CYC Custom Shop: tailoring progress to an old trade

Fong Loo Fern, the third generation to run the CYC family business, sees to it that the tailoring outfit moves with the times.

13 JUN 2017 - 05:50                                                         

BY SYARAFANA SHAFEEQ, THE BUSINESS TIMES

 

Ms Fong, who has been heading CYC for 25 years, started helping out on the shop floors when she was 12.

A QUICK look into the windows of CYC Custom Shop shows a bright and modern store, but a quaint, old sewing machine that sits proudly in the shop window hints at a longer history.

It was the very first sewing machine used at the 82-year-old tailoring outfit.

CYC is one of Singapore's oldest tailors, originally opened as CYC Shanghai Shirt Company.

"My grandparents were tailors. They came from Shanghai, so they started business in the 1930s and we've been operating since then," said CYC managing director Fong Loo Fern. The shop was originally opened in Swatow, China, but was relocated to Singapore in 1935.

The company was popular among political and business leaders, including Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

CYC serves both retail and corporate businesses, such as making uniforms for Resorts World Sentosa and Standard Chartered Bank.

Ms Fong, who has been heading CYC for 25 years, started helping out on the shop floors when she was 12.

The shop was focused on bespoke clothing before Ms Fong's father and uncle took over the business and it ventured into ready-made clothes, which were a hit among customers.

Passing the baton

The baton was passed to Ms Fong in 1993, when her uncle died and her father fell ill. She left her job at American Embassy and took over the running of CYC.

She did not shy away from making changes to the family-business - she shut down and sold the company's factory in MacPherson for S$7.2 million after a decline in business.

The factory was then one of Singapore's most advanced garment factories, with automated production processes, and provided employment to hundreds.

"In the 1980s, things started to get difficult because the Singapore economy was moving up the ladder, so production cost became very expensive," said Ms Fong.

"Our neighbours were industrialising and setting up their own production factories, so we lost a major part of our wholesale customers.

"There were also a lot of cheap imports from developing countries since Singapore is an open market."

The NUS accountancy graduate then decided to halt the production of ready-made shirts and return to making bespoke clothing.

"I felt that made-to-measure clothing was our core business and we have brand loyalty among our customers, so I decided to refocus our business on it."

And in her bid to keep the business relevant, CYC was rebranded. Dubbed "CYC's metamorphosis", the company changed, among others, its logo and clothing labels. It also opened a new store with a fresh look and feel at Capitol Piazza.

CYC Made To Measure has tablets that display a quiz CYC had developed to determine a customer's clothing style and personality.

The old business had jumped on the new media bandwagon, hiring an in-house social media and production team to reach out to a younger audience.

The app used on the tablets was developed in-house. It asks customers a series of questions and categorise them into "dramatic", "classic", "romantic" or "natural".

CYC also implemented an enterprise resource planning system that helps the company keep track of its sales orders, inventory and accounting.

Welcoming change

"I like change. I get bored with things that stay the same for a long time, so change is something that I eagerly accept," said Ms Fong.

When asked if she ever had second thoughts about leaving her job at American Embassy to head CYC in 1993, Ms Fong gave a hearty laugh.

"Business is in my blood. Even when I was working for the US Embassy, I was thinking about business - what kind of businesses I could get into and what I could possibly do.

"But I never really ventured out until I got nudged back to take over the family business."

She believes that the company has potential to grow further in tandem with market trends, such as e-commerce, and not solely rely on brick-and-mortar sales.

"At CYC, we are trying to showcase that even though we are a heritage brand of over 82 years, we move with the times, we change, and we keep with what is happening."