CYC Shanghai Shirt Company



CYC is a clothing firm best known for its custom-made shirts and corporate wear. Founded as CYC Shanghai Shirt Company in 1935, it became a leader in Singapore’s shirt industry and attracted customers from Malaysia and Indonesia during its heyday.1 Now known as CYC The Custom Shop, the company has an impressive clientele, including international and corporate clients as well as leaders in the political and business fields.2

Background
In the 1930s, Chiang Chin Fook and his wife Foo Ah Neok operated a shop offering custom-made shirts in Swatow, China.3 Chiang, originally from Ningbo, cut the fabric while Foo was the seamstress.4

After the birth of their second son, Chiang and Foo decided to emigrate to Singapore to seek better opportunities.5 The couple set up a tailor’s shop on Hill Street in 1935, and moved to Selegie Road shortly afterwards.6 Chiang also went by the alias Chiang Yick Ching, the initials that contributed to the company name – CYC Shanghai Shirt Company.7

Management of the shop was passed to Foo after Chiang passed away in the 1940s. She was later joined by her sons, Chiang Sing Choo and Chiang Ping Choo.8 In the 1960s, the brothers launched a campaign to promote CYC’s custom-made shirts, which proved to be very popular. Orders flooded in at their shop and in bulk from department stores. To keep up with orders, CYC set up a small factory in a shophouse on Middle Road. When this proved inadequate, a new factory was established at Wilkie Road.9

Expansion
As CYC became well known, customers came from Malaysia and Indonesia to have shirts made there.10 The company also became known for supplying shirts to political and business leaders, including Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.11

In the 1960s, CYC became a private limited company, with Foo as the company’s chairman, Chiang Ping Choo as managing director and Chiang Sing Choo as director.12 The company also began producing ready-made shirts. Its outlets on Selegie Road and North Bridge Road were among the first stores in Singapore to be air-conditioned.13

By the 1970s, CYC had six stores in Singapore. It also set up a five-storey factory on MacPherson Road, which cost S$2.2 million.14 The facility was one of the most advanced garment factories in the country at the time. Employing several hundred workers and automated production processes, the factory had a monthly production capacity of 20,000 shirts.15 In 1973, CYC appointed trading house Guthrie to market their shirts overseas.16 At its peak, the company recorded about S$6 million in annual sales. In addition to its outlets on Selegie and North Bridge roads, it also had shops at Tanglin Shopping Centre, High Street, Circular Road, Katong and Thomson.17

Decline
The first signs of a decline in the business came soon after the factory at MacPherson opened. In 1973, CYC suffered financial losses and had difficulties recruiting workers. The company contemplated selling its new factory as overheads were high and demand was lower than the factory’s production capacity. However, the company was able to maintain production and sales as it continued to receive overseas orders. It also denied rumours that it was facing bankruptcy due to financial difficulties.18

By the early 1980s, CYC faced competition from new brands that offered contemporary designs and invested heavily on advertising. CYC’s image suffered as the next generation of customers perceived the brand as old-fashioned. Garment chains such as Heshe and 2nd Chance emerged on the scene, taking market share from the company. The influx of new shirtmakers in the market also drove prices down.19 In addition, CYC’s reputation for quality was hurt by regular warehouse sales of unsold shirts, while its overseas trade was cannibalised by counterfeit CYC shirts.20 The situation was made worse by an economic recession from 1983 to 1984 and an exit tax on Indonesian tourists, who made up a significant proportion of CYC’s customer base.21

By 1992, CYC’s retail chain had shrunk to two shops. Its sales had fallen to around 20,000 shirts annually, which was the monthly sales quantity a decade ago.22

Leadership change
Despite mounting problems, the Chiang brothers believed that the company could still grow on the strength of its reputation, without a need for rebranding or innovation.23

In April 1992, Ping Choo passed away and his brother Sing Choo became too ill to work soon after. A family meeting was then held to decide on CYC’s leadership, and a strong vote of confidence was given to Fong Loo Fern, Sing Choo’s daughter.24 Fong had helped out at CYC since the age of 12.25 She joined the company officially in 1977, after graduating from the University of Singapore with an accountancy degree.26 At the time, her proposal to update the company’s merchandise and shop layout was met with resistance from her father and uncle.27 She left CYC in 1985 and joined the United States Department of Commerce, before returning to CYC in 1992 as its managing director.28

One of Fong’s first major decisions as managing director was to sell the factory at MacPherson – which had become too large for the company’s workforce – for S$7.2 million.29 CYC also closed its shops on Selegie and North Bridge roads, as both areas were slated for redevelopment. In addition, the company moved to new premises at Genting Lane, which housed its headquarters and a new factory.30

