Debbie Soon on starting a jewellery brand at 25

Singaporean fashion jewellery brand, The Starry Co. is the brainchild of 25-year-old Debbie Soon, wife to Jianhao Tan, who is a fellow entrepreneur, popular YouTuber, and CEO of Titan Digital Media. 

Back in polytechnic, Debbie pursued a diploma in Hotel Management. However, she later realised that it was a far cry from her passion in creating and designing. That’s when she took the plunge to make the switch to take up Product Design, and used the relevant skills and knowledge to kickstart her entrepreneurial journey.

Following her love for creation, she set up an online business called The Woof Barkery in 2017, dedicated to pet cakes. Later in 2020, she started up yet another business venture, called The Starry Co., which specialises in fashion jewellery.

I didn’t start out intending to become a full-fledged entrepreneur, but I wanted to create sparkly and timeless products, especially when I saw there were others who really love jewellery like me.

– Debbie Soon, founder of The Starry Co.

The spark that started the business

The Starry Co. produces locally-designed diamond simulant pieces for everyday wear that are both inclusive and sustainable.

The name stems from Debbie’s love of stargazing, hence encompassing the words ‘star’ and ‘sparkly’. It is also inspired by her daughter’s name, Starley, making them both her “two babies”.

Debbie Soon with daughter Starley, featuring Starry Jewellery / Image Credit: The Starry Co.

“Being a very clumsy and forgetful person who often misplaces her belongings, I was fearful of eventually losing high-value and sentimental items like my diamond jewellery. I then decided to look for an alternative that will provide the same look and feel without the hefty price tag,” explained Debbie.

Establishing her own business also meant that she would be able to provide beautiful jewellery for anyone who shared her sentiment, and provide them with a guilt-free jewellery shopping experience.

Two core values: quality and sustainability

The research and development (R&D) process behind every startup is key in the success of any endeavour. According to Debbie, she works closely with her team to ensure high standards of quality production. 

Her design inspiration comes from her surroundings — the latest trends and seasons, as well as feedback from friends and customers. She takes into consideration any suggestions they might have, and incorporates them as part of the designs.

Starry Co's Classic Collection
Starry Co.’s classics, Hooked On You Collection / Image Credit: The Starry Co.

Running through The Starry Co.’s process, Debbie says: “All of our jewellery is designed in-house by myself and my team. We go through many hours of designing and multiple drafts before sending our final designs to our manufacturer. After which, they will create moulds and send over samples of our jewellery for us to vet. We will then pick the most suitable pieces for the collection and place the order for manufacturing.”

Upon receiving the inventory, Debbie and her team will conduct a thorough quality check on all their pieces before putting them up for sale.

Aside from her attention to detail, Debbie also prioritises sustainability, using only diamond simulants instead of mined diamonds.

The social and environmental impact of irresponsible diamond mining is adverse. In some cases, mining is illegal, conjuring the infamous term ‘blood diamonds’. Said practices are severely exploitive to diamond miners, and many have lost their lives to this.

Irresponsible diamond mining has also caused soil erosion, deforestation, and in turn, cause disastrous effects on wildlife.

diamond simulant
Close-up of a diamond simulant / Image Credit: Eclat by Oui

Diamond simulants are also perceived to be fragile and not as sturdy as a real diamond, or not as shiny and sparkly.

Debunking the misconception, she explains: “If you want to compare a natural diamond to a diamond simulant, on the Mohs scale [of mineral hardness], a simulated diamond is an eight, while a natural diamond is a 10. It’s not too far apart.”

Furthermore, although a diamond simulant has different physical properties and chemical structures as a natural diamond, it looks almost optically similar at a much more affordable price tag.

Beating the internal and external challenges

Unlike other jewellery brands, The Starry Co. is a purely e-commerce business. This stems from Debbie’s strong affiliation with e-commerce, and she is also an avid online shopper who appreciates the convenience.

She wanted to translate this via her brand, making her products available to everyone with a single click of a button. However, going online is not as easy as it sounds.

Due to the nature of the business, Debbie was unable to allow customers to physically look and touch their jewellery, which leads to customers not being able to accurately measure their ring sizes.

She eventually came up with the solution of a printable measurement guide — customers could print the size measurement guide, cut it out, and make their very own ring sizer.

starryco printable ring size chart
A screenshot of The Starry Co.’s printable size guide for customers / Image Credit: The Starry Co.

Furthermore, launching a jewellery business in an already saturated market proved to be yet another obstacle for Debbie. To ensure that The Starry Co. would continue to make its own mark in the market, she focused on the minute details of each jewellery piece.

In addition to the business challenges Debbie faced, she had her own internal struggles.

The biggest struggle I had was the fear of starting a business all by myself from scratch, with little to no knowledge. I think I constantly had self-doubt before launching my first collection. I never had prior knowledge about how to manage a jewellery business.

I also worried about not being able to make money from this venture. However, all these doubts and concerns were things that made me want to work extra hard on myself, my brand, and what I want to strive for in the long run.

– Debbie Soon, founder of The Starry Co.

She attributes her motivation to her husband, who has been both encouraging and supportive throughout the journey.

As a successful CEO of a big company, Jianhao guided Debbie along the way and gave her advice on how to improve the business, as well as provided tips on how to leverage social media to build her brand.

She broke even in just a week

Successfully conquering her doubts, Debbie invested a five-figure sum into her Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) and had an initial target to break even over a period of five months.

She surpassed her targets, surprising herself when the brand managed to break even after only a week. Additionally, The Starry Co. achieved six-figure sales within the first four months.

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t dampen her spirits either. In fact, e-commerce saw a boom during the pandemic, as consumers increasingly opted for online shopping.

She took the chance to engage with her customers and gradually built a close community of customers who shared the same love for her products.

Debbie also used her reach to advocate causes that matter to her.

starry co fundraiser
“Furever and Always” necklace / Image Credit: The Starry Co.

“I had the honour of participating in a fundraiser for a local animal advocate organisation, Hope for Animals. Together, we raised a four-figure amount of donations from our “Furever and Always” necklace launch.”

The piece she created in honour of the fundraiser was also dedicated to her late dog Yo-yo, and Debbie holds the piece close to her heart. Being able to utilise their platform to spread awareness and talk about dogs that were ready to be adopted and re-homed, the project was extra special and meaningful to her. 

Left to right: Starry.co’s Ariel ‘Under the Sea’ collection, Cinderella Sparkling Carriage Necklace / Image Credit: The Starry Co.

Another celebrated milestone is their newest partnership with Disney. It allowed The Starry Co. to release the first-of-its-kind jewellery modelled after iconic Disney princesses, with prices ranging from S$98 to S$118.

“Working with Disney was like a dream come true. I’m so thankful that the team at Disney believed in my small startup. The whole process of our Disney Princess Collection was a year in the making.”

In the future, Debbie wants to continue creating and spreading beauty through jewellery, with quality at the heart of it. She also plans to launch a subsidiary line, Starry Kids, and eventually work towards launching wedding and men’s jewellery. 

Ultimately, her main goal is to convey to aspiring young business women that it is possible to make business dreams, no matter how ambitious it seems, into a reality.

Featured Image Credit: The Starry Co.