Here’s a scenario: You come across a cool athleisure brand on Instagram and, the next thing you know, you’ve given it your credit card details for a slick set of bra and leggings. A week goes by and you receive your package – only to realise that your purchases don’t fit as well as you hope. We’ve all been there.
Noticing a gap in the market for chic, affordable activewear with an “Asian fit”, Olivia Yiong and Tiffany Chng founded and bootstrapped their own brand Butter, which impressively made a six-figure revenue in just a few months. But their success isn’t totally unexpected: Yiong is a former F45 trainer while Tiffany was a pro athlete, having represented Singapore at the 2010 Touch Football World Cup. The two fitness enthusiasts met while working at GuavaPass (now known as ClassPass) and have tried all kinds of exercise regimens. Both also worked in lululemon’s retail stores (at different times), which gave them an insight to the activewear industry. Considering that they have also, unsurprisingly, spent an obscene amount of money on workout clothes over the years, it’s not hyperbolic to say that they know a thing or two about fit and functionality.
Butter is the accumulation of their years of experience as consumers and purveyors of activewear. Having worn their latest Paddle Pop collection for a handful of my yoga sessions now, I can say that these girls are spot-on in the design and construction of Butter’s apparels. The V-Bra doesn’t cut into my skin like some do, and the Classic Leggings fall nicely on my ankles (most are often too long for me) and offer the right amount of compression. The set I tried lives up to the brand’s tagline “made to move”, conforming snuggly to my body as I move through sun salutations. Intended or not, the bra and leggings give a smoothing effect to flatter your silhouette without being too constrictive. They’re also one of the slickest and most comfortable pieces I’ve been in.
Each collection is released in limited-edition colourways that won’t (likely) be restocked, so if something catches your eye, surrender your credit card numbers quick. To make sure you find the right fit, Butter offers free size exchanges for first local orders. A courier will be arranged to pick up your old size, and new ones will be delivered at no extra cost.
Ahead, the dynamic duo shares their brand’s beginnings, what kept them sane in the last year and career highlights.
Tell us about your business. What do you do and why did you start it?
Butter is an athleisure brand catered to an Asian fit and our products are suitable for all types of activities. We started this brand during Singapore’s Circuit Breaker. Tiffany had just lost her job due to the pandemic and Olivia’s contract role was ending with no opportunities for renewal. With scarce job opportunities, we decided to take matters into our own hands and work in the area we’re passionate about. Having acquired elbow grease at Lululemon and GuavaPass (now known as ClassPass), fitness and activewear were essential to our lifestyle. We identified a gap in the market for activewear that was chic, minimalistic, tailored to an Asian fit and won’t break the bank. Activewear is no longer just for working out, it’s become athleisure – timeless classic pieces for everyday life. We wanted to offer the urban woman, who’s busy and always rushing from one place to another, the option of a matching set that she feels confident in while looking stylish and put-together.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Chng: This isn’t specifically advice, but I previously had a boss who inspired me tremendously. She was a great leader and helped me come out of my shell during my early days. She also taught me what it means to be a good leader: to listen, communicate effectively and inspire. These are traits I hope to emulate now and in the future.
Yiong: “If you think you have only one more rep left in you, you can do 10 more” is a gym cliche but relevant both in and out of the gym. Having this drilled into me reminds me that I am capable of achieving more, even if it means stepping outside of my comfort zone.
What had been your biggest hurdle and how did you overcome it?
Yiong: Stepping away from the safety net of a 9-5 job was probably the hardest thing so far. But we are both committed to the brand and felt like it was the next step to take in order to bring Butter to the next phase of growth. No regrets at all.
Chng: Same here. I was burning out every month trying to balance my full time job and Butter. It got to a point where it was a now-or-never moment. I haven’t looked back since.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Chng: I like to cook, take a fitness class (if restrictions allow) or go for a walk outside. Recently, I’ve started rollerblading again and it’s been very calming to disconnect and rollerblade along the Marina.
Yiong: When I’m not working on Butter, you can probably find me working out at different fitness studios in Singapore or doing an online class on my yoga mat/spin bike at home, decked in Butter of course.
What’s kept you sane during the pandemic?
Chng: To be honest, growing Butter has been the key driver. We started this brand in the middle of the pandemic and creating and focusing on something we’re so passionate about has really been beneficial. As we know, this health crisis has changed our lives and our normal routines, so driving the growth of Butter provided us with responsibility and structure to keep us looking forward.
Yiong: Focusing on personal growth and self-improvement. Pre-pandemic, there were always distractions and things to do but now with the current restrictions, I have a lot more time to focus on myself, the skills I can improve on and how I can continue to bring value to our customers.
What’s been your career highlight so far?
Chng: Definitely a highlight for me is our most recent collection launch, because we sold out of multiple items sooner than expected. We’re always so grateful to our customers and it motivates us to keep going.
Yiong: Receiving positive reviews from our customers is definitely a big highlight for me. It reinforces what Butter stands for and why we’re doing it.
What are your personal and professional goals for 2021? And in the near future?
Chng: Professionally, we will be looking to expand our team as well as scale up operations and production. Personally, I really want to get a puppy.
Yiong: We’ve also set our sights on expanding internationally within the next couple of years. On a more personal level, I would love to master cooking a medium-rare steak, something I’ve always avoided trying after hearing countless kitchen nightmare stories.
What are you most tired of hearing?
Chng: “Activewear is such a competitive space.”
Yiong: “Both of you should model for your brand.” We both agree we should leave it to the professionals.
Looking back now, what would you have done differently?
Chng: I think everything happens for a reason and the business decisions that we’ve made were due to our situation at that time. If I had to pick something, perhaps it’s to launch with a wider range of products.
Yiong: Likewise, I would have invested more time and resources in developing more products at an earlier stage.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start up?
Chng: There will never be a right time to start. Sometimes all you need to do is have the courage to take the first step and be ready to give it your all to make it happen. Set personal and professional goals to keep yourself accountable and to have something to work towards.
Yiong: Speak to everyone and anyone and listen to what they have to say. It’s up to you to take their advice but it’s always beneficial to hear from someone with more experience. You’ll never know what you might take away.
How do you define success? Do you consider yourself successful?
Chng: I think one part of success is accomplishing the goals we’ve set for ourselves and the other part is the validation from our customers. So in that sense, yes, I believe we are meeting the goals we’ve set and the continued increased engagement from our customers helps us on the path to success but there is still a lot of room for improvement – that’s the fun part.
Yiong: We’ve definitely had a few wins so far and we’re excited to keep that momentum going with what we have planned in our pipeline.
So what’s next?
We’ll be looking to launch two new lines next year.
(All images: Butter)