Love, Bonito co-founder tells us her proudest moments – and it’s got nothing to do with fame or fortune

Viola Tan (left) and Rachel Lim, co- founders of Love Bonito.
The Straits Times

Anyone who knows fashion knows that it is a cut-throat industry that can and will chew you up and spit you out in an instant.

With the fast-changing nature of the business, key figures in fashion need to constantly be on their toes, ever ready to deal with changing winds and shifting sands.

That is perhaps one of the reasons why people who make it in fashion – whether they are models, designers or retailers – are often envied and constantly watched and analysed. It doesn’t matter how old you are, the craziness of fashion can wear you down.

Love, Bonito co-founder Rachel Lim is all too aware of this. In fact, she’s been there before.

Lim, now 30, was just a teen when she started fashion blogshop BonitoChico with longtime friends Viola and Velda Tan.

Rachel Lim (left) and sisters Viola and Velda Tan during their BonitoChico blogshop days in 2010.
The Straits Times

As the business grew, the trio renamed their business Love, Bonito and started designing their own clothes.

Despite the absence of an e-commerce culture in Singapore, the online store evolved into a go-to fashion hub for many young Singaporean women searching for trendy and affordable clothes.

The year 2017 will mark an important milestone for Rachel and Viola (Velda has since left the company) as they launch their very first Singapore flagship store at 313@Somerset on Nov 4.

But the journey from online to offline has not been easy. As the young entrepreneurs learned, the fashion business requires an insane amount of hard work – especially if the business is doing well.

Speaking to Business Insider at the Love, Bonito office in Tai Seng, Lim recalled a point in time when she felt jaded by the madness of it all.

While other young workers were just starting out in their careers, the seasoned fashion leader wondered why she didn’t just get a job with office hours a stable salary.

The turning point

Then in 2014, she agreed to meet with a customer who reached out wanting to share her experience as a supporter of the brand.

When a 24-year-old woman with a shaven head showed up, Lim noticed that this was no ordinary customer. “The whole left side of her body was immobile, and she was walking and talking very slowly,” she said.

Lim then learned that she was sitting in front of a woman who had gone through several brain surgeries and had been in and out of a coma despite her young age.

Recalling the story she heard, Lim said: “She lost everything – her confidence, her hair, her weight… she was so gone.”

Faced with a steep recovery process, the young woman told Lim that she chose to deal with each day by dressing in Love, Bonito clothing because doing so helped to give her the courage to look in the mirror again.

“It hit me that this is why you do what you do – it’s beyond me and it’s bigger than me. This is why we invest so much in perfecting the fit and not scrimping and saving on quality and details just to increase profit margins.

“It really gave me a clear sense of purpose,” she said.

That purpose, as she discovered, completely altered the way she saw her business, so much so that the encounter remains one of her proudest moments till today.

“That was a changing point in Love, Bonito’s journey. We’re totally focused now, not just on churning out clothes, but also in taking a lot of love and care to come up with pieces that would fit us well and flatter our bodies.

“Confidence is just as important as competence. How you feel about yourself dramatically changes the way you’re going to face your day.

“I really want to help women be more confident,” she added.

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Going for bigger and better things

And as the brand continues to thrive in the evolving e-commerce world, it also faces intense competition from other international entrants, many of which are backed by large companies.

But the duo seem ready to tackle these challenges. In fact, the second proud moment she mentions is when she convinced Dionne Song, a former managing director of Zalora and the former regional director of digital marketing at Sephora, to join Love, Bonito.

She said: “It took me six months to court and woo Dionne… It took a lot of wooing and convincing and sharing the vision of the brand, and finally she said ‘yes’.”

Although Song has been the brand’s chief commercial officer for less than six months, Lim already sees her efforts paying off.

“She’s only been here for a couple of months but you can really tell how she’s changing things and forcing us to think bigger,” she told us.

Part of Love, Bonito’s goals for the near future is to expand their business in Southeast Asian markets, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, where they have already set up shop.

Retail is dead? It’s just the beginning

With the opening of the brand’s first flagship store in Singapore, Lim is hoping to take to greater heights her vision of helping women.

“A lot of people say that retail is dead. But for us, boring, traditional and mediocre retail is (what’s) dead. What we really want to bring across with the flagship store is the whole Love, Bonito experience.

“It’s not just about jam-packing each store with as many products possible, and it’s not just about products per square foot or sales per square foot. We’re really focused on the experience per square foot,” she said.

In her vision, the store will provide opportunities for customer engagement and workshops, and be a “powerful touchpoint” to bring the brand’s existing community of women customers together.

While many traditional brick-and-mortar brands are struggling to find their footing in the digital age, Love, Bonito is not afraid of being tied down by the burdens of having a physical store.

“We foresee the future of retail to be both components of offline and online… and we hope to be able to make full use of each touchpoint to our advantage,” Lim said.