A few years ago, I met Bonita Lim, head of Brown Rice Designs and the inspiration behind the NuoMi Shanghai label, through a friend’s introduction. Founded in 2006, NuoMi set out to help others through sustainable, eco-friendly, stylish fashion. At the time I was with TOMS Shoes, and eagerly exploring China’s teen fashion market.
3’s the charm
Bonita was kind enough to give me and my colleagues a tour, her slim ballerina figure in simple black tights, long grey sweater and a pair of calf-length navy Hunter rainboots. “3 stores a block,” she laughed, “because people walk from both directions on a street. That’s the winning formula.” On streets along Nanjing Road and the French Quarter, you could see multiple Vans shops on a single block. Kids in logo’d sweatshirts and jerseys would glance at the first store, browse through the second, and finally pick up pairs of Sk8-hi’s in flairing never-seen-before color palettes. “By the third store, they think it must be a legit brand. So on any given street, stores 1 and 3 make all the money, but store #2 is just for show.”
new wealth meet advertising
In 2010, Shanghai was in the middle of getting plastered with the glitz and glory of Times Square reminiscent advertising. Chinese consumers were not yet desensitized with skepticism towards mass marketing. Anyone who was anyone – or pretended to be – needed to pony up real storefronts to be deemed credible and worthy of the Chinese yuan. Money was stockpiling in the hot flush of new economic wealth. It had nowhere to go due to strict currency regulations severely limiting cash from leaving the country, thus artificially maintaining the exchange rate that powered China’s growth engine. And teenaged urban Chinese were holding the aspirations and open purses of their parents and grandparents. Anecdotally, 4 out of every 10 kids we saw were sporting black and white Chucks, thanks to a brilliant campaign by Converse targeting underground bands in Tier 1 cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou.
single mothers, turning straw to gold thru fashion
We had the pleasure of visiting Brown Rice Design headquarters in Pudong. Bonita showed us a small, garishly bright silken coinpurse, the kind you find in 99-cent bins in Chinatown. Her plan was to take similar materials, but through quality design, expertise technique and high quality controls, create small women’s wallets that would sell at prices that were department-store comparable. The factory Brown Rice worked with was staffed completely by underprivileged single mothers. By taking a cheap product with low appeal and margins, and combining it with sophisticated aethetics and improved manufacturing, these women would be able to earn much more from the drastically increased profit.
I admire Bonita for the love she has for upgrading the lives of all her staff and workers through creativity, education and career development. It’s no surprise with her beauty, passion and influence, she often graces the fashion zines and society pages of Shanghai. We hope to visit NuoMi again soon and see what new projects Bonita and Brown Rice Designs are up to. She is a bonafide Socient Socialite.