Mandy Chan had no inkling that she was on the cusp of something big. The year was 2016, and as her peers pursued university degrees, she made the decision to take a gap year in order to pursue her long-held dream of running a business.

“I had no ideas, so I started solving my problems. We work, go to the gym, hang out with our friends — we have all these activities in a day and I wanted a bag to cater to this lifestyle, one that would allow me to put all my stuff in one place without it being messy,” explains the 24-year old.

Giving life to her plans has led the tenacious entrepreneur places: her athleisure brand, Bow, is today valued at some $2.5 million. That’s thanks in large part to two key products in the homegrown brand’s collection: Quiver, the flagship versatile daypack for which Bow became known for in 2017, and Quiver X, a sleek upgrade of the aforementioned backpack.

How it all began

Together with her co-founder, CK, Mandy sketched out the earliest version of the backpack and found a willing tailor in Singapore to craft a prototype.

She then modified the model from cardboard and spent her evenings approaching strangers in the Central Business District to gather feedback on her backpack. However, a lot of it was negative.

Undeterred, she pooled together some savings, which she estimates to be around $5,000, and visited various manufacturers around China, from Shanghai to Xiamen to Guangzhou.

Given that she was barely 20 years old at the time, Chan wasn’t always taken seriously by the manufacturers, many of whom also imposed minimum order quantities of 1,000 pieces. Still, putting her money on Bow was the right move.

After producing five iterations of the backpack, Chan was finally ready. In 2018, she launched Quiver on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and raised almost $70,000 in 30 days. The bag’s successor, Quiver X, met with similar success and raised $75,000, paving the way for Bow’s transition from backpack business to lifestyle brand.

“A lot of love in the beginning was thanks to my co-founder and friends. I was lucky to have a mentor who offered us office space, and friends were willing to help out with accounting and the packaging and all that,” she adds.

The setbacks she faced, though, were ironically what helped in Bow’s success.

Going back to basics

In a show of their disapproval, Chan’s parents cut off her finances from the time she made the decision to make a business of Bow in 2016.

To fill the gaps, she juggled part-time jobs — sales at a tech firm, copywriting for a marketing company, selling IT solutions — all of which taught her one thing.

“I realised I just couldn’t be, you know, working for someone. Sometimes, things aren’t exactly how you want them to be.”

She segues into a “defining moment”, as she puts it, in which Bow very nearly didn’t materialise.

“There were a few key partners involved at the start — all with different resources to help. And then a partner left over a disagreement, which really broke me. I overcame it by going back to why I started a business in the first place,” she says, “Which was really to start something on my own, to have full autonomy over my life.”

But Mandy is hardly ready to take a backseat.

The challenges of running a successful business, she admits, take an emotional toll on her even now. For one, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a real spanner in the works for Bow.

Success stories often seem to follow the tired formula of how setbacks were overcome, and it’s her unmasked, softer side that humanises the face behind the brand.
Shortly after Singapore went into its so-called circuit breaker, Bow dropped a new Kickstarter campaign for Anchor, a minimalist t-shirt designed in partnership with Swiss textile label, HeiQ.

Bow’s versatility — in breaking the mould of being known simply for backpacks — seems an embodiment of both Mandy’s spirit and the brand’s tagline: be bold.

“Bow is about focusing on what you can do,” she says. “In these times, that message of being bold is about taking whatever steps you can to keep yourself healthy. It’s about taking that leap of faith towards what you want, and challenging yourself beyond your comfort zone. ”

This article was first published on Cleo Singapore.