Faire Leather Co. is co-owned by the Y Ventures Group (a data analysis driven e-commerce retailer and distributor recently listed on the SGX-ST) and Tocco Toscano, an Italian leather goods label that is now owned and operated by my family. I started working for my father 8 years ago and we have had many work-related disagreements over the years, but I have always respected my father for his creativity and work ethic. As a matter of fact, his start and journey form a pretty interesting story:
He was the youngest of four children growing up in a poor neighbourhood in Chinatown, Singapore, where he learnt that he needed to be tough to survive. He discovered an early taste for entrepreneurship, where he resold lottery tickets for profit. Unfortunately, he fell into the destructive culture of drugs and gangs, which was quite prevalent in less effluent areas of 1960s Singapore.
Starting with marijuana at the tender age of 11, he moved on to harder drugs such as opium, morphine and heroin in his early teens and dropped out of school by the age of 15. He joined a gang and by age 17 he saw the insides of a jail cell for the first time. Subsequently, my father spent most of his late teens to mid-20s going in and out of prison for a multitude of drug and gang-related offences.
Upon his final arrest, instead of sending him back to prison, the officer-in-charge decided to refer his case to Pastor Neville Tan (a missionary back then), who ran a Christian drug rehabilitation centre. As part of the program, my father was required to bind leather bibles, giving him his first encounter with the basics of production with leather, such as cutting, stitching and embossing. Interest soon developed into passion and this provided him with the resolve he needed to get his life in order. After his release, he sought a career in leather craftsmanship.
Unfortunately, he experienced great difficulty in finding employment due to the stigma of hiring an ex-convict. Faced with constant rejection at job interviews, my father decided to start his own business. Miraculously (given his criminal and credit background), he managed to secure a small loan from a local bank and started to purchase leather and metal buckles to produce his own belts. With assistance from my grandparents, he sold his wares door-to-door for a year before convincing department stores to carry his products. This initial success boosted his confidence and fuelled a strong desire in him to create more complex products such as bags and wallets.
He knew that his knowledge and abilities at that point in time were inadequate for this endeavour and he set out to find a leather master craftsman who would take him as an apprentice. Soon enough, he was referred by a friend to Valecchi Stefano who ran a small workshop in Florence, Tuscany. Stefano also owned TOSCANO – the label under which he sold his leather merchandise, mostly bespoke items, to a niche local clientele. During his apprenticeship, my father was so impressed by the skill, intricate techniques and attention to detail that the Italian craftsmen exhibited, that he felt the need to introduce these quality products to the Asian consumer at an affordable price. Stefano eventually granted him licensing rights to TOSCANO in South-east Asia.
In 1987, my father returned to Singapore and launched TOSCANO in various department stores throughout the country. He started importing goods directly from Stefano’s workshop but eventually started designing and producing his own merchandise.
His first iconic collection DURAN (1988) featured an emerald green textured PVC body trimmed with full-grain vegetable tanned cowhide and proved to be extremely popular.
In the mid-1990s, my father bought the trademark over. Soon after, the focus for the brand was shifted towards alignment with current fashion trends instead of the classic Italian style. With that, TOSCANO was rebranded as TOCCO TOSCANO.
Fast forward to 2015, I was finally ready to take over as CEO and give my father some breathing room to focus on his passion – designing and creating leather goods. I drew up plans to improve operational efficiency and grow the business. With Tocco Toscano being predominantly a ladies’ brand sold on brick and mortar channels, a market of interest to me was the online men’s leather goods business. In late 2016 I started researching, designing and creating prototypes for a functional men’s collection.
Soon after, I was introduced to Ryan by a couple of mutual friends. I started talking to him about my family business. This led to a discussion on ideas that we could build upon; and how his experience meant that he could help market a concept for a product that we could create together. Coincidentally, his first idea was to solve a problem he had with his own bag – he wanted a bag that looked polished, with an interior that could neatly organise all his essentials.
I was later also introduced to the founders over at Yventures Group. It was quickly decided that we would all embark on this journey together - to leverage on Y Ventures Group's proprietary data analytics and specialisation in online retail and distribution channels and Tocco Toscano's in-depth experience and expertise in leather craftsmanship to start a label that created high quality, functional leather goods that were of great value and of course, at an unmatched price.