The classics like Aesop’s Fables and gothic horror like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde will never get old. We all love stories. “Stories are the fabric of memory which make life entertaining and unexpected,” according to Quanda Ong, founder of Gnome & Bow — a fashion label.
What does the fashion industry know about stories? To Quanda, his brand Gnome & Bow was founded on the very notion that bags can go beyond functionality to become a new medium for storytelling, and evoking the same emotions as our favourite stories. He says, “The Gnome represents that element of fantasy while the Bow symbolises the mark of class.”
Take his bags from The Hare & the Flying Tortoise range for example — the zipper tabs are embossed with ‘race contestants’ (a hare and a tortoise) as well as a Start and Finish line. Look closer and you will notice checkered stitching on the both sides meant to symbolise the iconic black and white checkered flags in racing. Nice touch!
For his Jekyll’s Hyde line, the range of bags and wallets are designed to “showcase the two contending faces of human nature: the rational, reserved side versus the wilder, more spontaneous inner-self.” In other words: very cool reversible bags which are a classic and lustrous nylon on one side, and a matte custom printed cotton canvas when flipped.
“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. Timeless as the stories that inspire us, we believe that our bags should be too,” Quanda explained his fascination to the medium of storytelling.
Let’s Have Some Funds
As with any startup, getting funding is probably one of the first early things to do. In March 2014, Gnome & Bow launched a crowd funding campaign on Pozible to raise $30,000 but three weeks later, they managed to exceed the target and raised $37,561, becoming the largest fashion campaign on Pozible — and in Asia. Not bad for someone who had previously worked in a bank for over two years.
“I realised halfway that it was not for me, so started to think really seriously about my dream of starting my own fashion brand, a thought planted when I was 18. The biggest challenge was going into an industry that I was not familiar with and having to learn everything from scratch. I worked relentlessly at it for 2 years, sourcing, prototyping, designing, marketing, social media, public relations, I managed all that before I could launch the brand,” Quanda shared.
On top of the web store, the brand is now distributed currently in 10 stores around Singapore, including Keepers, The Assembly Store, and Naiise to name a few. “Facebook and Instagram are the largest drivers of growth for our brand. We post on a regular basis and plan a myriad of activities to engage existing and new customers,” he comments.
Local Products, Worldly Ambition
And while there are fashion trends that we will never get (its ‘dropped crotch pants’ for Quanda), Gnome & Bow is bringing classy, and classic back.
His personal favourite pieces from his line are also the ones that have become iconic for the brand. The Cypress Backpack from his debut The Hare & the Flying Tortoise that he picked out is a truly versatile piece that boasts two carrying ways – you can sling it across your back like a backpack or hold it in your hand like a briefcase. Comes with multiple compartments too.
“We believe that a good bag offers you the best of both worlds. The Kensington is the ultimate workhorse that takes you from the boardroom to your adventures around the globe. When reversed, the bag becomes an inseparable companion for your creative pursuits, be it in a café or an art gallery,” Quanda says of the Kensington Messenger of the Jekyll’s Hyde launch.
Gnome & Bow is Quanda’s full-time job now and everyday is different, he says. Of course they have the mandatory team meeting on Mondays but between sorting out emails, online orders, and dealing with suppliers, he embraces each day with a nice mix of creativity and hard work.
“We’re looking to expand our distribution network to countries such as USA, Europe, and Scandinavia. At the same time, we planning new stories to keep our fans fascinated,” he says.
Project Runway: Singapore
With many local designers stepping up their game in Singapore. Quanda also feels that locals are becoming more liberal with their dressing and choice of brands.
“So it’s less of a herd mentality and more of “I want to be me”. That in my opinion is great for our creative scene,” he enthuses.
And there is so much creativity in Gnome & Bow itself. Besides just looking aesthetically pleasing, the story behind the bag, and the brand itself encompasses all things admirable — resilience, imagination, resourcefulness, and feeling — Gnome & Bow is not just a fashion label.
Quanda says, “I’d like to think of Gnome & Bow as not different, but distinct. We created the world’s first series of storytelling bags and wallets. We believe that a good bag or wallet tells a story about you, engaging you both mentally and emotionally.”