main3Ms Goh chooses to work with unique materials to differentiate her label from the competition.
Photo: Chong Jun Liang

In the final part of a four-week series, three companies tell Aaron Tan how they expanded from humble beginnings to make their mark at home and overseas.

The Sunday Times
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September 27, 2015

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LING Wu founder Goh Ling Ling was heir to a family business, yet she decided to strike out on her own with a line of handbags that has made waves among fashionistas and celebrities such as Korean actress Song Ji Hyo.

Ms Goh says: “My family has a long history of running their own businesses, so it is kind of in my DNA. My grandfather had a rojak stall, my grandmother had a market stall, and my mother bought a provision shop when she was 18.”

When Ms Goh was 18, she went to London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (CSM), where she graduated with an honours degree in graphic design.

At CSM, which took in the brightest design students from around the world, she had to compete with the cream of the crop, but it was the world outside the walls of the college -the culture, people, music and markets in London – that had the most influence on her designs and career.

Aiming high

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“There are many creative people living in London, and their work is usually amazing because they have had to hone their skill or craft to shine above thousands of other designers, artists or musicians they are competing with,” she says.

“This really puts your own work into perspective and gives you a benchmark to aim for.

“My own work has become better because of this too – always knowing that to be great, I need to aim really, really high,” she adds.

When Ms Goh returned to Singapore, she started a small business with a friend, selling imported bags online and in boutiques.

While her friend chose to pursue other business interests soon after, Ms Goh did not give up on the venture, which she renamed Ling Wu.

“I had learnt about finding manufacturers and suppliers, so I decided to continue with the business.”

“In the beginning, apart from a small amount of capital from my husband’s and my savings, the company was entirely bootstrapped. I started small and grew slowly for the first few years,” she says. To differentiate Ling Wu from
other labels, Ms Goh started to focus on more unique materials.

One such material that was developed with her manufacturer and tanner over two years was Svelte Python, which is produced with intensive handwork, oiling and dying of python skins.

The material has now become essential to the designs in her recent collections – mostly slouchy shapes  that mould to the wearer’s body.

To gain a further competitive edge, Ling Wu will continue to develop more of such unique materials, as part of its innovative product development strategy as supported by Spring Singapore.

Global recognition

With a number of strong collections under her belt, Ling Wu started getting the attention of the international fashion industry.

In 2012, Ms Goh was invited to showcase her label at the Tranoi fashion trade show in Paris. “This was definitely a confidence boost for my label. I was one of only two Singaporean designers accepted to present our collections at this show,” she recalls.

In that same year, the label also secured a distributor for the Korean market that has licensed the Ling Wu brand name for a number of items.

Unlike other emerging designers, Ms Goh has chosen a distribution strategy that focuses on export and wholesale rather than direct retail. This allows her to focus on what she does best – design collections.

“Running a shop and managing retail operations is a whole business in itself, and when you are trying to establish a label, it is difficult to run a shop and design collections,” she says.

“The department stores and boutiques that carry my collections are passionate and dedicated about selling brands and providing the best experience for their customers, so I think they are in the best position to sell my products,” she adds.

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.