THE founder of high-end fashion house Irene's Creation, Ms Irene Teo, doesn't carry any plastic: no ATM cards, no credit cards.
She carries only cash. She likes to keep her personal finances simple - as much as she dislikes the junk mail that comes with the cards.
Though she scorns some of the trappings of corporate life, she was an early starter - barely 20 when she set up Irene's Creation in 1981. Her first offerings were intricately embroidered Thai silk cocktail dresses for tai tais and executives.
Since then, she has expanded her business, turning it into one of Singapore's most popular choices for bridal couples. Now, it even boasts a photo studio, iGallery, which dovetails with her core business of fashion design and rental of wedding garments and evening wear.
Ms Teo, now in her mid-40s, recalls enrolling for a secretarial course after her O levels; unfortunately, she could not type. After several short stints in nine-to-five office jobs, she called it quits.
Irene's Creation became a reality after she spotted a 400 sq ft vacant space at Plaza Hotel, and decided to set up her own boutique and become a fashion designer. After all, she reasoned, her former colleagues remembered her for her great fashion sense, not her office administration skills.
"I shocked my parents with my idea of opening a boutique, but I managed to convince them to lend me some cash. The initial investment of $30,000 went into the rental and materials such as Thai silk, purchased in Arab Street. I priced my dresses at $500 to $600 each. The business was profitable and I paid off my loan within one year."
The business had a humble start, with four industrial sewing machines that cost about $1,000 each and five staff who did the sewing and cutting.
Irene's Creation now occupies a 30,000 sq ft retail and photo studio space at Delfi Orchard. The business has been extended beyond wedding services to evening wear and prom dresses. Ms Teo acknowledges the help of capable partners. Her current partner, Ms Mari Yamada, in her early 50s, was roped into help expand the business globally.
She is married to a retail investor. They have three children, aged seven, 11and 15 years.
Q Are you a spender or saver?
A I'm wiser with money now. I love to dress up. Even before I started working,I was spending my pocket money on clothing. When I started working, my full pay went into clothes. I also love to splurge on my mother, buying her watches and jewellery.
Q What financial planning have you done for yourself and your family?
A My investments are mainly in my business and two properties, one of which is rented out. Both properties are in Orchard Road.
Q What about insurance planning?
A I was an easy customer, so I ended up with a lot of policies. My first plan was bought when I was 21 and, before long, I had about 10 policies. They cost me over $30,000 in annual premiums. Back then, I had just started my business and had no Central Provident Fund savings, so I wanted some protection for myparents.
In the past few years, I have streamlined my policies down to three: two whole life with a total sum insured of $500,000 and a hospitalisation plan. I pay a few thousand dollars in premiums yearly. Now, the insurance is for my children if anything happens to me.
Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like and what money lessons did you learn?
A There were 13 of us - four boys and seven girls - inclusive of my parents. I was the ninth child. My father was an accounts clerk in a British firm and helped friends in business in the evenings. When he retired at 55, he started a timber and machinery business with my brother.
Out of 11 kids, four of us started our own businesses. My brothers started theirs when they were young; I was inspired by that. Before they went into National Service, they were already driving Mercedes cars. They were capable at a very young age. Business talk was very common at home.
Dad gave me three pieces of advice: Be thankful to God for what you have;treasure your staff and reward them well; and be honest in business dealing as one's reputation is vital in business.
I also learnt how to plough savings or profits back into the business for expansion.
Q What has been a bad investment?
A My insurance policies. Many failed to meet my expectations. For instance,five were sold on the basis that I needed to pay premiums for only a specified period of time, but when the so-called critical year arrived, I had to continue paying. I decided to surrender these policies.
Q What is your best investment to date?
A My business. It has grown from a 400 sq ft shop into nearly 3,000 sq ft of retail and studio space. The initial start-up cost was only about $30,000, but the returns have been many times that.
To me, my business is priceless. It revolves around making people happy, people getting married. At iGallery, we do a lot of family portraits and executive photo shoots. About half of my clients are foreigners, many from Japan or Europe, who fly in for a few days to custom-make their wedding gowns and do their photo shoots.
Q What is your investment philosophy?
A I don't believe in loans other than for housing and cars. A business should grow within its own means. When we borrow from outside sources, we become complacent. My first and only loan was from my father, which I returned in one year.
I believe in investing in what I'm passionate in, which is making people beautiful. I also believe in investing in the right team. Right now, I have a team of four young designers who are in their 20s.
Q What are your retirement goals?
A I'm used to being in a big family. I have 10 siblings. I want to put to good use the wealth that my business has brought me by bringing happiness to the children of broken families. Recently, I became a guardian to two children, aged eight and 13. I would like to house a lot of homeless children and spend more time doing missionary work.
Q And your home now is...?
A I'm staying at an apartment in Emerald Hill.
Q And your car is...?
A I'm driving a black Chrysler.
|Is this article useful to you?