- The Missing Piece
It’s undeniably tough to be an entrepreneur – but it’s even tougher to be a mother and an entrepreneur at the same time.
On top of handling finances, managing customers, and running a business, the “mumtrepreneur” has to carve out time and energy to raise her family.
One woman who’s doing that – or at least trying to, she says – is Dr Ee-ling Fock, the founder of modern cheongsam label The Missing Piece, and a mother of three.
- The Missing Piece
From hobby to career
When she was a teenager, sewing was Fock’s favourite pastime. But it wasn’t until she went to Australia to pursue her studies that she sharpened her skills by picking up sewing courses there.
She started by designing and sewing clothes for herself to wear, and later, when she became a mum, it was only natural that she started to also sew matching clothing for her children.
One Chinese New Year, Fock put together a small CNY lookbook for her friends and relatives, after they took notice of these handmade designs.
That was when the stay-home mum with a PhD in medicine and no formal fashion design training started to receive more and more pre-orders from family and friends. After a series of events, she decided to make her pieces more commercially available via her own brand, The Missing Piece, in 2016.
- The Missing Piece
That was also when the former stay-home mum at the time made it difficult to get the business going.
The worst part of learning to be a mumtrepreneur
The initial stages of starting up the business was the worst, Fock said, as she went through a rocky transition – from spending 24/7 with her children, to managing a business while still being with the kids the entire day.
“If you own your business, its a full-time job. If you’re going to raise kids, it’s a full-time job. It’s essentially juggling two full-time jobs at the same time,” she said.
When night fell, Fock continued to work at home until 11pm – liaising with manufacturers, suppliers and customers, spending her nights answering emails and managing the business’ social media account.
Not too shabby at all
As a cautious individual, Fock chose to invest a “conservative” S$10,000 in capital to launch The Missing Piece’s first-ever collection.
Initially, the brand specialised in designing CNY-centric, coordinated clothing for families. But things took a turn when Fock noticed that the women’s collection consistently outsold the men’s and kids’ collections.
“In 2017, I launched a proper CNY collection for women which was much bigger, and that’s when the brand really took off. It was really clear at that stage that our forte was in women’s wear so then we kind of scaled back on kids’ and men’s wear,” she told Business Insider when we visited her studio at Winstedt Road.
- The Missing Piece
She creates four collections per year, and every collection has sold out. According to Fock, her latest collection released for CNY 2019 had 50 to 60 pieces was her biggest yet so far. She adds that she has managed to introduce more pieces with each launch because of increasing profit margins from each collection.
The consistent growth has resulted in thousands of pieces sold since The Missing Piece first started out – not too shabby at all for a one-woman design team.
Now, the brand – which started as an online business – is stocked in three physical stores: Trixilini at Scotts Square, Design Orchard and the brand’s own Winstedt Road studio.
Fock, who has the pieces made mostly in Vietnam, told Business Insider that The Missing Piece’s growing success could be due to the practicality of its designs – influenced by her lifestyle as a mother. She emphasises functionality, cutting and cooling materials in her pieces – for example, pockets are included in many of the dresses and cheongsams she makes.
As the years passed, she has not only found better balance in managing both career and family, but also managed to blend them well.
Here are some tips she has for aspiring mumtrepreneurs who need to juggle family life with growing a business.
1. Just let it go
When things get too overwhelming and complicated, step back and assess the situation. Sometimes, you’ll find it is okay to let some things go.
Fock said that she used to be an strict, uncompromising mother, especially when it came to arranging enrichment and tuition classes for her children.
But she soon realised that this was not practical.
“There are a lot of extra things you want to give your kids that are not necessary,” she said. For example, Fock learned that she had to drop certain enrichment classes just to make logistics easier. To do this, she looks at her schedule to figure out how she can simplify things.
2. Prioritise and compartmentalise
And like any working mum, Fock finds she’s frequently forced to make a decision between work and family, but she always chooses to focus on what matters more to her, which is her children, of course.
“It’s so much easier if you can work full-time and concentrate on the business instead of having to juggle both (work and family),” she said, adding that she chooses to prioritise her time for the kids instead of business.
- The Missing Piece
The only time you will find her in her work studio is in the mornings, when her children are in school. But when afternoon comes, she stops working to pick them up from school and to spend quality time with them.
“They still see me for pretty much the same amount of time they (used to before the business started),” she told Business Insider.
“I’ve always tried to protect that afternoon time (so) I’m still able to see them, drive them to classes, and be with them at home,” she added.
And she’s always on the alert for non-verbal signs that she needs to take even more time off work.
“If I notice my children getting more clingy, or starting to misbehave, I also take that as a hint that I need to take them out on one-on-one time and spend a bit more time with them,” she said.
To do so requires a fair bit of compartmentalisation, which Fock says she achieves by being organised, disciplined, and practice good time management.
3. Try to blend career and family together, whenever possible
Allocating different time slots to family and work does not mean that you can’t blend the two of them together. In fact, whenever possible, Fock tries to include her children in the business by bringing them to her workspace.
“I try and include them in the business. My kids get to see me serve customers and (my daughter) really likes to serve customers. So when she’s in the store, she would try and help serve customers.
Another thing her daughter loves doing is to fold clothes, and “she’s surprisingly very good at it”, Fock said.
Plus, her children are the photogenic models of many of her children’s apparel.
And it’s not just the kids. Fock’s husband, Dr Eric Ting, who works as a radiologist, also plays an important role in her business by helping with errands such as last minute deliveries and moving. He even pitches ideas and helps with the brand’s social media outreach.
It helps that he really likes photography, and “he’s really good at it”, Fock said. “So that’s to my advantage – he helps me do shoots.”
4. You’re not superhuman
It’s not uncommon for selfless mothers to try and do everything and be everything to everyone.
“You need a village to raise kids. If you can get help from parents, in-laws, or a really good helper, then please don’t feel bad about doing it,” she said.
She added: “Don’t feel bad about the day-to-day running of things. If that can be handed off to someone to do, do it so that you can be present for the important parts, and to be emotionally there for your kids,” she said.
And one more thing: The perfect work-life balance is impossible to achieve, Fock said, adding that everyone struggles to find it.
“Don’t be hard on yourself. Every family tries to do the best they can.”