Photo Credit: "NTT DOCOMO"

How can a local upstart punch above its weight and make a difference on the global stage? Find out how from Ryan Tan, founder of online fashion retail shop, OuterEdit, who made use of digital technology and the power of connectivity it offers to make this dream a possibility.

Please tell us more about your business.

We started OuterEdit from a standpoint of wanting to make a difference in the international graphic t-shirt scene. We wanted to do that not only by featuring or commissioning the best creative talents around the world, but by enabling global graphic collaborations. We wanted to give groups (typically 5 at one time) the ability to explore and create killer artwork together that would otherwise not be achievable by the efforts of one individual. And these stunning works of art can be marketed and live on as OuterEdit tees.

Collaborations at such a scale haven’t been done before in the world of graphic t-shirts, so this was a truly bold and exciting project for us. Not only because we proved that such a world changing platform can be launched from our tiny island of Singapore, but also because it was a fresh idea that had attracted the attention and participation of renowned creatives worldwide.

With OuterEdit Collab, it doesn’t matter whether you are big or small time, local or international. Our unique 5-way group structure creates a dynamic setup that everyone can enjoy being a part of (for e.g. local creatives get matched up with internationally acclaimed designers or artists). This creates an environment that values individual creativity and craft, treating them as an integral element to create the best t-shirts for the world.

Through the way we curate our OuterEdit Collab, we also hope to shine a light on the usually opaque process of creativity and feature the real heroes behind all the stunning visuals we see hanging around our towns every day.

What are some of the challenges you face in your business?

A lot of people think that running your own outfit comes loaded with perks and a flexible lifestyle. While this may be partly true, we also feel we’ve never had to work this hard in our lives before. There exists a daily internal battle that I think only fellow-entrepreneurs would fully understand. But knowing that you’re pursuing your own thing makes it all worth it. It becomes that extra source of energy you need to withstand the challenges of the day-to-day. Apart from this, other challenges would inevitably include:

  • Having to build your own brand and "street cred" from ground-up with limited time and resources.
  • Being responsive in an extremely dynamic, fast-paced and ever-evolving social media environment while taking care to maintain any nurture every relationship.
  • Getting compared to other online t-shirt store offerings, which is a given with the competitive nature of industry. But OuterEdit’s proposition of producing t-shirt graphics through global collaboration is a true blue Singaporean original, and I believe that makes us much more than just another graphic t-shirt shop. Still it is important to remain fluid with the times, focus on what we’re good at, and through a careful interplay of resources and tact, stay ahead of the competition.

What was your marketing strategy and what ground work did you have to do before embarking on e-commerce?

We knew our online success depended on getting the word about OuterEdit out. Lots of groundwork had to be done to gain a deeper understanding of our target consumer’s profile, needs and preferences, but unfortunately we had to work with extremely limited marketing resources.

To solve this, we relied on the O/E collaborators to become our OuterEdit ambassadors who will help to generate awareness and patronage of our t-shirts among their large followings. It did the job not only among our target consumers in Singapore, but in the region and rest of the world. We just needed to focus our attention on accommodating international orders, currencies, and payment and delivery methods.

What e-commerce platform did you use and why?

We scoured the Internet for a suitable e-commerce platform that could serve our specialised needs but none seem to fit the bill back then. So we decided to custom-build one just for OuterEdit.

How are the results since launch?

I can’t share figures or elude to them at this stage, but what I can say is that our investment in e-commerce have greatly helped us inch towards our goal of ‘glocalization’, and reach a state where the majority of our sales not only come domestically from Singapore, but also internationally from parts of Europe and Japan.

Any advice for SMEs wanting to go into e-commerce?

The decision to adopt e-commerce in one’s business model is a serious one and can introduce a lot of complications to the strategic and day-to-day operations of your company.

Try not to think of e-commerce as a convenient magic solution, but ensure that it is in-line with the strategic direction of the company. Study how it will affect your business structure, and the marketing and ground operations that have to be integrated with an online storefront; so that when you decide to implement it, you can reap the full benefit of e-commerce and optimize your business.

  • Build customer relationships through social media platforms
  • Awareness and understanding of market behaviour is vital for business modelling