Young entrepreneurs often benefit from the guidance of a mentor. But for Rachel Lim, it was books, and people, that taught her how to run a business. “When I started Love, Bonito, I didn’t have a chance to work under someone nor did I graduate from any business school,” says Lim, the 31-year-old co-founder who dropped out of university at 19 to build the home-grown womenswear label with co-founder Viola Tan and former co-founder Velda Tan.
The self-starter’s avid consumption of business and leadership books appears to have paid off. In 2016, she was honoured in the inaugural Forbes Asia “30 Under 30” hall of fame, placing her alongside other such young luminaries as Carousell co-founder Quek Siu Rui and Lai Chang Wen, co-founder of logistics provider Ninja Van.
For a business that began with $500, the fast fashion brand has since grown from an online blogshop outfit to one with a full-fledged e-commerce site, 120-strong headcount, and 17 retail outlets in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia. In February this year, the brand raised US$13 million (S$18 million) in a Series B funding round led by Kakaku.com – one of Japan’s largest comparison shopping sites – and existing investor NSI Ventures, a welcome injection fuelling its entry into Hong Kong next year.
Along with Love, Bonito’s expansion, Lim’s responsibilities have grown beyond marketing, branding and design. These days, community building, content production and customer service – areas targeted at growing the brand to the next level – fall within her remit.
While the e-commerce arm of the business allows her to analyse the buying behaviour of her customers, she believes in keeping her ear close to the retail floor. “Data can tell you what’s selling but being on the ground tells you why something is not selling and what the customer is looking for,” she says.
“Community has been really key for us,” adds Lim, an aspect which she builds on by leaning into the millennial consumer’s taste for authenticity. “Women want a brand that is authentic and honest, not just one that sells to them… there is a lot of competition and, at some point, it’s not just a price game.”
Thus, beyond styling workshops, the brand also conducts women’s interest talks revolving around topics such as motherhood, “real issues that society perhaps doesn’t talk about as much”, says Lim.
While she has been focused on empowering the consumer, her own journey has not been without its fair share of struggles. “For a long time, I didn’t feel like I fit in as a traditional leader,” she shares. Indeed, if clothes maketh a man (a woman in this case), her outfit for this interview – a white long-sleeved top, dark blue jeans, black baseball cap and casual slip-on shoes – is hardly the corporate uniform of a business leader.
“In a world where society and the media paint a picture of what success or beauty looks like… I’m still going through a journey of discovering, accepting and working towards becoming the best version of myself,” she says. With 106,000 followers watching every perfectly filtered photo, outfit and motivational quote posted on her Instagram account (@ms_rach), Lim is constantly in the limelight.
Away from the public eye, Sundays remain a sacred space. “Aside from going to church and spending time with my family, I recharge by shutting myself off from the world to read and learn,” says Lim. “My work days are long, so it’s very important for me to have the discipline to recharge and relax.”
01 MY FAVOURITE FOOD is my mother’s homemade soups. They are the most heart-warming and comforting dishes.
02 I ENJOY HIIT WORKOUTS because it is effective. It challenges me mentally and physically. Beyond building muscle, it helps to build tenacity and grit – which helps me in my daily life.
03 I LOVE LONDON. I love the city’s energy and really enjoy hanging out there.