Feature

Voila! I wear, I shoot, I sell

By Jane Ng
What makes Viola happy? Spotting people wearing her line of fashion on the streets. Here, we spot the former Hall 13 pageant queen in her own label.
Fashionista Viola Tan has worn many hats, from being a piano teacher to a primary school teacher, but her favourite so far is co-founding online shopping store Love, Bonito.

What began as a blogshop with her sister, Velda, and childhood friend, Rachel Lim, is now a popular online boutique with all of its apparel designed by the founders.

The three owners started by selling their own outfits, before it evolved into a business selling clothes sourced during their travels to places like Bangkok.

The svelte trio gamely posed for pictures wearing the same dresses they were selling, in the process building up a fanbase of loyal customers and followers of their blog, BonitoChico.

Young, working women took a shine to their label and their venture was named “Best Blog Shop” at the Asia-Pacific Blog Awards in 2009.

Spurred by their success, they registered their online shop in 2010, renamed it Love, Bonito, and moved from sourcing apparel to designing them.

“We never studied anything related to fashion and design, so we had to work doubly hard. We studied trends, went for as many runway shows as possible and opened ourselves for travel and inspiration,” says the confident 30-year-old, who holds the post of business development director.

In 2010, Love, Bonito was named “Favourite Online Fashion Store” at the m:idea Youth Choice Awards. Today, it has almost 70,000 “Likes” on its Facebook page and 100,000 fans on its local mailing list.

In October last year, Love, Bonito marked a momentous milestone with a tie-up with haute couturier Julien Fournié. The partnership propelled the label into the international fashion scene.
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From classroom to runway
The eldest daughter of a former insurance agent and bank officer didn’t set out to be a fashion designer.

She studied English and Literature at the National Institute of Education in 2002 under a teaching scholarship from the Ministry of Education, partly to lighten her family’s financial burden as her father had been laid off from his insurance agent job.

That she had really enjoyed teaching piano while studying in the then-Raffles Junior College, helped seal her decision to become a teacher.

Varsity life at NTU was memorable, says the former Hall 13 pageant queen, who used to dress casually on campus because her “hostel was just opposite the school”.

While teaching at Bukit Panjang Primary School, she would get her fill of all things fashion during the school holidays – by travelling and checking out the scene in countries from Cambodia and Maldives to Japan, London and Paris.

“Travel inspired me a lot,” says the once-shy Nanyang Girls’ High School alumnus. “Overseas, the culture is different, and people are not so reserved. When I see someone stylish, I’d go up to the person and ask to take a picture, or ask where they got their outfit or accessory from,” she adds.

These days, strangers come up to her to tell her how much they like Love, Bonito. It’s a nod to her decision in 2010 to quit her teaching job after her bond ended, to concentrate on building the brand.

She has plans to expand the number of lines, which now include swimwear, “petite”, “bridesmaids” and a formal line. Coming up next? A maternity line.

Her family is fully behind her. Her father, who became a taxi-driver after being retrenched, is now the store’s warehouse manager.

Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “It is important to talk to people and make your ideas known. Believe in your dreams, then make sure you work doubly hard to fulfil them."

Reflective words from a young entrepreneur who, at 30, already owns a 3,500 sq ft office and warehouse, and helms a 24-man team.
Viola Tan, a 2006 teaching graduate from NTU, is the co-owner of Love, Bonito, an online fashion retailer with almost 70,000 Facebook fans. She hopes to expand the store’s customer base to include fashion-lovers from all over the region, and is thinking of setting up a brick-and-mortar store in Singapore.