Angeline Francis Khoo, the founder and chief executive of luxury kimono brand Rosie On Fire, has changed tack after seeing her e-commerce business come to a “grinding halt” overnight.
She is encouraging other start-ups to make a similar move, “not only to save jobs and survive the impending economic crunch, but to realign their businesses with what the country needs right now”.
Francis Khoo has shifted its focus from making and distributing luxury womenswear to producing personal protection products and health kits for companies and customers, repurposing her supply chain that links Malaysia with the UK – and sees strong potential to supply remote Scottish communities.
“When coronavirus hit, we went from having a fully functional supply chain to it being impossible to source fabrics and no customers. It was quite stunning to see a brand we’ve been nurturing for five years collapse instantaneously. We needed to move fast or we would be dead in the water,” she said.
While the start-up’s fashion orders fell, the team in its Malaysian distribution centre shifted its attention to putting together boxes blending health essentials with items that were useful in a lockdown such as home fitness products, games and toys for young kids.
“In February, we froze all expansion plans, which included opening a new shop and I began solely focusing on finding a way to keep my team employed,” she said.
Francis Khoo founded Rosie On Fire in 2015. The company, known for its luxury kimonos, says it puts an emphasis on job-creation for those with autism and from disadvantaged backgrounds. More than 95 per cent of the brand’s clothing lines are made by people from marginalised communities.
She added: “My main job has always been taking care of [my staff] and I was single-minded about ensuring my team’s survival. But having never faced a challenge like a pandemic before, it was daunting.
“It became obvious the landscape of the world was shifting fast and so were the needs of people. We saw a way to potentially contribute, which gave us a glimmer of hope. Essentials started becoming scarce, as did personal protection equipment, and a need opened up as countries started going on lockdown.
“We’d spent five years building a business that enables people to buy online and ship directly to their door in the UK,” she added. “The assets we still had were our amazing team and strong supply chain. It was now a question of how to use what we still had.”
The company will start selling products – such as hand sanitiser, gloves and other essentials – to companies and customers directly from the Rosie On Fire website under the SuperCleen brand.
It has also partnered with London tech accelerator Jed.ai Labs to launch its consumer-centric kits – under the SupplyDrop brand – with a dedicated e-commerce website. There are currently five such kits with themes such as “germ killer,” “birthday” and “pamper,” and it plans to launch more, eyeing areas such as fitness, health and entertainment.
Francis Khoo said change always brings opportunities, “we just need to be able and willing to spot them”.
She added: “There will be thousands of entrepreneurs fighting for survival. We all need to pivot, adapt, and move fast.
She also believes SupplyDrop “could play a genuinely powerful role” in some rural and island communities across Scotland and the rest of the UK."The power of the proposition is that our kits are delivered directly to your door. And for many people who don't have shops on their doorsteps, we think it could play a real role in delivering not only essentials, but a bit of fun to keep people entertained and fit over this lockdown period.”
Jedidiah Francis, founder of Jed.ai which has partnered with Rosie on Fire, said: "We're also planning to do a whisky kit to keep people well-stocked during the lockdown. They will be distributed not only in the UK but throughout Malaysia and Australia as well, where we are also selling our SupplyDrop kits."We had so many ideas on the whiteboard to expand our product range, and that's one that really jumped out to us when we were chatting with the team. We're definitely going to make that a reality, and we plan to start talking to some of Scotland's top independent distilleries in the coming weeks."
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