create a barcode for every design and used its point-of-sale system to help synchronize the sales. If I ever ran low on a certain design and it was sold online, I would be immediately notified and hence could reserve it. I really like how the whole Shopify platform synchronizes inventory and helps me with sales. A lot of the cash discrepancies that we were experiencing at markets went away very quickly because the person handling cash just had to use the POS. So it’s a really good all-rounded system,” she explains.
Additional factors that helped Dawn stick with Shopify were its ease of use, plugins, functions, and support emails. She believes its an excellent tool for small businesses as it helps owners concentrate on what they do best: build products that users love and pay for.
Pew Pew Patches is just getting started. Dawn is of the opinion that there’s a long journey ahead and that fashion when viewed in her category is slowly starting to gain acceptance in the mainstream.
–Written by Osman Husain