Chen Liyi is the #girlboss of Indie Mamashop, an online retail space with a retro Singapore vibe, that also offers sewing as an income opportunity for the economically disadvantaged.
Indie Mamashop stocks handmade items with a nod to yesteryear – think tote bags made of batik, and squishy “five stones” shaped cushions.
The name Indie Mamashop came about with the concept of assortment – as Liyi initially had no idea – and remains open to what else may be produced. Indie, short for independent, reflects how the production occurs.
Along the way, Liyi also realised that the name reflected the type of people who tend to come onboard this sewing gig – mamas.
It Started With Good Morning
Indie Mamashop began as a side project in 2015, when Liyi left public service to venture into advertising.
One of the earliest items on Indie Mamashop was the Good Morning Towel drawstring bag. With her sewing skills, Liyi had played around with the bag’s design for fun, and found it made a quirky gift. She soon realised that if someone else could sew the bag, it could then be a source of income.
This small side project thus became a vehicle for exploration of entrepreneurship and community service. The more Liyi delved into it, the stronger her sense of mission became.
The decision to go full-time came about 1.5 years later, both to scratch that incredible itch, and for her own professional development.
Liyi has since come full circle, running Indie Mamashop on the side while working full-time again. The main difference this round are the systems that have been put into place, and a clearer picture of where Indie Mamashop is heading towards.
Focusing On The Low-income Sector
Liyi linked up with family service centres to reach out to those in need of extra income. Given Singapore’s recent history of making things work despite the odds, she strongly feels that more can be done to allow for equitable distribution of resources and economic development opportunities to various segments of its population.
Meritocracy, while remaining a worthy aspiration for Singapore, simply isn’t enough to eliminate inequality.
Liyi is convinced that as a society, it is important to go beyond throwing around big words and concepts, and actually dive into specifics of what the people sector can and are willing to do to improve the practice of meritocracy in our society.
Liyi shares a simple analogy: if meritocracy is about the door being open to everyone who bothers walking over to enter it, then it is important to realise that not everyone starts on the same footing. Some are too tall or too fat for the door.
Some are moving with heavy weights on their legs so they never really get a chance to make it through the door. The door is also getting clogged up by those who reached there earlier.
Aside from the realisation, solutions also need to be formulated: lengthening or widening the door, building a cart to help move the weights if they can’t be removed, managing the queue on the other side of the door, or even creating more doors.
“To be sure, Indie Mamashop is not a pity party.”
“People get paid for things they sew, and they get paid more if they sew more (that makes it a progressive wage system, if you think about it). All this activity is moderated by the natural ebbs and flow of commercial needs.”
What is different is that Liyi has teamed up with a family service centre to work out a system for these individuals to sew at home at their own time and pace. The idea is this: if they can’t fit into conventional work arrangements, maybe work arrangements can fit them.
Indie Mamashop’s journey has not been smooth sailing.
While it does its best as an economic provider, Liyi also recognises that low income is usually a symptom of something bigger, like overwhelming caretaker responsibilities that prevent full employability.
To really help someone earn even a little from a flexi-work from home model, Liyi had to delve deeper into finding the right partner to help. Through trial and error, she realised that the most suitable partners for Indie Mamashop were family service centres.
Business-wise, the costs of sewing production locally are naturally more expensive than China or Vietnam. However, it was clear to Liyi from the onset that Indie Mamashop was not about building a sewing industry, nor to create low-quantity high-value haute couture.
Thus, Indie Mamashop focuses heavily on product designs, with an uncomplicated sewing process that newbies can pick up quickly.
Those who have come through Indie Mamashop’s doors have seen their incomes boosted and can now better support their families. This flexible arrangement has created an immediate and much-needed income source for them, while they work towards a longer-term solution.
Find out more about how you can support Indie Mamashop here.