Monday, 22 Apr 2019 – Thank you The Star for having us to share our story on the business.
Read the full article at SMEBIZ by Alexandra Wong
VIQ Apparel is riding a hot streak.
Founded by husband-and-wife team Kevin Kong and Vivian Ng, who saw a market gap for sportswear that could transition seamlessly from studio to street, the company is winning recognition as a leading local athleisure brand.
Last year was a particularly good year. Total revenue cracked the million-ringgit mark, an amount that is expected to double this year, and the company emerged as Best Brand in Fashion and Sports Apparel at the 2018 International Prestige Brand Awards. But they’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings when their tiny rented apartment doubled as a warehouse and Kong would make deliveries on his motorcycle to save on courier charges.
Going into the clothing line was inspired by Kong’s then-girlfriend Ng, his junior in Universiti Sains Malaysia who was widely admired for her fashion sense. When university mates started asking where she got her clothes, the enterprising young lady saw the opportunity to make some pocket money. She started buying in bulk from Taobao and selling them to her course mates via Facebook.
Back in 2010, online sales were still a novelty, and she did a roaring trade. So much so, Kong had to manage her business when she went to Sweden for a student exchange programme. Experiencing the business process first hand, Kong saw the untapped potential of the fashion market and thought it worth exploring. While holding down his day job as a finance analyst, he attended night classes to pick up skills in creating websites and using Photoshop.
In 2013, he quit his job to start a clothing business with Ng, who graduated that year. They named the company ViQ, a sporty truncation of Ng’s name. While Ng’s father, a logistics service provider in Johor, was supportive of their endeavour, Kong’s parents had a different reaction. His father and mother – a hardware shop assistant and petrol station clerk respectively – thought Kong was crazy to leave a high-paying job in a multinational corporation for a risky venture. But that was precisely his motivation. Having seen his parents struggle to raise the family, Kong saw business as a way to break through the poverty cycle. “At university, I was known as the guy who never orders more than RM3.50 for lunch. Business was my best chance to build a comfortable life for my loved ones,” he says.
A grown-up business.
The idealistic couple soon learn that running a grown-up business was a far cry from selling clothes online for fun. Initially, they sourced their clothes from an apparel original equipment manufacturer (OEM) who was an acquaintance of Ng’s father. In the first few months of business, they found that the spandex long pants range was the top seller. Capitalising on this observation, Ng designed her own sportswear line. She made a few rough sketches of her ideal sportswear and persuaded the apparel maker to turn her designs into real prototypes. Using his newly acquired skills, Kong built a website to sell their products but the pair felt they needed a brick-and-mortar store for brand exposure.
Strapped for cash, they rented a retail outlet in a rundown mall in Penang. At RM1,300, it was the cheapest they could afford. To keep expenses low, Kong personally delivered products to their customers using his motorcycle. “If we use Poslaju, I have to pay RM6 per delivery – enough to cover one week’s worth of fuel!” he points out. Ng also gave up on some indulgences. Outings to cafes were a luxury she couldn’t afford at this critical stage in their business. But foot traffic was low in their first location, causing them to relocate to a hypermarket. Unfortunately, it did not give them the kind of customers they were hoping for. “The crowd that comes to hypermarkets is the same week after week. It’s very different from a shopping destination like Ipoh Parade or Kinta City, where new customers come looking for fresh trends,” he says. After a challenging year, they decided to cut their losses and relocate to Ipoh. The stability of being on home ground gave the couple breathing room to recalibrate. One thing’s for sure – they were not giving up their entrepreneurship dreams.