It was going to be a rare feat for a Singapore-based fashion designer. At the start of 2020, Priscilla Shunmugam, founder and designer of womenswear and lifestyle label Ong Shunmugam, was on track to launch a standalone boutique — her first overseas outpost — in London’s Notting Hill. Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing a widespread, extended lockdown in the British capital. Unable to open to the public, Shunmugam had to make the heart-wrenching decision to move out of the already renovated premises in April. “…without its clear end in sight, we have decided to press pause. We took the heartbreaking step to vacate the space,” Shunmugam writes in an Instagram post.

Despite this blow, Shunmugam still felt she could play a part in contributing to Covid-19 efforts in Singapore. She came up with the idea to hold a fundraising sale of her tableware collection in aid of Singapore’s migrant worker community. A total of $30,000, including an additional contribution of $10,924 from the brand, was raised for HealthServe, which serves migrant workers.

She tells The Peak more about how she is riding out the coronavirus crisis.

How has the London store closure affected business?

Our inability to open the London store in March as planned certainly hit our UK financial projections. We had a capsule collection timed to launch with the store opening, but thankfully, we were quickly able to divert the stocks to sales captured in Singapore. It was frustrating to have had shipped the inventory from Singapore to London, only to have it then shipped back to Singapore. But on the bright side — the collection sold out against all these odds.

What are your upcoming plans for your brand in the UK?

We are gearing up to launch a dedicated e-commerce site for the UK where everyone can shop all the collections, from womenswear to tableware, with domestic shipping rates kicking in. If the cards fall in place, online traction will whet appetite for what will be a proper comeback with the store reopening, slowly but surely.

Do you have a strategy for pivoting your business in these times?

Strangely though, we’ve not found the need to make any radical changes. I am grateful the Singapore economy is pretty resilient and that we’ve built an equally resilient customer base. Brand affinity, customer loyalty, meaningful purchasing. All these airy concepts that have always been hard to pin down are exactly the keys to holding on to post-pandemic revenue.

Priscilla Shunmugam
Ong Shunmugam founder Priscilla Shunmugam.

How is your team communicating with customers during these times?

I wish I had some playbook on modern pandemic consumption, but I’m simply telling my team this: If we’re trying to convince someone to spend money in a time of uncertainty, we need to understand the mental and emotional journey they’re making to get to the point of checkout. It’s not simply transactional anymore, every purchase goes through much more scrutiny and intention than before.

What spurred you to offer your tableware range as a way to raise funds for charity?

It was the hunch that a literally captive audience in Singapore would appreciate the chance to invest in some serious tableware, given all meals were going to be at home. If we could somehow link that consumption with a consciousness of what was happening in the migrant worker community, what a coup would that be? When the sales went off the charts, it was so reassuring to know that we were speaking to an audience who was really listening.