Trixie Khong was only 16 when she first started crafting her own jewellery as a way to make some pocket money and also as a hobby. A decade and one Chemical Engineering degree later, she’s the founder of By Invite Only, a proudly Singaporean brand that makes affordable, sensitive skin-friendly jewellery.
At age 16, most of us are simply worrying about our exams and focusing on doing well in school. However, for the founder and owner of local jewellery brand By Invite Only, Trixie Khong, that was when she started her own jewellery business.
Thoughtful and observant, careful and cautious, this young, savvy entrepreneur has (figuratively) been running her own business since she was barely in college.
For her, the learning curve from hobbyist to businesswoman was steep. It was a tough climb that she had to take, step by step; yet what started as a hobby to indulge her interest in crafting has now turned into a flourishing business, both online and offline.
Khong, who studied Chemical Engineering at Temasek Polytechnic, had never dreamt of being a jewellery designer or entrepreneur. Crafting and making jewellery was just a hobby she enjoyed as a teenager.
“I was 16 when I discovered crafting. It gave me a big sense of identity and purpose; I guess one of the ails of being a teenager is not knowing what you want to do with your life. And so it gave me direction. I enjoyed it, and I did it as a way to supplement my pocket money,” she says.
At the time, too, she was working part-time at a design store, and the owner had kindly allowed her to put some of her crafts there for sale. Still, the idea of running a business full-time never truly entered her mind.
But three months into her training at a Jurong Island Kerosene distillation plant made her rethink her career path in Chemical Engineering, and she took up Media and Communications in university, before finally deciding to take the leap into entrepreneurship. It was no easy choice, and Khong was filled with trepidation.
“I told myself, I’ll start a business for one year, and see how it works out. If it did not work out, I still have a degree in Media to fall back on,” she says. So, with just $500 and with the help of a graphic designer friend, By Invite Only was born.
Over the next few years, Khong slowly grew her brand by selling her products at different multi-label stores across Singapore. It was not unusual for a small local brand to stock consignment at big department stores, and that’s what Khong did. However, as is normal with these stores, there is a cut of the sales which goes to the store, mean- ing she would have to mark up prices a lot more in order to turn a profit.
As such, she took the decision to exit the multi-label stores, and go direct-to-consumer. Today, that has proven to be the best thing she’d done for her fledgling business. By Invite Only is on track to achieving a seven-figure revenue in 2020 alone, in spite of the dismal retail conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It also acquired The Mindful Company, another homegrown jewellery label that focuses on customised pieces.
Over the years, she’s learnt some hard and tough lessons. “What I’ve learnt is failing fast and small, and many times — and not making the same mistake again. I guess I learnt to keep tweaking and learning. The question is always, how do I get started? But I always say, just get your toes wet and it’s never going to be perfect the first time,” she says. “I feel that the pressure to do everything perfect the first time is holding a lot of people back.”
After all, the best advice she’d ever gotten, says Khong, is “it takes 10 years to be an overnight success”.
“I cannot remember where I got that from. But it helped me set up my expectations for endurance. I’ve also learnt that money is not going to be the shortcut. Pouring money into a brand doesn’t cut down the time you need to take to be successful. A lot of what makes a brand successful is in your brain — what the product should be, who our customers are, and what are the stories you tell. These things you cannot throw money at,” she says.
Khong says she never gave up — although certainly she has had downs as well as ups — because she has too much pride. “I just have too much pride. I just think: I must not fail!” she says, laughing.