I'M IN lingerie brand
In this article

Elfaine Tan and Kingsley Peh, founders of I’M IN, are no strangers to entrepreneurship.

When they were 20 years old, they started Singapore’s first online “tryvertising” platform – SampleStore.com. The platform, which allows customers to ‘try’ the offering before buying it, was subsequently acquired by Singapore Post (SingPost).

With this success, HerWorld Magazine named Elfaine one of the “Most Inspiring Women under 40”.

Starting an online lingerie brand

Despite their achievements, Elfaine and Kingsley’s entrepreneurship journeys did not stop there. One and a half years after leaving their directorship positions at SingPost, they founded I’M IN, a lingerie brand.

One question might float in your mind at this point: “Why lingerie?”

Elfaine shared that she was inspired to start I’M IN from her personal experience with wired bras and how the wires that poked out left her a scar in between her breasts.

I just thought “Nevermind, it’s okay, just putting [the wire] in will do,” but after that it actually caused scarring on my boobs. So now, in between my boobs, there is a very obvious black-greyish scar that is caused by the wire.

Elfaine Tan, co-founder of I’M IN

She added that there was also a market gap for wireless lingerie for Asian sizes and wanted to offer functional and affordable options made with quality. With that shared drive, both founders invested S$100,000 to launch I’M IN in 2015.

“I believe that all women deserve to have the comfiest intimates and not go through the same issue that I went through,” said Elfaine.

Unlike many lingerie brands that went through the brick-and-mortar route, I’M IN first launched as an e-commerce brand. Elfaine explained that going online was a “no-brainer” as it was the fastest way to test the market’s viability.

“Being online allowed us to reach a broader audience, establish a strong market presence, and connect with customers directly,” she added. Elfaine also pointed out that as the founders only invested S$100,000, she needed more capital to open a physical store then.

Creating their own fabrics and going through an aesthetic change

With every startup, there is bound to be a learning curve —a lesson that Elfaine understood from her past business ventures. Little did she know that starting a lingerie brand would come with new challenges and that her biggest hurdle would be establishing trust with her manufacturers.

The tricky, tricky part is actually working with manufacturers where I got cheated before, I’ve been in situations whereby the product isn’t what I ordered. So I felt that that learning curve was really, really challenging.

Elfaine Tan, co-founder of I’M IN

To facilitate better quality control and pursue faster production timelines, Elfaine partnered with exclusive factories where the team develops and produces its own fabrics and samples. Creating its own fabrics allows the brand to differentiate itself within the saturated lingerie market and provides its customers with “custom-made solution fabrics” that cater to their unique needs.

But unlike what many may expect, the brand’s first product was not a wireless bra but a pair of lounge shorts.

It starts at the drawing board, where the I’M IN team designs their cartoons and makes repeated patterns before they are sent to their factory for sampling. Elfaine shared that the sampling stage is marked by much trial and error before the approved samples are sent to their partner factories for mass production.

I'M IN shorties, cheekies and bras
From “cutesy” patterns to more understated colours / Image credits: I’M IN via Facebook

Elfaine remained on the lookout for new opportunities to diversify I’M IN’s product ranges, and she soon started receiving customer requests to launch a new line of wireless lingerie.

In 2017, two years after I’M IN was founded, the brand launched its first wireless bra.

In addition, the brand underwent an aesthetic change, as its lingerie has adopted simpler colour palettes and designs. Elfaine stated that the change was “part of growing up” for both the brand and its customers and that her tastes have changed since she started I’M IN in her mid-20s.

“It’s no longer just about looking cute, looking nice,” emphasised Elfaine.

Their first launch had a slow pickup rate

However, the launch of the wireless bra product line was not all flowers and rainbows for Elfaine as they received “challenging yet positive” reception from their customers.

She explained that the “challenging” aspect came from the fact that as I’M IN is an e-commerce brand, some customers find it tough to find the perfect fit and end up not purchasing.

“Bras are not like T-shirts. A little bit bigger, a little bit smaller, they just can’t fit,” added Elfaine.

With further product fine-tuning and the provision of a wider product range, the brand won the hearts of customers who were satisfied with the lingerie’s functionality and comfort.

Beyond product challenges, Elfaine also shed some light on its financial challenges.

With every new collection, there is also a risk of accumulating backstock, which can hurt the brand financially. Elfaine acknowledges the risks associated with their many product launches but points out that her team observes their customers’ buying behaviours to decide how much to produce.

She also pointed out that both founders have been conservative with their finances since the brand’s inception, to the extent that their office had to be downsized when they experienced financial constraints.

“In this line of business, you need to put a lot of money aside for the procurement, and sometimes the sales don’t come in as fast. So the [financial] planning will come in — how can we break down to smaller capsules so that we can stretch out our launches?,” added Elfaine.

She also added that as most of their operations are done in-house, it also helped to reduce business costs.

Now, they have 4 brick-and-mortar stores in Singapore

While I’M IN has continued to gain traction among customers as a digital native brand, many customers have voiced their desire for a physical store for them to try, touch, and feel I’M IN’s products before deciding to make a purchase.

I'M IN 2018 Isetan Scotts pop-up event

The opportunity to open a physical store came when Singapore department store chain Isetan invited them to hold a pop-up event at Scotts Road.

I’M IN’s lingerie was well-received by new and loyal customers during the event, spurring the launch of their first store at Orchard Gateway.

I'M IN Funan outlet
I’M IN store at Funan / Image credit: I’M IN

The brand has since opened three more stores islandwide, though the transition to brick-and-mortar has brought a new set of challenges for Elfaine and her team.

She explained that more financial capital was needed for new expenses, such as lease costs and additional staffing requirements. She also pointed out the need to maintain higher inventory levels has increased as the brand grows.

“Sometimes things get missing, or the stock we take doesn’t tally with the amount we input into our system, and as the warehouse gets bigger, we can’t find certain things. And not only that, even in terms of procurement, sometimes we underproject and sell out too quickly, we do not have enough stocks for exchange, causing customers to be very angry and they don’t get their size,” lamented Elfaine.

However, these new challenges did not discourage the brand, as earlier in January, I’M IN expanded beyond Singapore to the Philippines.

While Elfaine expressed her ambition to expand further, the I’M IN team will focus on building brand awareness in their current markets.

The ultimate goal for I’M IN is to become a leading Asian-fit lingerie brand in Southeast Asia. In five years, we envision expanded market reach, increased product offerings, and a strong reputation for providing quality, affordable, and functional Asian-fit lingerie.

Elfaine Tan, co-founder of I’M IN

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Featured Image Credit: I’M IN

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)