With funds from the factory sale, Fong engaged business consultants to develop a long-term strategy for CYC. She also hired a design consultant to revamp its image, including coming up with a new logo and branding for its retail outlets. A main thrust of the company’s new strategy was to refocus on its tailoring roots. Consequently, the division that produced ready-made shirts was closed down to save costs, while a new flagship store was opened at Raffles Hotel.31 The company also focused on attracting more corporate clients, with a new division to manufacture uniforms for companies such as the Conrad and Raffles hotel groups, Takashimaya and the Central Provident Fund Board.32 Corporate wear made up nearly 50 percent of the company’s turnover in 2002.33

Subsequent initiatives
CYC’s  initiatives in the 2000s included more exports, setting up overseas outlets, and introducing workwear for women and mobile tailoring services.34 In 2005, the company received the Singapore Promising Brand Award for brand communication.35 In the same year, the company set up its first overseas office and showroom in London.36 Continuing with its tradition of bespoke tailoring, customers could even make an appointment for a CYC tailor to visit them at their home or office.37 In 2009, corporate workwear, menswear and womenswear each had almost equal weightage in CYC’s overall business output.38



Author
Alvin Chua



References
1. Lim, K. (1993, July 12). Shirt maker CYC invests in promotions and image in bid to recapture market. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
3. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
4. Rajendran, J. (1992, August 24). A bit frayed, but still sturdy. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
5. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
6. CYC Company Pte Ltd. (2007). [Homepage]. Retrieved 2009, November 4 from CYC website: http://www.cyccorporatelabel.com/; Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
7. Rajendran, J. (1992, August 24). A bit frayed, but still sturdy. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. CYC celebrates 37th anniversary and opening of new branch. (1972, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 19; Rajendran, J. (1992, August 24). A bit frayed, but still sturdy. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. CYC Company Pte Ltd. (2007). [Homepage]. Retrieved 2009, November 4 from CYC website: http://www.cyccorporatelabel.com; CYC celebrates 37th anniversary and opening of new branch. (1972, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lim, K. (1993, July 12). Shirt maker CYC invests in promotions and image in bid to recapture market. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Lee, S. H. (1993, August 9). No more ‘3-for-$10’. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. CYC celebrates 37th anniversary and opening of new branch. (1972, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
14. Chan, F. (2009, July 29). Protecting the fabric of the family firm. The Straits Times, p. 35; CYC celebrates 37th anniversary and opening of new branch. (1972, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. CYC celebrates 37th anniversary and opening of new branch. (1972, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 19; Ong, C. (1995, June 29). Shirtfall in business. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Lee, G. (1973, September 24). Guthrie acquires new agencies. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Kerk, C. (2002, March 2). Sewing up the future. The Business Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
18. Oldest shirt making plant tells of big new orders. (1974, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Rajendran, J. (1992, August 24). A bit frayed, but still sturdy. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Kerk, C. (2002, March 2). Sewing up the future. The Business Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
22. Ong, C. (1995, June 29). Shirtfall in business. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Rajendran, J. (1992, August 24). A bit frayed, but still sturdy. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Rajendran, J. (1992, August 24). A bit frayed, but still sturdy. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
26. Chan, F. (2009, July 29). Protecting the fabric of the family firm. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Rajendran, J. (1992, August 24). A bit frayed, but still sturdy. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Chan, F. (2009, July 29). Protecting the fabric of the family firm. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Lim, K. (1993, July 12). Shirt maker CYC invests in promotions and image in bid to recapture market. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Rajendran, J. (1992, August 24). A bit frayed, but still sturdy. The Business Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Lim, K. (1993, July 12). Shirt maker CYC invests in promotions and image in bid to recapture market. The Straits Times, p. 36; Chan, F. (2009, July 29). Protecting the fabric of the family firm. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 153. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
33. Kerk, C. (2002, March 2). Sewing up the future. The Business Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Kerk, C. (2002, March 2). Sewing up the future. The Business Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Shankari, U. (2005, August 30). Winning brands that stayed the course. The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. CYC goes global. (2005, December 22). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. A marketer’s story: Fong Loo Fern. (2009, July–September). The Singapore Marketer, 3rd Qtr., 9–11. (Call no.: RSING 658.80095957 SM); CYC Company Pte Ltd. (2017). Retrieved 2017, December 10 from CYC Stories website: http://cycstories.com/
38. Chan, F. (2009, July 29). Protecting the fabric of the family firm. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Organisations>>Companies
Shirt industry--Singapore
Trade and industry
Commerce and Industry>>Industries
Clothing trade--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Retail and wholesale
Business enterprises