Redefining what it means to be sexy and running my own lingerie label

By Hoe I Yune, Sep 12, 2019

Kate Low had always loved buying lingerie. She loves how delicate pieces of lace fabric can come together to make one feel happy.

You might know her as the founder of popular lingerie brand Perk by Kate. Founded over seven years ago, she wants to sell lingerie that make women feel confident about their bodies. This is because Kate knows what it’s like to battle body image issues. Growing up, she wasn’t always at ease with her looks and used to obsess over the figure on the weighing scale. 

As recognisable as her brand name is, Kate tends to avoid the limelight. 

It took her a lot of courage when she chose to step in front of the camera to model a bralette alongside other women in a campaign she rolled out this year. The campaign deviated from using professional models. 

While hesitant at first about fronting her own campaign, Kate figured that perhaps advocating for body positivity meant overcoming her own inner demons.

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Hi, my name is Kate Low and I’m 34 years old. 

A snap of me in the Telok Ayer studio

A snap of me in the Telok Ayer studio

We tend to be our own harshest critics and I am no stranger to that. 

When I was in primary school, I was on the netball team and fit as a fiddle, but this changed when I entered secondary school. I gained quite a bit of weight — probably due to the fact that I ate two McDonald’s meals every day. 

I was on the school's gymnastics team and my coach would call me 小胖 (“little fatty”) because I was one of the chubbier ones.

My self-esteem took a hit. I wanted the name-calling to stop. I wanted to lose weight and look good in my competition leotard, so I decided to walk home from school every day. It took me between four to five hours to arrive at my doorstep, but I managed to shed the weight and that made me feel better. I strived to maintain it throughout school life and succeeded. That was easy enough because every time I felt I was getting plump, I would start walking! 

Still, that didn’t solve everything, certainly not my mindset. My struggle with weight returned when I started work. The sedentary office life meant I constantly felt like snacking and I could drink two to three cups of lattes a day to beat the afternoon fatigue. 

Whenever colleagues made harsh comments about my round face, pointing out how I looked like I gained weight, I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious.  

Bit by bit, I incorporated more vigorous workouts into my daily routine. I wanted to feel better about myself. It took a few years before I stopped being so fixated with my weight. It happened quite naturally, probably because over time, I genuinely enjoyed walking and jogging, and the exercise made me focus more on the fitness aspect than the number on the weighing scale. 

I eventually stopped having a weighing scale around. Because what's the point of it when it just makes one sad? I’m probably at a number now that wouldn’t have been acceptable to my younger self, but I’m healthy and happy. 

As the owner of my own lingerie brand, to be able to help other women feel beautiful inside and out is what I want to do. I want to introduce lingerie that makes all women feel good. Personally, I am drawn more to ladies with awesome personalities and confidence. 

I’ve been running Perk by Kate for over seven years now. But being an entrepreneur wasn’t something I always thought I would be doing. When I was younger, my dream was to be a marketing or creative director. It was only after working in the corporate world did I realise I was not cut out for it. I was working as a senior digital and marketing manager when I started toying with the idea of starting something on my own. This is partly because while I could handle the work and my bosses, I felt like I had to compromise on what I could do because of internal politics or budgets.  It made me realise that being an entrepreneur might be more up my alley — I’d have more freedom to do whatever I want and believe in. The thought that I would be able to learn from my mistakes and adapt quicker really appealed to me. 

I thought about business ideas and among them, it occurred to me that I really liked bralettes yet they were relatively unheard of in Singapore. I liked the way that they look and made me feel. I decided to start a multi-label retailer named Perk by Kate, bringing in indie labels selling unpadded and unlined bralettes into Singapore.

There was another reason too. Back then, La Senza and Triumph were the big names that dominated the scene and these brands were championing a particular body shape as ideal - one which I personally couldn’t relate to. I felt like I was too petite to be able to emulate what I was seeing in posters and on screen. It struck me that lingerie is very personal so I wanted to introduce designs that weren’t only gorgeous to look at but comfortable to wear too. 

I’m a firm believer that with the right fit, confidence tends to exude from within, and a confident woman is a sexy one.

I made progress when I found my first indie brand, Honeydew Intimates. It had the skinny strap that everyone loved and the designs were so pretty. I bought a batch at a wholesale price and I was really excited when I received my first order within a week of launch. 

Working on my own, I operated out of my bedroom and did all the packing, so that saved me rental and labour costs. I also read a lot and through my reading, I decided that I wanted to operate on my own means. The idea of taking capital from someone else felt a bit scary to me because I wanted full control of my business. I had to invest $10,000 to start the business and this amount is a large chunk of my savings. Still, I took the plunge.  

I had yet to quit my job at that time and honestly, it was exhausting to work a full-time job and run a business alone at the same time. I had to maintain the website and fulfil orders, sometimes doing the deliveries myself at night and on weekends. My whole life revolved around work, and I constantly looked like a walking zombie. 

Thankfully, I had a great boss who I learnt a lot from. I also drew from my personal experience in online shopping. I had a couple of bad experiences so when I launched Perk by Kate, I knew I didn’t want my customers to feel the same way that I did. I wanted them to be happy with the product and service. I still believe that a business can have a cordial and warm relationship with its customers. It’s not just about trying to make money!

As the days went by and the orders came in, I grew more confident that Perk by Kate was a viable business. But before deciding to go all in, I wanted to be sure that it was a sustainable business so I set myself a monthly target and held myself accountable to achieving it three months in a row. I remember being so happy when I managed to hit it and I took the leap - going into Perk by Kate full-time. 

