Blogshop Model-Turned-Fashion Designer & Style Influencer Beatrice Tan: “We Don’t Take Photos Non-Stop!”

The founder of local label Klarra on the challenges of fashion retail and friendly competition with her pals at Love, Bonito.

At the end of a pleasant one-hour chat with Beatrice, the super-sweet 29-year-old founder of local online fashion label Klarra, she suggests that we take a picture. Sure! I say. She gestures to a spot near the counter of her brand new pop-up shop at Capitol Piazza. I stand there while she peers into her camera (a point-and-shoot cam, not her smartphone). She then asks a retail staff to take the photo. Click! Beatrice checks the photo. “Can take again?” she asks. Six to seven clicks and checks later, she’s finally satisfied. Then we take three selfies with her phone for good measure. I don’t mind the cam-whoring. After all, I’m taking a pic with an influencer — they don’t anyhow one, okay? Of course, the photo is fab, and we proceed to share it with our individual Instagram followers — she with her 71.9K and me with my… aiyah, let’s not compare.

During our interview, Beatrice — a photogenic girl with a million-dollar smile, who dipped her toes into showbiz when she joined Ch U talent search Hey Gorgeous in 2007 — had mentioned that she likes to set aside 15 minutes at the end of meet-ups for photos, instead of taking photos non-stop during meals or coffee sessions. I think this is a great modus operandi we can all learn from. And just as well that she decided not to go TV — instead, the NUS Finance grad worked in a bank before ditching that to become a blogger, then a model for online labels such as Love, Bonito, before starting her own e-tail brand, Klarra, in 2014. Three-and-a-half years later, Klarra is celebrating its first proper bricks-and-mortar space, a beautiful open-concept pop-up shop at Capitol Piazza.

At the Klarra pop-up store, expect tea, biscuits and personalised service as you try on clothes. 

8 DAYS: Congrats on the pop-up store! It seems like a trend for successful online stores to go offline. Why? 
BEATRICE TAN: For fashion, being omni-channel — that means having both an online and offline presence — is important. The challenge with starting out online is that people don’t have a chance to try out the fit of your clothes and touch the material. Letting customers try your clothes is essential, so that they can shop with more confidence going forward, whether it’s online or offline. We’ve done some events and other pop-ups and had great experiences with customers which have helped us to come up with better products. 

In a time when physical shops are closing, your online label has spawned a bricks-and-mortar shop. Is Klarra less affected by the economic slowdown as it operates mostly online? 
I think people are more conservative this year in terms of spending, and being online, we probably don’t feel as much stress as retailers with physical stores, who have lots of overheads. But with online businesses, there is another challenge, which is the problem of driving traffic to your site. Nobody will know that you have new arrivals unless you do some advertising or publicity. That’s why we decided to try a pop-up store, instead of leaping into a two year permanent lease. We saw a good opportunity to engage with our customers. 

There are quite a few local womenswear labels with a focus on chic, minimalist styles and defined cuts. What is Klarra’s USP?
Our designs are original and unique to Klarra — I oversee the designing and creative direction, together with a team. I think we have friendly prices for the quality we offer. We’re also trying to do more in-house prints. We have a mix of workwear, casual wear and occasion wear, and our designs are versatile. We work hard to make sure that you can wear a Klarra piece in different ways. There’s a dress we have — we’ve seen customers wear it with sandals for a weekend in Bali, while another customer has worn the same dress with heels for a wedding dinner. It can also be worn when you’re pregnant. We strive for that versatility. 

Clothes call: Beatrice with her creations, which she works on with a team. The workwear, casual wear and occasion wear pieces are modern and chic with interesting twists, sometimes literally, like on the tie-knot bustier Beatrice is wearing. 

Setting up physical store is harder than setting up an online store. Is this true or just a fallacy?
There are different challenges. For online, since you can’t meet the customer, you have to make them trust your brand and feel comfortable buying from your website. You have to offer personalisation from behind the computer. It seems simple — just shop and click and buy, but it’s a lot of work at the backend to make sure the customer has a good experience. You can’t have too much text, but things need to be clear. With offline, service is very important, and you have to figure out things like overheads and manpower. 

Chic and basic pieces from Klarra: (on left) Ruffled pencil skirt, $75, (in middle) Tie-knot bustier in mustard ($75) and (right) Cutout shoulder dress ($79). 

You started out as a model for online shops. At which point did you think, “Hey, why don’t I make these clothes that I’m modelling?”
I started out as a blogger about 10 years ago, ’cos I wanted to keep in touch with my friends after we all went to university. After graduating from NUS in Finance, I thought I should work in a bank. That’s when I realised there was a lack of stylish and quality workwear that was decently-priced. After a few months, I left the bank, ’cos the work wasn’t for me. I did more blogging, and modelled part-time for online shops like Love, Bonito. In 2014, I decided to start my own label. I had no fashion background, so it wasn’t easy. After a couple of years, I went to London for three months to take courses from Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion. I took branding, marketing and fashion styling courses; not so much courses about the technicalities of fashion design, as I’ve learned that on the job.

You used to model for Love, Bonito. And now you’re their competitor. Is it friendly competition or more like bad blood?
(Giggles) We are friends! We are very cordial to one another; it’s very friendly. I feel we cater to different markets as well — Bonito targets probably a more tertiary market, a younger crowd, and their prices are lower. Of course, they have fans with the older crowd too — they have many products and they are fast fashion. For Klarra, we want to be accessible, and we are still considered pretty fast fashion, but it’s not at a crazy speed. We curate and spend a lot of effort on every piece, and we put out new things at a manageable pace. 

