By the SMU Social Media Team
Singapore is buzzing with stories of “technopreneurs”, fintech start-ups, app-creators – the media darlings of the digital age. But what if you’re an entrepreneur with a great non-tech idea? How do you make yourself heard above all the tech-noise and get investors to take you seriously? SMU School of Economics alumnus Quanda Ong has done just that with a unique concept and approach to craftsmanship in the fashion industry.
His label, intriguingly named Gnome & Bow, was founded on the notion that bags can go beyond their everyday use and become a new medium for storytelling.
“The Gnome represents that element of fantasy while the Bow symbolises the mark of class,” explains Quanda, “Together, the harmony of these elements guides us in our design philosophy. Drawing inspiration from the classics to tales of fancy, we develop story elements that are imbued seamlessly into our goods. As with reading a book for the first time, exploring our products will uncover subtle and clever details that reveal a story you’ll find familiar, but with a modern twist.”
Quanda, who quit a promising career in banking to follow his passion for fashion, says his philosophy is that even functional goods should have a character that is an extension of their user’s personality. And while his inspiration comes from storytelling and fantasy, he has achieved success in this most fickle of industries with a very pragmatic business strategy. Gnome & Bow is grounded in robust business fundamentals, says Quanda, the same as would apply to any brand in any industry, “The two questions I know must be answered with absolute conviction are – what is the unique selling point? And how scalable is my unique selling point?
“For Gnome & Bow, the concept is truly the first of its kind in the world. Bigger brands will always have an edge in terms of marketing and reach, but we do well carving our very own niche and amassing a following that has been seeking exactly this, or converting new followers who never thought something like this could exist.”
And in terms of scalability, Quanda is confident that his storytelling concept creates infinite possibilities for the brand and consumers both now and well into the future.
Securing funding is a common stumbling block for fledgling enterprises, but not so for a determined Quanda, who got his venture off the ground with an intensive crowd funding campaign in March 2014, five months after Gnome & Bow was launched. He threw his heart and soul into it and surpassed his target of S$30,000 in just two weeks, “It was almost like preparing for a performance, because once the show starts there’s no turning back and no room for errors. What worked best was really constant hard work to keep the hype up during the campaign and utilising various platforms to gain maximum reach. For instance, I made it a point to have an event each week of my campaign to promote our brand to fresh eyes. It paid off tremendously, but was also the most taxing.”
Fintech start-ups may be making the most noise in Singapore right now, but far from finding this a barrier to success as a start-up from a very different sector, Quanda says technology complements the fashion industry well. And, unsurprisingly, the Gnome & Bow Team has readily embraced it to help improve their products – from design, sourcing and manufacturing, all the way to sales and marketing, “Technology has changed the way fashion businesses are managed in a hugely positive way, so I don’t see a need to stand out in the booming tech industry. Rather, tech and fashion are the best partners in business. Tech makes something cool, fashion makes it irresistible.”
Technology is also helping Gnome & Bow expand into new markets. Quanda says he has a global view and focuses a large portion of his resources on the Gnome & Bow website to maximise its reach and potential. The team is also regularly on the lookout for suitable distributors who are able to represent the brand overseas.
In order to thrive as a business and stand out from other brands, Quanda spends a lot of time thinking about his customers – what excites them, what makes them tick, and how to make his product stand out from similar items by other brands. He says feedback is fundamentally important on everything from design and form to colour and materials. And authenticity, in his view, is the key to achieving a loyal following, “Ultimately, I believe that it’s staying true to our one-of-a-kind ‘Talesmithing” ways, weaving stories into tangible goods in a meaningful and seamless way, helps us stay competitive in the long run and gain a loyal following.”
Quanda says both he himself, and the Gnome & Bow brand have been shaped by his experience at SMU, “I especially appreciate the competitive spirit that makes everyone work harder and work smarter. I’m glad I managed to balance academics with gaining real work experience and gaining worldly outlook. It was a wholesome 3.5 years.”
And for anyone reading this, thinking about taking the plunge to follow a personal passion, Quanda says there’s no better time than now. And he’s very kindly shared his own tried and tested three-step strategy to success:
- Do your homework. Knowledge is power.
- Ask for honest opinions from as many people as possible. Be open-minded and observe your reactions to their views. Do you feel compelled to or are you able to defend your idea, every single time? Better still, are you able to convince them of your idea and gain their support? This exercise was infinitely useful for not only putting Gnome & Bow to the test, but also the conviction to my cause. You have to want it that bad.
- Always remember your business’s Unique Selling Point and Scalability. You will be asked countless times and each time, make sure you respond without a doubt.