Sheffield designer hand makes her collection

A Sheffield girl has started her own clothing business, making every item by hand. Without investing a huge amount of money, Shi-Yuen Li can now provide high quality clothing. Only 10 months after she started, Shi-Yuen has made two collections of clothing and she sells them in Sheffield.

“My name is Shi-Yuen Li from Sheffield and I basically design and hand make men and women’s clothing.”

This is how Shi-Yuen introduced herself when we first met.

Shi-Yuen, 24-years-old,  graduated from Leeds University in 2010, and already has her very own brand, Asobi Fashion.

“I started last May and I have just been doing my fayres and markets,” said Shi-Yuen. The Kuji shop, on Ecclesall Road, was the first store to stock her clothes in 2011.

However, the first stage was not easy to achieve. Before the Kuji shop, Shi-Yuen took her clothes to many clothing stores in Sheffield, but they were not able to stock her designs.

“Most of the shops really like my clothes, but they had already stocked their clothes for the season.”

“Because I was making everything by myself, I cannot do it quickly enough to make it a year ahead.”

One shirt takes a whole day

Shi-Yuen with her men’s wear clothing design

Shi-Yuen runs a one-person clothing company. She covers everything in the production process including designing the clothes, choosing and buying fabrics, cutting and sewing fabrics and then making the items.

Time limitation is her biggest problem. Last season, she made ninety-five garments for Kuji and they took her two months to complete.

“For example, a man’s shirt may take me a whole day, 16 hours, to make it,” Shi-Yuen said.

When she started working with Kuji last year, Shi-Yuen brought the clothes she had made to the shop every few weeks. Therefore, the shop did not need to wait two months with no clothes.

“We just built up the trust that I would keep bringing the clothing in,” she said.

Apparently, not every shop in Sheffield stocks clothing in season like Kuji, so Shi-Yuen needs to make her production process quicker. This season, Spring/Summer 2012, she got started in January and when we met in late March, she had made samples for each style, finished photo shoots and put clothes into a new shop on Division Street, Sheffield.

“I’m trying to work faster and work more in advance. I have finished my spring/summer collection and I could probably start my autumn/winter one now.”

The value of handmade clothing

Shi-Yuen likes her clothes to give an image of quality to the people who wear them. But pricing her stock is difficult .Too inexpensive and she cannot make a profit, too expensive and they won’t sell. Take a man’s shirt as an example, the prices range from £65 to almost £80, but Shi-Yuen said this is not equal to the labour she has spent on making the clothes.

“I cannot charge 16 hours of labour time, it doesn’t work! The shirt will cost hundreds and hundreds pounds.”

Shi-Yuen also said that a cheap price strategy would not work.

“When I first started doing this, I priced everything very cheaply, like my shirts, which were £30-£35. I wouldn’t say a lot of people rushed to buy it just because it was cheap, and a lot of people said to me my clothes were too cheap for what they were.”

Now, Shi-Yuen’s target customers are students, young professionals and people with more disposable income. She said;

“Students who like fashion are willing to pay a bit more for quality clothing, and people who don’t want to wear the same thing as everyone else.”

Reasons to start your own business

Like many graduates of design, Shi-Yuen has worked as an intern in several large companies, she now knows this is not the path she wants to follow.

Shi-Yuen with her women’s wear clothing design

“I am a really creative person and I like getting into things. When I went to a big high street fashion company, there were people in really high positions who told you what to do.

“If I get an idea in my head and do it, they may not like it. So I have to work with what they want. I think that’s probably why I thought I want to design what I think people would like and what I like.”

Shi-Yuen won the Emerging Designer Award in the Leeds fashion show in 2011. This is a good start, but she understands that success could be a long way off.

Shi-Yuen said;

“When you start your own business, from day one it’s a lot of hard work and for the next two or three years, it will be really hard work trying to get people to know what you do.

“Right now, I just want more people to know about it, because that’s how a brand gets big. And my aim will be to get some celebrities to wear them.”

Keep producing in the UK

Shi-Yuen also understands that as her brand grows, she will not be able to make all the clothes by hand. But she said with confidence that Asobi fashion would not be a massive manufactured brand.

“The factory I would want to get in England, would hire people who make clothes by hand. It may take longer and it may cost more, but then I will know it’s made properly and is good quality.”

Shi-Yuen with her clothing in Kuji shop

Shi-Yuen with her clothing in Kuji Shop

I asked Shi-Yuen what advice she would give to other designers who also want to establish their own business.

“Passion. They need to be very passionate, very, very passionate.”

Shi-Yuen said she just could not stop doing things everyday, every moment.

“I think most of the time, if I’m not drawing or cutting or making, I have something else to do. I will be doing something like marketing or researching.”

“I think the hardest thing is to keep busy, because if you don’t keep busy, you think ‘I’m not doing anything I’m just wasting time’.”

Shi-Yuen is determined to succeed and follow her passion.

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