WHAT began as a hobby has turned into a thriving online business for self-taught fashionistas Gerald Shen and Diana Chan.

The pair, who tied the knot last December, started out handmaking pocket squares for Mr Shen's own use and selling the extras online, but strong demand convinced them to set up Vanda Fine Clothing in 2011.

The company now sells pocket squares and neckties, all painstakingly handmade by the couple in a workshop nestled within a Geylang East industrial building.

It has two employees who help with administrative work and sewing. Vanda Fine Clothing sells about 150 ties and 150 pocket squares a month on its online store.

The couple, both 28, source fabric from suppliers in Japan, the United States and Italy, among others.

While their workshop doubles as a showroom on weekends, there are no plans to set up a brick-and-mortar retail outlet, says Mr Shen, who graduated with a double degree in business management and economics from Singapore Management University.

"Ours is a small and niche market that is geographically diverse... We're not targeting the mass market," he says.

"We're catering to a clientele who really appreciates quality and is willing to pay for it."

Neckties range from $125 to $175 while pocket squares cost between $45 and $60.

Most of Vanda's online customers come from the US, Europe, Australia and Britain, with only about 10 per cent of sales from Singapore.

The Asian market has been slower to pick up as "Asians tend to be more brand-conscious and sceptical of smaller brands", notes Mr Shen.

One of the biggest challenges the company initially faced was coming up against established brands and "the perception that old Italian grannies can sew better", he adds.

The company gradually established a reputation through word of mouth and online reviews.

Working together is not always a breeze for the two, who named their company after the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid to reflect their Singaporean heritage.

The pair have had to learn to compromise on issues ranging from the cleanliness of their workshop to more serious business decisions, says Ms Chan, who left a job with a luxury hotel chain to start the company with Mr Shen.

The couple, who met while studying at Meridian Junior College, had never worked together on a major project before starting the business.

"The quarrels that we had in the past were not work-related," Ms Chan adds.

They have had to learn how to keep disagreements about the business constructive, instead of interpreting them as personal attacks, says Mr Shen, adding: "What keeps us sane is the knowledge that we're working towards the same goal."