Singapore Youth Award Finalist - Rachel Lim

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Rachel Lim

Co-founder Love, Bonito

This co-founder of a homegrown fashion label wants to inspire young women to have confidence, positivity and style.

DOES RACHEL’S STORY INSPIRE YOU? TELL US WHY!

She co-founded a local womenswear brand that has gone from an online shop to physical storefronts across Southeast Asia in less than a decade. Feathers in her hat include the Women Entrepreneur Award, the SME Asia Award and the gong for Best Marketing at the Singapore Fashion Awards. In 2016 Forbes magazine named her on its “30 under 30” list for Asia.

It’s incredible to think that 32-year-old Rachel Lim achieved all this having started out with just $500, and a blogshop she first founded back in junior college — with no fashion background, business qualifications or industry mentors. But what she lacked on paper and in experience, she made up for with sheer drive and determination to see her venture succeed, even if it entailed some tough decisions that (literally) cost a high price. “I dropped out of school in my final year of university to officially launch Love, Bonito in 2010 with my friends Viola and Velda Tan. I had to borrow a five-figure sum from my mum to pay off a bond. That amounted to her life savings,” says Rachel. Adding tremendous pressure was her family’s own financial difficulties at the time. “Having my mum believe in me and take that leap of faith gave me a deep desire to excel so that I could repay her and make her proud,” she says.

To observers, it may have seemed foolhardy. Nonetheless, she soldiered on, holding fast to her belief that the few prior years spent running the blogshop had given her a good understanding of the market, what customers want and the niche her new label could fill. Namely affordable, chic clothing with cuts that flatter the shapes and proportions of Asian women.

THE HIGHS, THE LOWS AND THE TURNING POINT

Nine years down the road, her conviction has paid off. Not only is Love, Bonito one of Singapore’s most popular homegrown fashion labels, it’s now profitable and expanding. And it shows no signs of slowing down. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing the whole way. In 2014, things got tough when one of the partners left the company to pursue other interests. And by 2016 — having thrown herself into the business for six years — Rachel herself was feeling severely burnt out. “Initially, I was fuelled by the excitement and fun of it. But as the team grew, I realised I was not only responsible for helping people put food on the table, but developing their potential as well. During difficult times, this became a burden because I wasn’t just doing it for myself anymore,” she says. “I began to wonder about my purpose and that of the brand. Working 24/7 with no fixed hours or days off can take a real toll on your family and personal life.”

It was during this crisis of faith that she was contacted by a customer asking to meet with her. It turned out to be a young lady who had undergone multiple brain surgeries and was paralysed down the entire left side of her body. Rachel says: “She told me she had lost her weight, her self-belief, her boyfriend — everything. But during her recovery, she chose to put on our clothing whenever she went out because it gave her the confidence to look at herself in the mirror and face the world. When I heard that, I had tears in my eyes and it dawned on me that this is why Love, Bonito exists. This is why we put so much effort, resources and an unreasonable amount of time into perfecting a piece of clothing.”

FROM FASHION TO EMPOWERMENT

Since then, Love, Bonito’s mission has evolved from simply sharing a love of fashion to fulfilling a larger social purpose by empowering women and imbuing them with confidence. The brand’s underlying message: We’re all beautiful in our own way, so don’t compare yourself to others. “As a real woman creating for other real women, I understand that when you look good, you feel good. There’s an immense psychological effect — you stand taller, you speak a little louder,” Rachel explains. “I want to focus on this and put all our resources into helping women discover who they are and be confident by dressing well and dressing right.”

In her personal capacity, she conducts monthly group sessions for women who have contacted her personally via email or social media, creating a support circle where they can share questions and advice. She is candid about her struggles and failures as she feels this can help others learn from her experiences. “I think one of the reasons why I can make an impact is because I’m relatable. I don’t come from a rich family. I’m not a natural-born leader and was never the top student in school. There were a lot of odds I had to overcome. And I truly believe if even I can do it, everyone can,” she says.

Her passion for helping other women stems from her own journey of confronting and accepting her strengths and talents over the course of running her business. “I used to have doubts and compare myself to other leaders I’d see and meet because I don’t have the hard skills leaders are supposed to have. I would dwell on it and be depressed. But I’ve realised we’re not meant to be great at everything. You need to be secure about who you are and what you’re good at,” she says.

It’s not an easy thing to do, she admits, particularly for young people growing up in this age of social media who are constantly bombarded with images of success and glamour to which they compare themselves. She says: “Maybe you don’t know what your purpose is while everyone else seems to have their act together. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay, it takes time to discover. There is more to life than what you see on social media, so don’t take everything there too seriously. “Success is different for everyone and looks different for everyone. It doesn’t mean that mine is shinier or better than yours. To me, success is really about discovering why you were put on this earth and how you can make a difference in the world with everything you have.”

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