In 2014, I hit a milestone launching my own in-house designs. Many customers said that although they really loved the pieces I was bringing in, they were ultimately unpadded and unlined, and could not be worn out often. I saw where they came from, because I felt the same way about those pieces of lingerie. 

I know what it’s like to feel self-conscious when wearing something unlined and unpadded. 

That made me want to do something about it. I visited workshops and factories to see if I could find a suitable manufacturer to execute this idea of a "padded bralette", but a lot of them seemed more interested in making money and producing something that did not require much research and development work. 

Eventually, through the founder of a swimwear retailer I came across on Instagram, I found a local designer who hand makes lingerie. 

To kick things off, I sent out 20 pieces to my top customers to hear their thoughts. I was nervous but excited to have them try my new product. While initially sceptical about the idea of padded bralettes, they were quickly sold. I only had three designs at that time, and have since grown to make the padded bralette a signature of the Perk by Kate brand. 

For four years, I was a one-woman show. Today I manage a team of five who juggles customer services, operations, and marketing. I’m still very much involved in the day-to-day, such as stock-taking and unpacking boxes when we have new arrivals. I care a lot about the fit and material so I personally conduct stretch tests and 24-hour soaking tests to make sure of the quality.

I like being able to personally involve customers in “product testing” too. Before launching our D and E cup range, we got bustier customers to try on samples in our store. It’s one of our ways that we ensure that our designs cater to different body types.  

Today, we only have one brick-and-mortar studio. It was a conscious decision not to grow too fast, and I like how it’s a cosy, intimate space and customers can easily chat with myself or the studio manager and share their feedback. 

We’re also available in multi-label store Trixillini in Scotts Square and one Hong Kong boutique store. It’s my dream to grow my business outside of Singapore, but I also want to be careful and selective. 

Even though we have been approached by department stores, the opportunity cost is high - we would have to give up 40 per cent of our margins and it’d hurt our bottom line. Plus, having too many retail points of sale mean that I would have to spend more time on operations and that would take time away from attending and listening to customers — an aspect of my work that I personally enjoy. 

The thing is, it’s often very easy to say “Yes” to every opportunity that comes by, but harder to say ‘No’. 

As a business owner, sometimes I tend to worry because I might compare myself with what other people are doing. When I see people going into retail, I’d wonder if I’m being left behind or I’m making the correct decision by not following suit. But it comes down to what you believe in as a brand. 

And for me, being able to listen to my customers and cater to their needs is what I want to do.

I have customers who’ve grown with me and are now mums. They said they wished we had pieces tailored for nursing, and that inspired me to launch maternity bralettes.

It’s heartening to grow alongside my customers and see them go through the different phases in life. 

Lately, customers had been giving feedback that we only use skinny models for our photo shoots. It made me realise that even though we have a wide range of sizes — from 30A to 38C cups, the impression was that the brand is skewed towards petite women. 

It’s not just about correcting the perception of what’s available at Perk by Kate, but it reminded me of why I started Perk by Kate — to celebrate the female body. 

Over the years, I've met so many ladies with gorgeous bodies, but they would tell me their hips are too big; I've met so many ladies with shining personalities, but they tell me they are fat or that their boobs are too small. I don’t want to perpetuate that mindset that only certain body types are sexy. 

The trouble was, I found it tricky to find plus size models. To begin with, not all professionals are comfortable to model lingerie, and to ask the talent agencies for plus size models on top of that was almost unheard of. So when Cheryl Tay from body image movement Rock the Naked Truth suggested that we collaborate for a shoot celebrating body positivity among women, that struck a chord. 

However, when Cheryl suggested that I model alongside the women in the “Body Beautiful” campaign, I have to say that I hesitated. Being comfortable in my skin is one thing, but posting a picture of myself in lingerie on social media is a whole new ball game! 

I was afraid people would look at me and think that I look bad. I mean, like every other woman, I have insecurities too. There are days when I think that my figure is not perfect, my boobs are non-existent, and I definitely have my unflattering angles. 

We did an Instagram call-out for women to be a part of this campaign.

We did an Instagram call-out for women to be a part of this campaign.

But I realised that I’ve got to walk the talk if this is what I believe in. As a brand, I want to be authentic and that means being vulnerable at times. If I were asking “regular women” to love their bodies and model my lingerie, I needed to be able to do the same. 

Cheryl and I at the Body Beautiful shoot. It was definitely a growth journey for me.

Cheryl and I at the Body Beautiful shoot. It was definitely a growth journey for me.

It was definitely scary being in front of the camera, but the group camaraderie made it all much easier. I thought most of the subjects would be self-conscious, but it turned out everyone was AMAZING and brought their best smiles forward. The entire process surprised me — it was more fun than I thought it would be!

I still have my round face and arms, which always seem to have a life of their own and look enlarged in pictures, but I feel good about myself. And feeling good is sexy. 

After the campaign was released, we received some nice comments from customers. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it empowered other women, but I like to think that they felt encouraged. If anyone is going through a bad self-esteem day, I hope it can be that little spark that they need to feel better about themselves.

Running my own business can be trying at times but I’m very thankful that Perk by Kate is still around. I am comforted to know that it is possible to operate a business that stays true to my values — without having to give them up for profits or for scale. 

I have no plans for the future; I am just taking one step by the day and seeing where this journey takes me.

Photos provided by Perk by Kate.

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