How Desleen Yeo Started a Clothing Label YeoMama Batik and Navigates Gender Expectations

There is nothing short of bursts of cheerful energy and huge smiles as co-founder of YeoMama Batik, Desleen Yeo, shares how she stumbled upon the opportunity to start her local Batik-only clothing brand and her experiences running the brand.

Blessings in Disguise

The 31-year-old entrepreneur founded YeoMama Batik in 2018 after a series of unprecedented events in her life.

Throughout her university education, Desleen was giving piano lessons part-time. She took it on as a full-time job after graduation, before making a career switch into the events industry. She remained in this industry for five years, eventually experiencing a career burnout. This led her to quit her job without a plan and allowed her to try her hand at different part time jobs, from being a receptionist at a pole studio to a customer service staff at various F&B outlets.

In 2017, while Desleen was recovering from a broken ankle, Desleen’s mother had the idea to start a batik clothing business, and that was the spark that ignited Desleen’s drive to conceptualise YeoMama Batik.

Desleen, being bored at home during recovery, invested all her time and effort into brainstorming and designing for the brand, along with S$40,000 from her personal savings. She also travelled to Indonesia to source for materials and learn more about the craft of Batik as soon as she could walk again.

This passion project eventually turned into a full-fledged fashion business for Desleen, which she now operates full-time with her family.

When Old Meets New

While many Singaporeans are familiar with Batik as a traditional Indonesian art technique, Batik pieces are viewed as novelty and worn on more formal occasions. Meanwhile, Desleen’s appreciation for the craft grew exponentially as she established YeoMama Batik. Upon the realisation that this traditional craft needs to be preserved, she had the vision to breathe life into the vibrant fabric by making it wearable for the modern lifestyle.

Since the inception of YeoMama Batik, Desleen has designed the pieces for her business, taking inspiration from traditional clothing made from the fabric and transforming it into delicate pieces of clothing that are suitable for everyday wear in Singapore.

Never forsaking the origins of Batik, Desleen works closely with the long-standing Batik community in Indonesia, from sourcing of the materials to collaborating with and learning from the local seamstresses and tailors to ensure that the clothing pieces are handmade with the utmost love and respect for the craft.

Steering away from the silhouettes of traditional clothes that Batik is commonly found on, YeoMama Batik incorporates trendier styles for a wide range of sizes, from jumpsuits to A-line dresses and even activewear, to allow customers to realise that Batik can be suitable for daily wear.

Embracing the Challenges

Trying to lower society’s mental barriers to wearing Batik and promote appreciation for the craft is definitely not the only challenge that Desleen has faced since YeoMama Batik’s conception. While the brand has skyrocketed to a massive success over the past 4 years, Desleen has shared her various struggles while growing the business.

Desleen confessed that she was “not sure what she’s doing” during the initial stages of development. She had been aware of the overall goals for the brand, but it was the smaller steps to get there that posed the largest problems.

Having no background in fashion, she was at a loss of how to estimate the industry standards, not only for clothing sizes but also for business processes such as supply chain and marketing. Without an industry expert’s assistance, she had to be her own guiding force by conducting her own research and following that with numerous trial and error. This allowed her to learn first-hand from various mistakes in order to develop the best practices for YeoMama Batik.

When asked about how her gender has created challenges in running the business, Desleen has seen her fair share of discrimination towards a women-led team. Desleen insists on remaining optimistic nonetheless, choosing to focus on the positives of the brand and the support from her friends and family.

Desleen has also been candid about her challenges working with her family. With YeoMama Batik being a family owned business, the lines between work and home can often find themselves intertwined, resulting in occasional friction between Desleen and her parents. However, she prevents any conflict from simmering for too long, always opting for open communication to build mutual understanding with her family.

This has enabled Desleen to appreciate the best parts about working with her family: the wholehearted support they provide her and better relationships that develop from it.

Her most prominent challenge related to working with her family is the struggle to find balance between running the business and her role as a daughter. With her parents having a more traditional view of women and their corresponding expectations in the household, she often finds herself struggling to juggle between these roles she is expected to conform to.

Despite their support and understanding of the responsibilities on her shoulders to run the business, it does not discount Desleen’s duty to her home in the form of different household chores.

Expressing her confusion by her parents’ conflicting outlooks that women should be the main caretaker of the household and that they should be empowered to have opportunities to fulfil their dreams, Desleen manages this challenge with maturity and understanding. She focuses on being open about her feelings with her parents and vice versa, ensuring each party can manage their expectations of each other.

These responsibilities will potentially multiply in the foreseeable future as Desleen, who had gotten married last year, plans to start a family. However, she does not intend to let this impact her presidency of YeoMama Batik. Being a strong believer that women can achieve their dreams even with their duties as a mother, Desleen emphasises communication with loved ones and finding balance as the top reasons that being a mother does not impede women’s professional success.

Watch Desleen’s interview on melding tradition with modernity with YeoMama Batik, and finding balance in her life.

Staying Authentic

“The only thing between you and your dream is, essentially, yourself.” is an enduring piece of advice that has followed Desleen throughout her entrepreneurial journey.

Having experienced multiple setbacks before discovering her path of running YeoMama Batik, Desleen is exceedingly content with what she is doing now. As YeoMama Batik continues to shine under her management, Desleen continues to celebrate the small wins and take charge with every challenge thrown in her direction.

She urges all young females to unabashedly be themselves and remember that they can achieve anything as long as they put their hearts into it.

Read more: How University Student Maia Lee Schooled Herself in Running a Business

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