RUBBER TAPPER TO ENTREPRENEUR: A SELF-MADE MAN
Since his youth, Chiang Sam Sem showed a formidable and unceasing drive. He began by earning a modest living tapping the rubber trees of Melaka. Sights ever set on the horizon, he ventured northward to the island of Penang. It was there that he was instructed in the craft that would define his legacy—leather making.
An intensive three years passed under an apprenticeship at a leather factory. He had acquired valuable skills and now sought independence. The burgeoning entrepreneur hopped on his scooter and rode the way to Singapore. The Merlion City presented to him a world of opportunity. It was not long before he was able to start a small workshop of his own. The business specialised in the design, manufacture and wholesale of quality leather goods. It served as the blueprint for what was yet to come.
THE BLOSSOMING OF BONIA
The seeds of BONIA were planted on a fateful trip in 1963 to Italy. S.S. Chiang journeyed to the fashion capital of the world to seek inspiration in its rich culture and crafts. He marvelled at the architecture and delighted in the parallel between the kopitiams of his motherland and the cafés of Rome. A brief train ride north and he found himself strolling the cobbled streets of Bologna. All around him were the impressive works of the famous 16th century sculptor, Giambologna. They were the pinnacle of craftsmanship—timeless and refined. They represented all that Chiang strove towards in his own work. The name “Giambologna” echoed in his mind and three syllables suddenly emerged—BONIA.
In 1977, BONIA entered the Singapore market at the ideal moment. It was the golden age of department stores. Within a year, the brand had strengthened its foothold with a flagship boutique in City Plaza, Singapore. For the decades that followed, the brand swiftly established itself at the forefront of fashion in the region. In alignment with Chiang’s original vision, BONIA continued to uphold tradition and herald innovation.