Image: The Straits Times
She has garnered attention for her minimalist, menswear-inspired style and her enviable closet is filled with designer items. Now, social media star Yoyo Cao is scoring a hit with her own designs.
Last month, she showcased her second runway collection for her brand, Exhibit, at Singapore Fashion Week. The label was launched last year.
Featuring flared trousers, off-shoulder dresses and other monochrome designs with tulle and pom pom details, Cao says her designs are for confident women who exude positive energy.
Now that she has her own label, she has replaced the South Korean fashion brands which she used to stock at her boutique, also called Exhibit, with her own designs.
She opened her boutique at Far East Plaza five years ago using her personal savings. Her parents run a business in Macau.
"I felt there was a gap in the market. People were buying either very cheap or very expensive clothing, so I thought there would be room for my label," says the 27-year-old, who is single.
The Macau-born Singapore permanent resident has more than 94,000 Instagram followers tracking her fashion exploits.
Internationally, she is featured regularly in the street-style coverage of various fashion titles. Earlier this year, she was given an award by New York Magazine's The Cut fashion blog for being the best-dressed during fashion month.
"Creating my own label was always part of my plans; it's just that when I opened the shop, I felt I wasn't ready because I was too young," says Cao.
Delaying plans to launch her own label may have been a good call, judging by her current online popularity, which has benefited the brand.
For her strong online following, she was appointed an ambassador of L'Officiel Singapore magazine. She attends and covers major fashion shows around the world on behalf of the magazine, which gives her a chance to learn from the best.
"It's inspiring to attend the shows of international brands. Even if I don't get to speak to the designers, I'm picking up tips just by watching," says Cao, who is a self-taught designer. She works with a team of designers, including Angie Chia, the brand's creative director.
The business graduate from a private institution counts designer Phoebe Philo at Celine as an inspiration for her simple yet detailed styles.
In addition, her status as an Instagram star makes her account an ideal advertising platform for her own brand. Cao mixes and matches her luxury pieces and Exhibit designs with finesse, offering her followers plenty of styling ideas.
So far, business has been brisk for the fledgling brand. The first collection managed to sell out and she says she has received many pre-orders for the new collection. Prices range from $89.90 for a top to $239.90 for a maxi dress. Her label is produced by a clothing manufacturer in Singapore.
These days, she gets a bigger rush from street-style photographers shooting her in one of her own designs. One of the first few pieces she was shot in was a pair of black overalls, which she wore to the Issey Miyake show at Paris Fashion Week last year. This sort of exposure has spurred her to make plans for an e-commerce site to meet numerous international enquiries.
"It is a huge sense of fulfilment for me. It tells me that I'm doing something right," she says.
7 QUESTIONS WITH YOYO CAO
1. How did you manage to grow your social media following?
When I opened the shop, I also started a Facebook page to give people ideas about how to mix and match the clothes that we sold. It didn't take much effort; we just took photos in the store.
When Instagram started getting popular, I got an account to share my life. I didn't plan on making it about fashion, but the first time I posted a photo of my outfit, I got hundreds of 'likes', so I thought it would be a good marketing tool for us to reach people.
2. You're on Snapchat too. Why did you decide to get on this social-media platform?
I like Snapchat a lot because it reflects the real me. You can see me being silly, as well as check out my doodles. On Instagram, everyone is uploading such perfect-looking photos that it's hard to tell someone's real personality.
People have said that I look intimidating, but if you take a look at my Snapchat account (Yoyo Cao), you'll realise that I'm not. Instagram is like a portfolio for my work, not so much about my personal life, so it has to look a certain way.
3. How would you describe your style?
I think my character plays a part in the way I dress. I'm a straightforward person, so my style is minimal. I can be boyish one day and girly another.
4. Have you always been interested in fashion?
Yes. I've been heavily influenced by my stylish parents. They love shopping. When I was younger, they would take me shopping all the time and show me what is considered good fabric. My father has more shoes than I - he has at least 100 pairs of loafers alone.
5. How long does it take for you to put an outfit together?
Not that long. I build an outfit based on a single item. If I have a pair of pants which I want to wear, I'll pick items to go with that.
6. Your skin looks amazing. Are you big on skincare and beauty as well?
I love reading about skincare. As a teenager, I read a lot about pimples because I had some, so I would say I have a certain level of knowledge. I would share tips with my staff on how to squeeze blackheads without enlarging pores and leaving scars.
I don't usually use a lot of make-up. I try to drink lots of water and refrain from eating too much fried food.
7. As your life is so public, tell us something that not many people know about.
I'm careless. Every time I leave the shop, I'll leave something behind. Sometimes, I can leave without taking along my bag. Fortunately, I haven't lost anything yet.
This story was first published in Urban, The Straits Times on June 5, 2015. For similar stories, go to www.sph.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.
Loved this story? Check out another social media starlet, Velda Tan, on why she decided to start her own fashion brand.