Exclusive Interview with Rachel Lim Co-founder of Love, Bonito

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Love, Bonito is Singapore’s fashion powerhouse that started from a blogshop called Bonito Chico in 2005 and has grown into a multimillion-dollar fashion brand. It is also the largest vertically integrated, omni-channel women’s fashion brand in the region today.

The company has a staff strength of 150 people across the region and has expanded overseas to Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Hong Kong. After launching their very first Singapore flagship store at 313@Somerset on November 4, 2017 by the two founders, Rachel Lim and Viola Tan, and the second store was opened at Jem in late 2018. Love, Bonito has launched its third and largest physical store at 6,008 square feet located at the newly-revamped Funan mall this year. 

The new store features a more feminine and intuitive layout that portrays the best of the brand’s ‘phygital’ offering through a bigger community space, more photo-worthy spots like an infinity mirror room, an Augmented Reality (AR) walkway, and personal stylists on demand.

Our editorial team speaks to Rachel Lim Co-founder of Love, Bonito where she shares more with us about her entrepreneur journey, community engagement and future plans. We are sure many are familiar with Rachel Lim, one of the most well-known female entrepreneurs in Singapore’s fashion scene. She was listed on Forbes’ “30 under 30 Asia” in 2016. She has a heart to help and engage the community and to empower women in every part of their lives. Love, Bonito has been rolling out workshops that span from health, wellness, beauty and fashion. To find out more about the upcoming workshops/events, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.sg/o/love-bonito-18253428801 

Exclusive Interview with Rachel Lim Co-founder of Love, Bonito

1) Please share with us more about your background, how and when did you develop your interest in the fashion industry?

Rachel Lim: Like most women, I’ve always had a love for fashion and enjoyed dressing up. Fashion continues to be captivating to me because it isn’t just a frivolous, superficial pursuit – here at Love, Bonito, we believe dressing well has an immense psychological effect – when you look good, you feel good, you stand taller, you speak a little louder and that’s the kind of confidence and spirit we hope to offer our customers. The fashion industry is the vehicle by which we reach out to communities of women and journey alongside them.

2) What inspired you to set up Love, Bonito? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

Rachel Lim: Love, Bonito started off as Bonito Chico, a blogshop that was put together by a group of friends selling our pre-loved clothes. Back then, it was simply a way for us to earn pocket money, and we never expected it to take off as successfully as it did. But soon enough, the blogshop had amassed such a significant customer base that we were constantly selling out.

I think that was when we realised that this little blogshop had the potential to be more. Beyond that, I could never shake the feeling that all the clothes we were selling didn’t quite fit us right – they weren’t made for an Asian physique or proportion. We noticed that the fashion industry was filled with mainstream, mass market brands that produced for all, lacking distinct personality and designed mostly for Western or European women.

That’s how Love, Bonito came to be and that’s who we are today, with a mission to become the most thoughtful brand made for the modern Asian woman, offering her differentiated, refreshing experiences online and offline, and through the affordable, stylish clothing we create with cuts that flatter the shapes and proportions of Asian women.

3) What were your biggest challenges starting out Love, Bonito and how did you overcome them?

Rachel Lim: Back then, because Love, Bonito had grown so fast so quickly, I made the decision to drop out of university at 19 to fully commit to building the business. It was a huge leap of faith for me.

I had no one to work under or to learn from, nor did I graduate from business school. I would say my biggest challenge was not the lack of experience, but the lack of confidence – self-doubt was a huge obstacle to overcome.

It’s been 10 years and every mistake I’ve made, every setback I’ve experienced and lesson I’ve learnt has taught me so much. I’ve found that knowing yourself inside-out is so important – this forms the bedrock of your decisions, especially when it comes to choosing the (right) type of people you bring onboard to fulfil your company’s mission, at the various stages of growth. When you truly know yourself, you embrace your strengths and accept your shortcomings: that’s when you can find the right people; people who are different from you, smarter, even, but aligned in values and direction.

4) Can you share with us more about your new store, what made you choose Funan mall as your third flagship store and what can customers look out for when they visit the new store?

Rachel Lim: Our new store at Funan presented yet another opportunity for us to explore how we can more meaningfully connect our shoppers with our brand. The offline space may be crowded, but not everyone is offering a differentiated retail experience: with Funan, we thoughtfully considered how to make our shoppers feel like they matter when they walk in our store.

Beyond the experiential touchpoints of the infinity mirror room and the AR walkway, we are also rolling out features like Click & Collect, Omni Returns and Endless Aisle which not only contribute to a one-of-a-kind in-store experience, but also complete the seamless, omni-channel experience that modern female shoppers desire. We are optimistic about how these new concepts can help bring to life the idea of a ‘phygital’ retail playground where shopping can be a refreshing, contextualised and personalised experience.

