What it takes to run a fashion startup in Southeast Asia, according to Love, Bonito's Rachel Lim
From online to offline
Founded back in 2005 when fashion blogshops were riding high with the Singaporean market, Love, Bonito (previously named Bonito Chico) started as a brainchild of co-founders Rachel Lim, Viola Tan and Velda Tan. Shortly after, the business garnered an increasing pool of customers who loved the idea of shopping for stylish threads without busting a hole in the pocket. In 2010, the label rebranded itself as Love, Bonito, selling their own designs that are "created by real women for real women" on its official website after achieving a profitable success as a blogshop.
Eight years later, Love, Bonito has expanded its market regionally, with 13 stores across Southeast Asia including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia, and most recently, a flagship boutique in Singapore at [email protected] — incidentally the first retail store in its home country. In the spirit of our #BuroBossGirl month this March, we reached out to co-founder Rachel Lim, who heads the branding and product design at Love, Bonito, to quiz her on her journey thus far as an entrepreneur and a few lessons that aspiring fashion designers will find useful:
How do you constantly get design inspiration every season?
All designs launched are designed by the Love, Bonito design team in Singapore. The team constantly draws inspiration from anything and everything — including international trends, travel, interior design, and most importantly, the people and beauty that is always around us. Of course, we always ensure that we take inspiration from the right trends that are suitable for our target audience.
Love, Bonito is known for its "Asian fit" — how was the process like behind scoring the perfect fit?
It didn't happen overnight, that's for sure. That took us years of consistent studying, tweaking, and monitoring. We went through a lot of trial and error, as well as a lot of adjusting and re-adjusting to get that fit.
Your womenswear label first started out as a digital-only brand — what were some of the challenges that you faced from the beginning?
People did not have an understanding of the quality and fit of our pieces of clothing, which is our key USP (unique selling proposition). When Love, Bonito first launched online (as a blogshop, in fact), there were some obstacles as well because people were not as receptive to online shopping at that point in time — brick and mortar fashion shops still had the upper hand.
Love, Bonito has expanded to four countries with both online and retail presence. What are some of the challenges in expanding in a new country and tapping into a new market?
Each country is very different in terms of culture and taste. A lot of effort has to be spent into getting to know each market well but we always keep track of what each country's demographic's demands are like, and try our best to cater to that.
As a #BossGirl, how do you empower/motivate your employees and even your clientele?
I think as a leader, it is important to always be humble and open to feedback and suggestions. I ensure that I am constantly growing and always make the effort to listen to my employees. An essential aspect of empowering my employees and clientele is to always find out the goals and motivations of each and every one of them, and to support them in their own journey of growth.
What are you most proud of thus far, as the founder of Love, Bonito?
We are in a great position and time to make a real difference to women around us.
What is some career advice you can give a budding fashion designer and entrepreneur who is interested in the fashion industry?
It's really important to partner up with the right person to achieve your dreams. For example, if you are a creative person, collaborate with someone who can complement you on the business side of things to drive your brand together.
What is the best entrepreneurial advice you've received?
One thing I have learnt in this journey is that, it's all about the battle between you and your mind. If you overcome this mental battle then you can achieve anything you set your heart and mind to.
What is your personal mantra?
Stay focused on your journey and run your own race at your own time. We are each meant to succeed and make a difference in our own ways.
Who is a female role model who has inspired you over your career?
Definitely my mum. Despite going through extremely difficult times throughout her life, she never lost her positivity and optimistic belief that things will get better. I do believe that things did look up because of this mindset she had.
What does your ideal day off look like?
The best off days are when I get to spend my time reading a good book and reflecting.
Please share with our readers a few style tips that you find always handy.
Over the years, I have learnt that no matter what you should always choose clothing that you are comfortable in rather than forcing yourself into something which is not representative of your own personal style or comfort levels. As long as you are comfortable with pulling off even the craziest of trends, your confidence shines through naturally.
Fashion trends wise, what do you think will take off this year?
Bold prints and bright colours. It's all about embracing vivid hues and motifs this season.
What are you most excited for Love, Bonito next?
The next thing we're focused on is to expand our influence in current markets as well as reach out into new and different markets to appeal to as many women as possible.