Belle of the house

Tired of living out of a suitcase for 13 years, former air stewardess Geraldine Kee from Singapore started Belle_Maison, an eStore selling her own hand-made crafts and Zakka-styled knick-knacks from abroad.

Kee first discovered the Zakka trend a few years ago. She says: “I love these little kitschy things that beautify and improve our lives.”

Zakka is a simple style of mostly hand-made functional objects that bring charm and beauty to one’s life and home. It encompasses sundry goods, interior goods, kitchen wares and even stationery that are of a Japanese aesthetic.

Kee, 34, always had a knack for picking out beautiful items and sewing crafts. She was a top art student in school.

Her fascination with beautiful things led her to start Belle_Maison in 2008 — which means “beautiful home” in French — through a website with one hundred different items.

Second nature

A few months before she resigned from her air stewardess job, she went on extensive shopping sprees to stock up on bric-a-brac each time she flew to a different country.

“It was quite effortless making the switch from flying to this, after all sourcing for unique items is second nature to me,” she says. “I know just where to look, as I have done it for my own shopping all these years while travelling.”

Today, she has a group of customers who constantly look out for her at occasional fairs and regularly visit her eStore to check for the latest merchandise.

Kee is proud that all her crafts are hand-made. She uses only fine Japanese-made fabrics and 100% cotton threads. “My sole partner is my seven-year-old Juki sewing machine,” she jokes.

Every quarter, she travels overseas to replenish her wares. She brings items in from Melbourne, Tokyo, Seoul and different parts of China and Europe.

“I only bring in items that I appreciate and will use myself,” she explains, when asked how she selects her wares.

She takes note of wholesalers and local fairs in each country and plans her shopping trips around them.

Savvy businesswoman

She keeps abreast of the latest Zakka trends by reading foreign home and fashion magazines and checking out new shops each time she travels.

The savvy businesswoman keeps in mind her customers who are mainly Japanese or expatriate women in their mid-20’s to 40’s.

Currently, her best-sellers are her cake stands. Her imported cake stands were highly popular and they often sold out. So she learnt to make them herself.

“This way, I can design it the way I like it as well as custom-make it if a customer requires a particular style or colour theme,” she says.

Receiving positive feedback about her merchandise and knowing that the products she creates are well-loved make her happy. She fondly remembers the day a customer told her how excited she was about visiting Belle_Maison.

Unique creations

She has turned down an offer to expand her business by mass-producing her sewing craft for distribution.

“I am flattered, but I want my craft to be one-of-a-kind as they are painstakingly hand-made,” she explains.

On a non-fair week, she sets aside two days to sew crafts, another two to make cake stands and leaves one day to run errands and buy raw materials.

A typical day begins with her checking e-mail and orders, working on her craft and then packaging and posting her items online for sale.

Occasionally, she does get orders from customers who “go missing” when she looks them up to deliver the goods. But that doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm.

Her dream is to one day open a Zakka shop with a sewing corner and a small café. “Owning a business demands a great deal of time and energy. Know your strengths and set goals you can reach,” she says. “Remember, getting there is all the fun.” — Source: Singapore Straits Times/Asia News Network