INSPIRATION TASTEMAKERS

Rachel Lim N Viola Tan

CO-FOUNDERS

LOVE, BONITO SINGAPORE PTE LTD

(Pulsar Category Overall Winner 2017)

"Fashion is as much about looking good as it is about feeling empowered and confident"

When Rachel Lim and Viola Tan first set up their blogshop on LiveJournal to sell pre-loved clothes to earn pocket money, they had no idea that it would set them on the path of entrepreneurship. At the time, the concept of a blogshop was foreign to most people, and online shopping for clothes was virtually unheard of.

But the online boutique proved popular and soon amassed a significant following, so much so that they soon ran out of pre-loved clothes to sell. Realising that what was initially a pet project was turning into a very promising commercial prospect, the founding team used the profits to import clothes from neighbouring countries to sell. Low operating overheads meant that they could keep costs to a minimum, although that also meant that the maintenance and updating of the site, as well as the logistics of packing and the delivering the clothes, had to be done by themselves. Demand was so high that the duo found themselves struggling to juggle school and work, and so they roped in family members to help with the business.

Seven years ago, the business reached an inflection point where the team decided it was time for a change. Instead of importing clothes, they would design and manufacture their own, resulting in the birth of Love, Bonito as we know it today. “We may not have background in fashion design but we delved into it anyway,” recalls Lim. “What we do possess is a strong understanding of what customers want, so that helps us go against all odds.”

Contrary to popular belief, the company’s name has nothing to do with the delicious Japanese ingredient — ‘Bonito’ in this case is the Spanish word for beautiful.

Lim oversees the company’s branding, marketing, business direction, design, customer relations/engagement, while Tan takes charge of investor relations, operations, finance, as well as business development.

The duo points out that Love, Bonito is more than just a boutique and fast-fashion brand. “Over the years, the business has grown and touched the lives of our customers,” relates 30-year-old Lim. “We constantly hear from women about how our clothes have given them the confidence they need in social and work environments.”

“We believe in [instilling] confidence through style, and we want to be able to help the everyday woman,” says Tan, who turns 33 this year. To that end, Love, Bonito has come up with initiatives such as styling workshops to engage customers and help them assess their body types. The duo shares that every year, they would hold events such as symposiums where inspirational women speakers are invited to share their stories, struggles, failures and successes.

“There was once when a customer wrote to ask if she could meet us,” recalls Tan. “It turned out that she had to undergo brain surgery, which meant she had to shave her head, and the treatment caused her to look sick and gaunt, but every day of the recovery journey she said she was glad she could wear clothes from Love, Bonito because it made her more confident and beautiful.” Stories like this are not uncommon from the company’s customers — many more have written in to express their gratitude, saying that the dresses they wore on first dates and job interviews often earned them compliments and made them feel and look exceptional.
More tangibly, Love, Bonito aims to make a difference in the fast-fashion scene by creating dresses that are designed specifically with the Asian woman’s physique in mind. Plenty of effort and resources invested in R&D has allowed the team to create the perfect fit for Asian women. “People who wear our dresses tell us that they feel the difference,” says Lim. “They may not always be able to put their finger on exactly why they feel that way but we know because we have put in a lot to create the perfect fit; it really brings out the best in a woman’s body.”

To add intrigue, variety and flair to its collections, the brand has also partnered designers and couturiers such as Indonesia’s Tex Saverio and France’s Julien Fournié, resulting in collections that promptly sold out.

Love, Bonito has since expanded to Malaysia and Indonesia, and Lim and Tan are now setting their sights on the Philippines and Cambodia. “We’re still trying to understand the markets in Malaysia and Indonesia, so there’s constant communication with our teams based in the two countries,” says Lim. “We respect cultural differences, so the selection and range of our dresses there tend to be a little more conservative.”

“Building a brand is a very long and arduous journey, and I think we have come quite a long way,” Tan adds. “We are not solely focused on the sale of our products but also on the goals and values that see us to this day, and that translates into helping and inspiring more women to be confident. There is so much more room to grow and so much more potential — as long as our branding is strong, I am certain we will do well in the countries that we wish to enter into.”

The duo ascribes the success of the business to the team’s strong and deep understanding of customers’ needs, and the ability to innovate to stay on the cutting edge of fast fashion. “When we stop innovating, it means we are dying out,” Lim says.

The company’s CSR initiatives are also targeted at women’s charities and organisations helping young women or those afflicted with breast cancer. “One year, we had a fashion show to raise awareness and funds for the Breast Cancer Foundation, where all the models for the show were breast cancer survivors,” Lim shares.

In all that Love, Bonito endeavours, both Lim and Tan make it a point to always remember why they do what they do: “It comes down to touching the lives of women. A lot of discipline is required to not be tempted or distracted by what competitors are doing. We won’t want to lose ourselves in the pursuit of newer customers; we want to stay true to our brand and our identity, even if means taking the long and winding road.”

AWARD JUDGE

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai

Director

Seed Global Investment

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai spent 29 years in the Singapore Armed Forces as a military officer. He rose up to the Army’s top leadership and held numerous key appointments.

The years in the Armed Forces provided him a strong foundation in leadership, human capital management, operational planning, training development and critical diplomatic skills.

He retired from active military service in 2016 and is currently a Director with SEED Global Investment, a real estate investment firm. He oversees the company’s portfolio and business development in the US and UK. He holds a MSc in Applied Finance from the Singapore Management University, and is no stranger to corporate finance, portfolio management, equities, bonds and derivatives.

AWARD JUDGE

TIN PEI LING

Member of Parliament
CEO

Business China

Ms Tin Pei Ling is the Chief Executive Officer of Business China, a non-profit organisation that harnesses the support of the public sector & private enterprises to strengthen the ties between Singapore and China. Prior to joining Business China, Pei Ling was the Group Director of Corporate Strategy for Jing King Group.

