Interview with a young entrepreneur – Jia Min Onn

Interview with a young entrepreneur – Jia Min Onn

She calls herself the Chief Thief at Thrifty Thieves, but the only thing that Jia Min Onn steals is the hearts of her customers with her fun and quirky ready-to-wear accessories that she personally curates and creates. 

Since its debut some years back, Thrifty Thieves’ accessories have been spotted on local media personalities such as Xixi Lim and Munah Bagharib, and style icons – Tracy Phillips and Aarika Lee, to name a few.

Though the bulk of her customers are mostly local buyers, the brand has also captivated the hearts of international customers that account for about ten percent of its revenue, including being stocked at multi-label stores in New York and Stockholm at one stage. 

We caught up with Jia to ask her a few questions about what it is like to have embarked on this path. Here’s what she had to say… 

1. For the benefit of our readers, tell us what Thrifty Thieves is about?

Thrifty Thieves is a local fashion brand started in 2017 with the idea of elevating your everyday look with minimal effort with statement earrings. Now, Thrifty Thieves stocks and trend-spots a wide range of stylish ready-to-wear jewelry, apparel, and accessories. 

2. Tell us about yourself, your background, and how you started your journey in business?

I’m Jia aka the Chief Thief of Thrifty Thieves. I was in PR and marketing for about 5 years before I started my entrepreneurship journey. I chanced upon a shoe design competition and decided to give it a shot – which I eventually emerged as the grand winner. That spurred me on to discover more about what I really wanted to do, and I left my job shortly after. That was when I ventured into the opportunity of starting something that I can call ‘my own’. 

3. Do you design your own accessories and how do you find inspiration for your designs? 

The designs are all curated from our suppliers across the region – inspired by various themes such as tropical flowers, quirky fruits and everyday geometry styles. We also have a separate line called ‘Timeless’, which I design and craft by hand using resin. We are currently looking to create and produce more designs as our previous batch was snapped up in no time. Be sure to keep a lookout for our fresh batch of designs in Q3/4 later this year! 

4. What are your plans for Thrifty Thieves – how do you plan to grow the business? 

The plan is to just wing it. We used to run pop-ups in mall atriums very frequently, but due to Covid, we are not able to do so. Now that things are getting slightly better, we have recently rented a small office studio where customers can swing by to purchase or visit. Future plans also include having Thrifty Thieves stocked at multi-label stores. 

5. How has the pandemic affected you or your business and how did you overcome it? 

Covid affected our offline retail due to the disruption in physical retail spaces; it’s the bulk of our revenue stream. This resulted in us having to trim our expenses wherever possible while still ensuring that our service remains undeterred. As such, we moved out of a co-sharing office space, which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we found an even better office space subsequently.

Unfortunately, we had to let go of our part-timers then and run everything back at home.

As always, there is opportunity in adversity – we turned to live streaming in order to supplement our source of income. Now a mainstay, our weekly live-streaming sessions draw in customers looking to shop online and provide us with the opportunity to personally interact with them virtually.  

6. A person who is your greatest support when you are facing challenges in your business? 

My partner is my greatest support, mentally especially. He helps me with brainstorming ideas and whenever I need assistance. My mom allows me to store my goods at home, which is definitely a great help.

Most importantly, our loyal customers who stuck with us during the tough times and continuously encourage me to push on to serve them better. We also had support from various industry partners such as Melissa Shoes, Lovely Strokes, 13rushes, Supergurl, Dr. Lash, etc. Who collaborated with us in our giveaways that helped us reach a wider target audience. 

7. What is the one thing you wished you knew before you started your business? 

I wished I knew how to scale my business more efficiently and keep myself abreast of the latest digital marketing tools. Fortunately, I am constantly on the lookout for opportunities to expand my horizons and apply them to the business. I am always open to working with brands and organizations that are willing to grow together.

8. What is the one thing you enjoy most about running your own business and why? 

I enjoy the flexible working hours and being on my own. Ultimately, the satisfaction I get from happy customers makes me feel that all the late-night grinds are worth it! 

9. What’s your typical working day like? 

I usually write down a list of to-dos for the week and work according to the importance and time-sensitivity of each task, after which I will read through my emails, pack daily orders and plan new collection launches. Some days, I’ll need to speak with my suppliers and get new stocks for office supplies. 

10. The top 3 mobile apps that make your work more effective? 

Notes – I write any random ideas and to-dos that come to mind if I don’t have my notebook with me. 

Calendar – to track my daily appointments.

Telegram – I save all the pictures I need for our daily Instagram postings because it doesn’t compromise the quality of the pictures. 

11. How do you stay motivated to keep going in your business? 

I tell myself, ‘It’s do or fail’. I don’t want to fail, so I’d make sure to find ways and means to keep the business relevant and continuously grow to meet our customers’ demands.

12. What is your greatest fear and how do you manage it? 

The greatest fear is losing control, but I’ve learned to accept or block out things that I have no control of, such as negative comments or unconstructive feedback, etc. 

13. What is the one piece of advice you would give to start-up entrepreneurs? 

It’s never too late to take that leap of faith

14. Do you believe luck has a part to play in the success of a business? 

Yes, a bit of luck but definitely a lot of hard work.

15. Draw your spirit animal and tell us about it. 

My spirit animal is a cat. I am nocturnal, independent, and sometimes I can be quite lazy. 

 

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