February 10th, 2010

Let’s do good. Together.

By Priyanka Awasthi

Josephine Ng and her husband KC used to run an integrated marketing agency. Then, in 2001, it was acquired by the top marketing services agency in the world. The still-young couple found themselves with the time and resources to relax and see the world.

But before too long, Josephine began to feel the urge to do something useful.

Josephine Ng: Single mothers need help

“I thought of volunteering and spoke to some VWOs (voluntary welfare organizations), but the fit was not quite right,” said Josephine. “Then KC pointed out that with our experience, we ought to look into doing something useful in business.”

So the couple began to explore ideas that would let them match their marketing expertise and business knowhow to a worthwhile cause. It was at the launch of the NUS Centre of Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy in August 2009 that they found the right cause – single mothers.

At the event they met a friend who told them that one of the least helped groups in Singapore was single mothers. Josephine and KC did their research and concluded that a viable social enterprise for this group would be a garment alteration business.

“Single mothers need help. They have young children and are unable to work long hours, thus have lower financial status,” says Josephine.

“As single mothers have limited resources, they need skills that can be mastered in a reasonably short time. They also need a part-time schedule so they can take care of their family, a convenient work location and work that they can do at home. And altering clothes allows all of these. ”

So Josephine and KC set up Alteration Initiative, which they describe as a modern alteration business. The first outlet opened in January at Dhoby Xchange on 22 January and so far there has been a steady stream of walk-in customers.

The first Alteration Initiative store at Dhoby Xchange

Josephine explains the business plan: “Using our experience in starting and growing a business, and our appreciation of marketing, we aim to modernise and corporatize the business of apparel alteration, which has a dated and unprofessional image. Our goal is to build a sustainable business that will provide work and income for these single mothers.”

Alteration Initiative is working with partners such as the CDAC (Chinese Development Assistance Council), HELP Family Support Service and PPIS As-Salaam to identify single mothers interested in being trained as associate alteration specialists.

“They are like apprentices for three months with us – not bound by any contract and they can leave us after acquiring a lifelong skill if they choose to,” she said.

There are six sewing machines at the outlet, and experienced seamstresses are on duty both to handle customers’ needs as well as train the trainees.

These trainees are paid even as they are learning how to sew. They get $4 an hour on weekdays and $6 an hour at the weekends. After the three month training period, if they have reached a certain level of competence, they will earn double this.

The alteration work will be done at the outlet until the trainees are competent enough to work on their own. They can then do the work at home, and if they need to invest in sewing machines, Alteration Initiative’s partners may be able to offer interest-free loans.

Enthusiastic as she is about her social initiative, Josephine, who is an AWARE member, is well aware of the many challenges ahead, such as finding enough single mothers who have the aptitude for alteration work. But she and her husband were prepared for this when they embarked on their venture; indeed they relish the challenge of proving that you can build a viable business around a good cause.

Appropriately, their company is called A-Changin and their corporate tagline is Let’s Do Good. Together.

  • Alteration Initiative is at Dhoby Xchange, 11 Orchard Road, B1-06/07/08 Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station Exit B, opposite Park Mall. Operating hours are 11am to 9pm, Mondays to Sundays including public holidays.

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