Beyond developing our omni-channel retail offerings, we also want to continue meaningfully connecting with our shoppers and connecting them to a community of other like-minded women around them. So at the heart of the store is a new and improved space for community engagement. We have kickstarted a rejuvenated calendar of events spanning the core pillars of fashion and beauty, extending into areas of health and wellness like mindfulness workshops.

5) What advice do you have for women out there who want to start their own business?

Rachel Lim: First and foremost, you really need to have a clear purpose. Being an entrepreneur is oftentimes over-glamorised by the media, as there are a lot of difficulties that come with running your own start-up from the ground up. When the going gets tough, it’s purpose that will keep you going.

Secondly, do your market research, and build a brand that is authentic and honest. Building a business is not always about the numbers. The industry is competitive and crowded, and it’s authenticity that truly stands out and speaks to consumers. It’s also the meaningful relationships that you build with your consumers that will give your business the support it needs. That will give your brand a strong sense of authenticity and identity.

Finally, recognize that being a leader isn’t an easy feat, and there will be times where you’ll doubt yourself. But know that no one is perfect and that’s okay. Learn to understand your strengths and embrace your weaknesses. This will give you the opportunity to connect with others, and to surround yourself with people who can complement you and uplift you.

Hard work, purpose and identity – these three things will take you far.

6) Managing inventory is often a challenge for most businesses. Do you have any advice to share?

Rachel Lim: Even from the very beginning when the business had just started, I learnt the importance of tracking and keeping a record of all products in our inventory & their details (cost, factory information, necessary dates, etc). It is also important to constantly audit your inventory – the frequency varies for each business. It is vital to know exactly how much you have in supply at any point in time.

7) We understand that Love, Bonito is really focused on engaging the community and empowering women in every part of their lives. In July, the workshops conducted will span from health, wellness, beauty and fashion. What are some of the workshops, past, present and coming workshops that you would like to highlight and share with us?

Rachel Lim: There are many, but a more recent community event that really warmed me was the one we organised for Mother’s Day, pulling together industry experts to share their own experiences grappling with the cagey, dicey topics of motherhood that we’ve always skirted around. For instance, we invited a certified counsellor and psychiatrist to share her knowledge on the issue of postpartum depression, a topic we often sweep under the carpet. It was a chance for the mothers to open up and share, confide in each other and by the end of it, everyone was crying. Creating a safe space for women to discover, embrace and become the best version of themselves is exactly why Love, Bonito exists.

All the above images credit to Rachel Lim and Rachel Lim’s instagram @ms_rach

8) You are an inspiration and a role model to many. Please share with us how do you keep yourself motivated, how do you manage your time for family and business and any advice or success tips that you would like to share with our readers?

Rachel Lim: To be honest, it’s easy to stay motivated because the Love, Bonito team inspires me daily. Speaking to our customers also reminds me why we do what we do – when I hear a customer share how putting on a Love, Bonito piece gave her a boost of confidence to go for her first interview, or to dress up and feel beautiful again after her body has gone through pregnancy, it reminds me why we put so much effort, resources and an unreasonable amount of time into perfecting a piece of clothing.

Another important factor is discipline – it’s important to find a routine that works for you, and to always make time for yourself and your family. Besides work and setting aside quality time for my family and friends, I also make sure I give myself time to rest, read and learn new things. I also try my best to work out every morning before heading to work. These things keep me going and growing.

9) What are the future/ expansion plans for Love, Bonito and do you intend to come up with kids’ and men’s wear?

Rachel Lim: Our vision is to create for every moment of a woman’s life, and that includes the journey of motherhood, providing her with all that she needs for before, during, and after pregnancy. Our goal is to eventually become that one-stop shop for the modern Asian woman to serve all her needs, and as for kids’ wear – you’ll have to stay tuned to find out more 😉

We want to continue to deliver fashion that caters to a diverse range of women – whether its across different size ranges, or category and product ranges.

Also, other than our Funan store that was opened last month, we recently opened our first store in Hong Kong! So right now, we’re focused on our commitment to our customers around the region in delivering quality clothes and creating meaningful experiences.

10) Lastly, you have such a hectic schedule, having to juggle with so many things and you look gorgeous! What are some of your favourite beauty, skincare and fashion tips that you would like to share with our readers who are busy working women and mothers on looking good and taking care of themselves?

Rachel Lim: Drink lots of water. I drink A LOT of water and I think it helps that I keep my body (and hence skin) hydrated. I try to mask at least once a week – I know I need to work on masking more but baby steps! I also try my best to ensure that I work out at least 3-4 times a week!

To find out more about Love, Bonito, please visit its website at https://www.lovebonito.com/


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