Two local mamas who left behind careers in banking and medicine to launch fashion lines share career advice and give tips on CNY fashion
In our popular That Mama series, we often interview women with interesting careers and talk about their approach to balancing work and family. In the lead up to Chinese New Year, we were recently introduced to two of Singapore’s leading cheongsam designers – Dorothy Loh of The Dotted Line and Fock Ee-ling of The Missing Piece – who will both be featured in the brand new design showcase, Design Orchard, that highlights local designers and artisans.
Dorothy, a mother of three, left behind a career in banking to pursue a lifelong love of fashion, launching The Dotted Line in 2006 and a nursing and maternity line, Dote, in 2009. Ee-ling, meanwhile, gave up a career in medical research to raise her three children (pictured below in her super cute kid-friendly designs!). Eventually, her sewing hobby took on a life of its own and she launched the business in earnest in 2017.
Read on for some more background on Dorothy and Ee-ling’s inspiring career paths and these wonderful homegrown brands, along with their tips on making CNY fashion your own. And be sure to see their gorgeous designs in person at Design Orchard, which launches 30 January!
Dorothy Loh, The Dotted Line
What is it about the cheongsam that you find so alluring?
It completely covers up, yet shows off a woman’s figure; it is restrained and seductive all at once.
Why should every woman have a cheongsam in her closet?
You can do no wrong with a cheongsam — it is timeless & ageless; slip one on and it’s instant glam and elegance. With all the options out there today, there is something for everyone. If you have only one cheongsam, I suggest a classic silhouette like our Grace Cheongsam — it is slim cut but has enough room in the waist and hips because today’s woman is all about comfort! We also have the Ivy cheongsam — the flared skirt means you can move around freely and don’t have to suck in your stomach after a meal!
What are your top tips and tricks for accessorizing a cheongsam?
I don’t wear necklaces because of the collar, and instead focus on my earrings. I like pearls or jade for a more classic look or large tassels/ bright colours for a bit of fun.
What inspired you to leave behind a corporate career and start designing full time?
I’ve always enjoyed all things creative – I dabbled in sewing bags and then started taking dressmaking classes in Chinatown part-time while I was working and I enjoyed it very much.
It happened at a time when I was looking for a change. I thought I should at least try, and if it didn’t work out I would just return to the corporate world. I went into full time fashion school and started my fashion label shortly after.
Do you have any tips or advice for other mamas who are thinking about changing gears to launch their own business?
I suggest testing waters by taking a class related to your ideal business, or dabbling in it on the side before quitting your job. Try working for someone else first, or talk to someone in the same line. This allows you to get a sense of what it would be like to run your own business before you decide if you really want to go into it full time.
Does your family have any favorite CNY traditions or activities?
We always make an annual trip to Malaysia to visit my extended family. My Aunt prepares a huge home cooked feast, my kids hang out with their cousins, and we spend our holiday eating and catching up with each other.
Fock Ee-ling, The Missing Piece
Did you have any formal fashion training prior to launching The Missing Piece?
No I didn’t. The Missing Piece was born out of a hobby for fabric sourcing and was a creative outlet from being a stay at home mother.
What was the ‘Aha!’ moment where you realized you could make a business and a career out of your hobby?
It was probably in 2017 when we launched a proper full range CNY collection that caught the eye of people like Tjin Lee, the then-chair of Singapore Fashion Week, did I start to think that I could really be onto something and that this could be more than just a hobby.
What steps did you take to launch the business?
The business started really small and growth was through word of mouth. I started doing pop-ups, but it was really through social media and the loyal following that the business grew.
How did your transition to motherhood affect your decision to shift from medicine to fashion?
I picked up sewing when I was in university just as a hobby and I used to make simple clothes for myself. After I became a mother, I started making matching dresses for myself and my kids. Being a mum of 3 naturally led me to design and make clothes for children and mums when I first started The Missing Piece.
However, it wasn’t motherhood that necessarily made me move into fashion. I resigned from my work and was a SAHM for four years before The Missing Piece was started and initially it was never planned to be a business. It was more a creative outlet that organically grew and became a proper business.
How do you balance your current career with looking after your three kids?
With a lot of hard work, multitasking, planning, late nights on the laptop, and support from the family. And even then, I would still say I am far from having it all together. For me I give up some things related to work so that I can still stick to part-time hours and be with my kids in the afternoon. It makes efficiency at work key and it protects the time I have with my children.
What tips do you have for a family looking to coordinate their looks for CNY?
You don’t have to go for a full on matchy matchy look. Strategically match your child’s prints to maybe the solid colours that you and daddy are wearing. Or have matching pieces that just have matching trims or details. Sometimes more subtle pairings make for a more elegant coordinated look that you will likely wear again in the future.
Where does the name “The Missing Piece” come from?
I chose the name because I liked the fact that the name could have different meanings, depending on your perspective. To me “The Missing Piece” could be the special place that my family has in my life, or it could be that as a stay at home mum, having the creative outlet was my “Missing Piece”. Perhaps you’re looking for “The Missing Piece” in your wardrobe. It wasn’t till later when we came up with our cut-out cheongsams did people start associating the name with the cuts outs in the pieces. But hey, whatever helps the brand name to stick!
How can a mama with a newborn or small baby stay comfortable (but also feel stylish!) during CNY?
Comfort is key when you are a mother. Opt for something which is more relaxed and roomy and in a lightweight fabric so that you are free to run about and still stay cool. I personally like to suggest a shift dress like our Batik Toga shift or Swing Cheongsam to mums with young children. They are practical and stylish at the same time and both look great with sneakers.
Do you have any tips or advice for other mamas who are thinking about launching their own business?
Find something that you’re truly passionate about, make sure it’s something that you love doing, and don’t pressure yourself. It’s ok to start small and see how it goes. Balancing between running your own business and managing the family is also always tricky, so do make sure you have set up a support system that works for you.
Thanks so much to Dorothy and Ee-ling for sharing your wisdom with us. Be sure to check out their designs online at www.dottedlinestore.com and www.iwantthemissingpiece.com, or in person from 30 January at Design Orchard, 250 Orchard Road, #01-01, Singapore 238905.