Quanda Ong: Founder of Gnome and Bow

Remember the stories you used to read as a kid? Timeless tales like Aesop’s Fables or the Three Little Pigs – these are stories that never grew old; classics that continue to live through each generation.

What if design could do this as well? An incorporation of elegance with a touch of quirky to convey classic stories through classy pieces, makes for a truly enduring work of art.

Wallets Packaging_2Joining the growing family of Singaporeans forsaking their comfortable jobs for the uncomfortable adventure of pursuing their passions, Quanda is a person who takes his life into his own hands, with a (very) stylish bag in tow, of course. Aspen Navy Lifestyle 2_port

Giving up his banking job to start a men’s accessories label with absolutely no designing background, one can certainly see why Tiger UNCAGE  has chosen Quanda to be its latest ambassador.

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Meet the brainchild of his endeavours: Gnome and Bow. Striving to transcend mere functionality, his products each tell a story, and by fusing together elements of elegance and fantasy, allow its wearer to be a classy gentleman – who still has an element of whimsy within him. The thoughtfully designed and carefully made products are the result of Quanda’s aim for perfection – of which he will leave no stone unturned for: from sourcing ceaselessly for the right supplier to countless prototypes for each design; his efforts ensure the right fit for each wearer.

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They say that people are the sum of their stories, and it is certainly easy to feel Quanda’s infectious zeal for life, whose work both continuously creates and reinvents stories: yours, mine, and his.  Why not be your own storyteller today?

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Tell us a little more about how Gnome and Bow started.

I got my first job in the bank right after graduating from school, thinking that it was something I wanted. Halfway through though, I realised that it was the kind of job that I liked, but didn’t love, unlike fashion – which was something I always felt and had a keen eye for. While still in the bank, I started conceptualising Gnome and Bow, and it wasn’t until we managed to raise enough money through crowdfunding that it finally became a reality.

Your products aim to go beyond functionality to act as a medium for storytelling and imagination – how do your designs incorporate this?

Our products are very story-driven, as you can tell from the name behind each collection. Our first collection “The Hare & The Flying Tortoise” for example, have bags that feature an intricate zipper detail that convey the fable quite succinctly. Our second collection “Jekyll’s Hyde” features two-toned accessories that represent the two different identities that can reside in an individual, much like the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Our products go beyond just serving their purposes, instead also becoming a medium for the wearers to both express and experience stories that may resonate with them.

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Where do you get your inspiration from?

Anywhere and everywhere actually! But mostly on the plane though, when I’m on sourcing trips.

What were the initial reactions to your decision of starting Gnome and Bow?

Initially my dad was furious with me (we had a cold war that lasted for 3-4 weeks); he didn’t understand why I couldn’t start Gnome and Bow on the side while I still had a ‘proper’ job, and being a businessman himself, he knew how risky this whole venture could be. There were plenty of other naysayers as well, but the thing with entrepreneurship is that you have to have the strength and willpower to stick it out, and to believe in your own ideas and decisions. Now however, I’ve managed to get the support of family and friends, and my dad is always supporting me the best that he can.

What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced? 

Wow this is a really hard question because there were so many! It would probably be production and sourcing. Sourcing because being so new to the industry, we were literally ‘ikan bilis’ back then, and had to figure out how to navigate through the waters with other bigger fishes, sharks and even whales. Production, because well, anything can go wrong. This is especially so for leather, which is one of the hardest materials to work with.

Designing was also a huge hurdle I had to overcome, considering how I didn’t have any design background whatsoever. In fact, one of the first drafts I showed the supplier was done using Powerpoint (the guy wasn’t very impressed). I had to pick up designing software from scratch to do everything from drawing designs to setting up our website and creating our logo.

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Pictures courtesty of Gnome and Bow

What have you learnt since taking the plunge to travel down this road?

For me, it all boils down to how important family and friends really are. My dad has been my greatest help so far, reliably helping with the delivery of stocks, driving me to all the different places I need to be at, and providing a second opinion when it comes to suppliers. It’s especially helpful since I don’t work with a partner – It’s amazing how he turned from a big sceptic to one of my biggest supporters.

Looking back now, is there anything you would have done differently about Gnome and Bow?

Definitely. I would have distributed time and resources more efficiently, such as hiring someone to do the design work instead of trying to master everything singlehandedly (it’s because of my perfectionistic streak).  Sometimes – in business especially – you have to learn to let some things go.

Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Firstly, find your passion – and then believe in it, and make it work (work hard!) Secondly, find and define clearly your unique selling point. Thirdly, make sure it’s a scalable concept that enables you to create long term plans. A unique idea that is not scalable is not a business! For Gnome and Bow for example, our concept of fusing bags and stories is the first of its kind in the world – and the thing with stories is that there are unlimited ones in the world, so that definitely allows us to infinitely come up with new ideas.

Lastly, totally unrelated but what is one hawker dish that you could not live without?

(Struggles long and hard for an answer) Argh I can’t decide! It might probably be chicken rice; I really like the one from Chicken House at Upper Thomson Road.

 

Visit Gnome and Bow at their website (gnomeandbow.com), their Facebook page, their Instagram account (@gnomenbow) or alternatively, find them at these stores.

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