CYC Shanghai Shirt Company



Singapore Infopedia

by Chua, Alvin

Background

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 in its heyday.1 Now known as CYC Made to Measure, the company has corporate and international clients, including political and business leaders.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 emigrated 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.Chiang also went by the alias Chiang Yick Ching, the initials that contributed to the company name – CYC Shanghai Shirt Company.7

Foo managed the shop 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 and subsequently a factory 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 During the late 1970s to early 1980s, 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 1972.18 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. The company denied rumours that it was facing bankruptcy due to financial difficulties.19

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, becoming CYC’s rivals The influx of new shirtmakers in the market also drove prices down.20 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.21 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.22

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.23

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.24

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.25 Fong had helped out at CYC since the age of 12.26 She joined the company officially in 1977, after graduating from the University of Singapore with an accountancy degree.27 At the time, her proposal to update the company’s merchandise and shop layout was met with resistance from her father and uncle.28 She left CYC in 1985 and joined the United States Department of Commerce, before returning to CYC in 1992 as its managing director.29

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.30 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.31

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 rebranding CYC Shanghai Shirt Company to CYC The Custom Shop.32 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 in 1994.33 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.34 Corporate wear made up nearly 50 percent of the company’s turnover in 2002.35

Subsequent initiatives
Since the company’s refocus on its tailoring roots in the 1990s, its reputation as a custom tailor has grown.36 In 2005, the company received the Singapore Promising Brand Award for brand communication.37 In the same year, the company set up its first overseas office and showroom in London.38 The company increased its exports and introduced workwear for women and mobile tailoring services, and in 2009, the company’s business was more equally distributed among corporate workwear, menswear and womenswear.39

In 2017, CYC relocated its flagship store at the iconic Raffles Hotel, which was closed for restoration, to Capitol Piazza.40 During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the company produced masks in its large cutting room, which was originally used for producing corporate uniforms.41 With the help of volunteers, CYC sewed 300,000 masks for migrant workers.42 

In 2021, the company launched 1935 by CYC, a range of ready-to-wear smart casual clothing. Priced lower than a CYC tailored item, the range was well received, particularly among younger customers.43 The company also refreshed its image by revamping its logo, brand colours and marketing visuals, and increased its online sales.44



Author
Alvin Chua



References
1. Kevin Lim, “Shirt Maker CYC Invests in Promotions and Image in Bid to Recapture Market,” Straits Times, 12 July 1993, 36(From NewspaperSG)
2. Tommy Koh et al., eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, 2006),153 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Amanda Chai, “Brands Get a Makeover,” Straits Times, 22 July 2022, C2. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)
3. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153.
4. Joseph Rajendran, “A Bit Frayed, But Still Sturdy,” Business Times, 24 August 1992, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153.
5. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153.
6. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153; “CYC Celebrates 37th Anniversary and Opening of New Branch,” Straits Times, 27 August 1972, 19; “CYC Shirt Specialists,” Straits Times, 27 August 1972, 19.
7. Rajendran, “A Bit Frayed, But Still Sturdy.” 
8. “CYC Celebrates 37th Anniversary and Opening of New Branch;” Rajendran, “A Bit Frayed, But Still Sturdy.” (From NewspaperSG)
9. “CYC Celebrates 37th Anniversary and Opening of New Branch.”
10. Lim, “Shirt Maker CYC Invests in Promotions and Image in Bid to Recapture Market.”
11. Lee Siew Hua, “No More ‘3-for-$10’,” Straits Times, 9 August 1993, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “CYC Celebrates 37th Anniversary and Opening of New Branch.”
13. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153.
14. Francis Chan, “Protecting the Fabric of the Family Firm,” Straits Times, 29 July 2009, 35; “CYC Celebrates 37th Anniversary and Opening of New Branch.” (From NewspaperSG)
15. “CYC Celebrates 37th Anniversary and Opening of New Branch”; Cat Ong, “Shirtfall in Business,” Straits Times, 29 June 1995, 10(From NewspaperSG)
16. Georgie Lee, “Guthrie Acquires New Agencies,” Straits Times, 24 September 1973, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Corinne Kerk, “Sewing Up the Future,” Business Times, 2 March 2022, 14 (From NewspaperSG); Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153.
18. S.V. Suppiah, “5000 Shirts a day is CYC's Target,” New Nation, 11 April 1972, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Oldest Shirt Making Plant Tells of Big New Orders,” Straits Times, 8 April 1974, 6(From NewspaperSG)
20. Rajendran, “A Bit Frayed, But Still Sturdy.” 
21. Kerk, “Sewing Up the Future.”
22. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153.
23. Ong, “Shirtfall in Business.” 
24. Rajendran, “A Bit Frayed, But Still Sturdy.” 
25. Rajendran, “A Bit Frayed, But Still Sturdy.” 
26. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153.
27. Chan, “Protecting the Fabric of the Family Firm.” 
28. Rajendran, “A Bit Frayed, But Still Sturdy.” 
29. Chan, “Protecting the Fabric of the Family Firm.” 
30. Lim, “Shirt Maker CYC Invests in Promotions and Image in Bid to Recapture Market.”
31. Rajendran, “A Bit Frayed, But Still Sturdy.” 
32. Lim, “Shirt Maker CYC Invests in Promotions and Image in Bid to Recapture Market.”
33. Lim, “Shirt Maker CYC Invests in Promotions and Image in Bid to Recapture Market”; Chan, “Protecting the Fabric of the Family Firm”; “Thanks for the Memories,” CYC Taylor, 4 November 2016. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
34. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 153.
35. Kerk, “Sewing Up the Future.”
36. Chai, “Brands Get a Makeover.”
37. Uma Shankari, “Winning Brands That Stayed the Course,” Business Times, 30 August 2005, 8(From NewspaperSG)
38. “CYC Goes Global,” Straits Times, 22 December 2005,  4(From NewspaperSG)
39. Kerk, “Sewing Up the Future”; Chan, “Protecting the Fabric of the Family Firm.” 
40. CYC Taylor, “Thanks for the Memories.”
41. Amanda Chai, “Coronavirus: 3 Local Retail Businesses on Pivoting to Masks, Coveralls to Keep Staff Employed,” Straits Times, 30 April 2020. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)
42. Chai, “Coronavirus: 3 Local Retail Businesses.”
43. Chai, “Brands Get a Makeover.”
44. Chai, “Brands Get a Makeover.”



Further resources
National Library Board, comp., Hands: Gift of a Generation (Singapore: National Library Board Singapore, 2014), 23.



The information in this article is valid as of October 2023 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.


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