Revisiting an old dream, Charis Ow has recently co-founded a new clothing brand: Niko & Clare.

You might remember Charis from her days as a singer and Head Mouseketeer at Disney’s Club Mickey Mouse, but these days the bubbly personality is sporting something a little more grown-up on her belt: small business owner.

“I felt like after coming out of Disney, I needed to ‘grow up’. I turned 29 last year and told myself that I couldn’t continue to just create content and be a talent in a kid’s show anymore — it was a bit of a midlife crisis,” she laughs. 

After several business ideas that just didn’t work out, Charis met up with an old friend – Niniek Sugiarti – and rekindled an old dream of owning a clothing brand. Then, Niko & Clare was born. Like most entrepreneurial endeavours, their aim was to fill a gap in the market. In this case, a mother-and-child clothing brand.

Charis Ow and Niniek Sugiarti, founders of Niko & Clare.

As Niniek is a mother herself, she understands the struggles of wanting to dress up in matching outfits with her children: “Matching ‘Mommy and Me’ clothes were either the exact same clothes in different sizes or clothes in the same colour.”

Amidst all this, I settled down to a Zoom call with Charis to have a chat with her on this new life: post-Disney, a new business, and a new chapter in life — Charis recently got married to longtime boyfriend Daryll Tan.

Tell me more about Niko & Clare and how it came to be.

It’s a ‘mommy and me’ clothing brand where we make matching clothes for mothers and their children; boys and girls. Right now, you see a lot of mother-daughter matching clothes. My partner is a mother herself with a cute three-year-old daughter. Her problem was to find matching clothes for special occasions. Usually, when other brands make matching clothes, you either have to custom make it or have an adult-sized and mini-sized version of the same thing.

For myself, after being with Disney for three years, I felt like I needed to grow up. I’m already 29 and I felt like I can’t just continue creating content or being a talent in a kid’s show anymore. It was kind of a mid-life crisis. I had some business ideas in mind that didn’t work out, then I met up with Niniek.

I said to her, “Let’s start something together. What do you want to solve?”

She told me about this problem and I thought, let’s go for it. I’ve always wanted to have a clothing brand but I never had the guts to do it. I didn’t think I was capable of it because firstly, I didn’t have a design background. I don’t know the technicality of making a dress. My learning curve when I started this business since last August was so steep! Building the brand right up to its launch has been a great journey, and now we’ll have to learn how to operate the business as it’s running.

I noticed that it's not just mother-and-daughter clothes, there are also little boys' outfits from the brand.

We had trouble with designing matching boys’ clothes at first. In fact, we even thought to maybe just start off with little girls’ clothes, but we also do have a lot of friends who only have sons; no daughters. We didn’t want to single them out and most brands do father-and-son only outfits. Hence, we thought to also create mother-and-son outfits. I hope mothers with only sons will appreciate this!

What's in your debut collection, to start with?

We’re starting small because we’re currently bootstrapping with no investors. The first collection is called “We Celebrate ____” and it’s very dreamy with matching textures, ruffles, ribbons and bows with spring and summer-inspired palettes. The collection has an adult top and skirt, a mini dress for girls and a mini shirt for boys that come in three colours: scarlet, powder blue, and dusty pink.

The adults’ pieces work great as a standalone even if you don’t have kids to play dress-up with. (Image credit: Niko & Clare)
What were your challenges in setting up this brand?

(laughs) So many! It’s really different when you have your own brand. I’ve been a content creator for the past 10 years and I am my own brand, but with Niko & Clare I have to have a specific tone or voice when we post things, who we approach to collaborate with — these are things I learned along the way.

All these challenges, however, taught me to be patient with things beyond my control. Personally, I’m a control freak and I micromanage, but for this, I just had to trust the process. I guess this is what 2020 really taught me and many other people.

But otherwise, I’m really thankful for Niniek. She has been very patient. She actually has a regular job and a kid, yet she has been with me for every meeting. She still makes time while juggling her nine to five and a family.

(Image credit: Niko & Clare)
This new business venture aside, how has the past year been treating you?

Thank God I still managed to get married. (laughs) It was a simple but beautiful celebration. But yes, I think 2020 was very challenging. I still count my blessings, though. I never would have imagined that I’d start my own clothing line, because a lot of people told me it was competitive. Even my close friends who have clothing businesses themselves told me that it would be hard work. I’ve always been afraid and I never believed I could do it. So when we saw the photos and the results of this first collection, I saw that it really was possible — if you work hard enough, it can happen.

The Niko & Clare “We Celebrate ____” debut collection launches today on NikoandClare.com

PohNee Chin
Editor, Kuala Lumpur
Poh Nee is the editor and writes about travel and drinks. When she's not living out her holiday dreams via Google Earth and sipping on an Old Fashioned down at the local bars, you can find her snug at home bingeing on Netflix and mystery fiction.