MEV shares a consultative relationship with Spring Singapore, says Ms Ho-Norton. Photo: Chong Jun Liang

In the second part of a six-week series featuring SMEs that have taken steps to build their capabilities or venture into new markets with Spring Singapore’s support, Gregory Leow speaks to Mothers En Vogue.

The Straits Times
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August 12, 2015

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WHEN maternity fashion label Mothers En Vogue (MEV) made a trip to the 2008 Fashion Week in Los Angeles in the United States, it was a forerunner of good things to come.

Led by Ms Sharon Ho-Norton, its founder and director, the MEV team was then keen to break into the US market.

But stiff competition in the market meant that showrooms, while interested in the brand, were hesitant about committing to new labels.

“During that period, the US retail sector was also challenging, which added to the risk.

“Showrooms have to commit space, invest time and resources to understand and market their brand and sell it to the B2B buyer,” says Ms Ho-Norton, 43.

But in 2010, MEV’s patience paid off when US distributor Circle Showroom agreed to distribute its clothing to bricks-and-mortar boutique retailers.

“The feedback then was that maternity wear was selling at too much of a premium.

“The same tried-and-trusted styles were being rehashed over and over again. So they needed something new and creative,” says Ms Ho-Norton.

By 2013, MEV’s clothing was available in boutique stores in major cities along the western and eastern coasts of the US.

Brand awareness grew steadily: if a US boutique was seeking brands to buy, MEV would score pretty high up the list.

A year early

To establish the brand’s profile among US end-consumers, MEV initially planned a series of PR campaigns this year.

But assistance from Spring enabled MEV to fast-forward its PR plans by a year.

Employing the skills of two top US-based PR consultants, MEV embarked on a six-month PR campaign at the start of last year.

It managed to secure several editorial placements in key US national magazines and online platforms that focused on parenting, nursing and maternity.

The campaign resulted in more publicity for the brand and a trickledown demand from businesses for certain styles when it was featured.

It also generated unexpected demand for a style of clothing from MEV’s staple catalog, the Weekend Linen Pants.

Over the years, MEV has collaborated with Spring Singapore on several occasions.

In 2010, the Customer Centric Initiative grant helped MEV to raise its service standards and Spring Singapore also supported its marketing efforts in Japan and China.

“Spring Singapore has always kept in touch and they often ask us about our expansion efforts and how they can support us. It is a very consultative relationship,” says Ms Ho-Norton.

Staying ahead

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Besides raising brand awareness via PR campaigns, the company is always focused on staying ahead of the game.

When the company started in 2003, its differentiator was selling clothes that were polyester and nylon- free and made from 100 per cent organic linen.

Today, however, many maternity brands have followed suit.

“Now we do a lot of market research and tap the knowledge of our retailers to find out about their local market and ask them what their market needs and how MEV can fulfill that need,” says Ms Ho-Norton.

MEV’s future plans in the US will be a more targeted, focused approach by growing its relationships with some of the stronger retailers in the US market and building the MEV brand through its own base of customers.

“We’ve learnt from our US experience that there is no one-size-fits-all approach in this country. It is such a huge country and it is very non-homogenous,” says Ms Ho-Norton.

For more information on the retail sector and stories on how retailers have built their capabilities, visit www.spring.gov.sg/retail or e-maillifestyle_division@spring.gov.sg

Capability Development Grant

The Capability Development Grant (CDG) is aimed at helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) defray qualifying costs of their capability upgrading projects to improve productivity and develop business capabilities for process improvement, product development and overseas expansion.

To encourage more SMEs to build business capabilities, the application process for grant support of $30,000 or less has been simplified. SMEs can look forward to simpler application
forms and reduced documentation requirements for such projects.

For more information and guidance on the CDG, visit www.spring.gov.sg/cdg or call 6898-1800 to make a free appointment with an SME Centre business adviser.

Singapore Retail Industry Conference

The 24th annual Singapore Retail Industry Conference will be held at Suntec City Convention Centre on Sept 22.

Co-organised by the Singapore Productivity Centre and the Singapore Retailers Association, the conference is Singapore’s key retail event for the latest retail trends and global best practices.

With the theme of Re-Evolve Retail, this year’s conference promises to inspire companies to achieve greater growth through international and local sharing, focusing on how retail  businesses around the world have transformed to meet today’s challenges.

Visit www.sgpc.sg/index.php/sric2015 for more information.

For more information on the retail sector and stories on how retailers have built their capabilities, please visit www.spring.gov.sg/retail or email lifestyle_division@spring.gov.sg.

This article was first published on Aug 12, 2015.
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