When you meet up with Rachel and Viola (of Love, Bonito), do you talk business and fashion? Or do you guys avoid all talk of work? You say you aren’t direct competitors, but you’re all still competing for the dollar of the online female shopper. 
Yes, the market is small and we are in the same industry. But we are definitely friends and we wish for the best for each other, and we know we are doing our best in our target markets. If we see one another, it’s not like we take a different path to avoid each other! (Laughs) We give each other hugs and, at the end of the day, we go back and we focus on the products, not the competition. When I told them I wanted to do this, they were very supportive.
Girlboss: She's not one of those OTT influencers; in fact, Beatrice Tan is down-to-earth, friendly and almost girl-next-door, albeit one with her own fashion label and almost 72K followers on Instagram. 

How does one become a style star? Do you have any tips on how to model and pose, and what to post? 
I don’t consider myself a model, ’cos I don’t have the height and the attributes. (Laughs) Back when I was modelling, I think people could relate to my build, in terms of size and height. I have a typical Asian build.

Um, you’re so slim! You’re definitely skinner than the average female.
No I’m not! (Laughs) I think it helped when people saw me wearing the clothes that they can envision on themselves, and it also gives them ideas on how they can style the clothes. My own style is not dramatic — I go for classic pieces with some uniqueness in terms of details and colours. I believe in versatile pieces, and try to share how even with simple clothes, you can wear them in different ways. My failsafe outfits? Wide-leg pants and a basic top. It’s comfy to move around in, and with separates, you can mix and match easily — I can change to a tube top and go for dinner. Alternatively, I also love a nice midi dress. 

Any tips for anyone trying to become the next big social star? 
I think when you take pictures, you should be yourself, but don’t be shy to try a variety of poses. Even if you feel funny, just try it, and take a few different pics. You can always review them later and see which work for you. I take a lot of shots before I get a good one. A good backdrop helps a lot, and if all else fails, a white wall is good. I wouldn’t hunt down a specific location for an OOTD — sometimes, it’s more about the mood or the occasion. 

Online shopping can be wonderful or it can lead to great disappointment. Any tips on navigating the online shopping minefield?
Don’t ignore the measurements. It’s best to take note of the measurements for each individual piece. For our designs, we measure each piece really accurately. So the measurements for one piece may not be the same as another, even in the same brand. If you’re not sure, you can always come to our pop-up store to try! Basically, look out for the measurements at the bust, waist and hips. We would lay a piece of garment flat to measure it, so if one side is 16 inches, you multiply that by two and you get 32 inches. A good tip is to take reference from a piece that you own that is of a similar style — measure something that fits you well and compare them.

When a bunch of style influencers get together, what do you do? Do you compare the number of followers you have, take photos non-stop or discuss how to take over the world
(Laughs) I don’t hang out with many influencers ’cos of work, but when we do get together, we talk about pretty serious stuff, like what our plans are in the next two years, and our goals and purposes. I will share about my label. Yes, you can make a lot of money if you work hard, do a lot of campaigns and if you’re creative and have personality. It can be lucrative, and there are quite a few full-fledged bloggers out there. I do campaigns with brands on my blog and my social media, but it has to be brands I believe in, with products I really use. I still eat, use skincare and products, so if it’s something that fits my lifestyle and that my followers can benefit from, why not?

Pose and post: Beatrice likes to set aside 15 minutes to take photos when she meets up with her pals, instead of taking pics non-stop during a meal or coffee session and missing the moment. 

Is it tough being an influencer? Sometimes, it seems like life is work and it never ends. 
It’s very easy to get caught up with it all when you’re doing it full-time — it can be distracting. There are so many bloggers and influencers, and so many people sharing things. For me, I don’t want to be stressed trying to keep up, or feel pressured to post every day, even when I have nothing to post. My Instagram is for sharing memories or milestones, or certain tips and ideas.

If you didn’t take a photo and post it on social media, it didn’t happen. Is this true especially for influencers and is there a danger of taking photos non-stop and not enjoying the moment? 
When I meet with my friends or other influencers, we don’t take photos non-stop! (Laughs) I think we’ve found a rhythm. We meet up and have coffee, and we really have the coffee first. Then, in the last 15 minutes, we have to help each other to take photos — it’s part of the job to create content and take the photos, but we won’t let it take over everything. Whether we post the pic or not, it’s nice to take the photo and create that memory. Unless we are creating content for that one hour, then it’s a job; it’s work, and we just do that. When I first started blogging, I just wanted to take photos of the food and everything, and it affected the people around me. You could be missing that moment, which won’t come back, and wasting people’s time. I remind myself to appreciate the moment, and if you can get the picture, it’s a bonus. I think all this requires some planning, like, I will allocate 15 minutes at an event to take photos, so I may get there 15 minutes earlier. But nowadays, people understand, even if they are not bloggers or influencers. For everyone these days, social media is a good place to keep your memories — it’s an album that is accessible to you all the time.

The Klarra pop-up store is till August 24 at Level 2, Capitol Piazza. Shop at http://klarra.com.

Photos: Ealbert Ho 

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