Pei Ling is an elected Member of Parliament in Singapore since 2011 and currently serves on the Public Accounts Committee. She also serves on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications & Information (from 2018, Dy Chairperson) and Health (2011 – present) and previously for Law/Home Affairs (2011-2015) and Social & Family Development (2015 – 2018, Dy Chairperson).

AWARD JUDGE

RYAN CHIOH

Managing Director

Faseastflora.com

Mr Ryan Chioh joined FEF.com in 1998 as Executive Director of Far East Flora Holdings Pte Ltd.

Always a firm advocator for technology, Ryan identified the direction for e-commerce development and saw a business opportunity to offer FEF.com’s extensive range of flowers and gifts online in 2001. Ryan blended his IT savviness and prudent business sense to steer the company’s website to become the leading portal for flowers and gifts. Ryan also brought the company to another level by spearheading the development of a CRM and ERP business solution, integrating the front-end and back-end operations so that there would be easier identification of customer base.

AWARD JUDGE

NEO SING HWEE

Asia Pacific, Asean and Singapore Internal Audit Leader, Risk Advisory Services

Ernst & Young

Mr Neo Sing Hwee sits in the EY Asean Partner Governance Council and leads the Advisory (Risk) Internal Audit Practice in Ernst & Young Asia Pacific, Asean and Singapore.

He has more than 20 years of experience in providing risk management, performance improvement, internal controls and business advisory services to clients in various industries, including organisations in the government and public sector such as ministries and statutory boards. He provides advice to Boards and Management on leading practices, insights as well as issues relating to corporate governance, risk management and internal controls.

AWARD JUDGE

DR LIM WEE KIAK, PBM

Member of Parliament
CEO

Eagle Eye Centre

Dr Lim Wee Kiak, is an elected Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC since 2015 and serves as chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth. An Ophthalmologist, Dr Lim is currently the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Eagle Eye Centre.

Dr Lim joined the Singapore Armed Forces as a medical officer in 1994 and completed subspecialty training in Ophthalmology in 1998, with a Master’s degree in Medicine and two post-graduate specialist qualifications in Ophthalmology. During his service in SAF, he led numerous humanitarian missions to neighbouring countries. He joined Singapore National Eye Centre and was awarded the MOH HMDP fellowship in 2003, doing one year of clinical and research Fellowship at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.

Dr Lim had been an active grassroots leader since 1998 before joining politics in 2006. For his active community involvement, he was awarded the Young Executive of the Year in 2000 and Public Service Medal (PBM) in 2003.

AWARD JUDGE

Chew Mok Lee

Assistant Chief Executive
ICM & Digitalisation
Enterprise Services & New Industries

Enterprise Singapore

Ms Chew Mok Lee is the Assistant Chief Executive in charge of ICM & Digitalisation, Enterprise Services & New Industries in Enterprise Singapore, a government agency spearheading enterprise and industry development, reporting to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore. Enterprise Singapore is also the national Standards body in Singapore.

Prior to Enterprise Singapore, Mok Lee was with National Productivity Board (NPB), PSB and SPRING Singapore. She graduated from National University of Singapore, majoring in Economics and Statistics. She has a double Masters and is well versed in the area of enterprise promotion, industry development and partnership building, having been involved in various aspects of capability development, support for local enterprises, enabling a viable enterprise eco-system and entrepreneurship for 29 years. She also served as Secretariat to the Action Community for Entrepreneurship and was responsible for working with the Minister in Charge of Entrepreneurship and private sector members to foster entrepreneurship and support start-ups in Singapore.

AWARD JUDGE

CHIA KIM HUAT

Regional Head
Corporate and Transactional Practice

Rajah & Tann Singapore

Mr Chia Kim Huat has extensive experience in capital market, public and private mergers and acquisitions, cross-border joint ventures and private equity investments, both in Singapore and the region. He travels regularly in the Asia-Pacific region advising clients on a wide range of matters, including direct investments and infrastructure projects in China, major acquisitions in Korea, joint ventures in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan and cross-border mergers and acquisitions transactions. Kim Huat also advises foreign investors on their investments in Singapore, including listings on the Singapore Exchange, privatisations, secondary and dual listings.

He has been recognised as a leading lawyer in his field by International Financial Law Review 1000, Chambers Global “Leaders in their Field”, Asia Pacific Legal 500, “Eminent Practitioner” in Chambers Asia Pacific, Who’s Who Legal: Corporate – Merger & Acquisition/Capital Markets – Debt and Equity and Merger & Acquisition, ‘Leading Lawyer’ in Asialaw Profiles and Best Lawyers, 2017 Edition.

AWARD JUDGE

TAN WEE BENG

Deputy Chief Executive (Operations)
SkillsFuture Singapore

Wee Beng is the Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) of SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). He leads the Business Technology Group (Operations Planning Division, Capability Development Division, Operations & Support Division, Security & Infrastructure Division), the Training, Manpower & Infrastructure Group (Manpower & Infrastructure Planning Division, Office of Lifelong Learning, and Institute of Adult Learning which comprises Learning and Professional Development Division, Research and Innovation Division, Learning Services and Support Division ) as well as the Business Services Group (Shared Services Management, Integrated Business Services Division &, Corporate Services Division).

Prior to joining SSG, Wee Beng was an officer with the Singapore Armed Forces, leading both large and small teams. His last appointment was Chief-of-Staff, Republic of Singapore Navy, overseeing a range of staff departments and ground commands. Other key appointments held were Head Naval Operations, Commander of Maritime Security Task Force and Commander, Naval Diving Unit. Wee Beng holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Physics from Oxford University, UK, and a Master of Science in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.