For a founder of a multi-million ringgit international leatherwear company, Bonia Corporation Berhad (Bonia Corp) executive chairman Chiang Sang Sem, better known as SS Chiang, is a low-profile entrepreneur who eschews publicity.
Not much is known about him, so we have collected a list of achievements and background to better understand the man behind the international luxury name.
1. SS Chiang is the son of rubber tappers.
The oldest of nine children, SS grew up in a kampung in Malacca.
2. He quitted his studies and started working at the age of 15
SS Chiang could not afford to continue his studies and knew that he would have to support himself. So he left the town for greener pastures in Penang, where his father’s younger brother was based.
There, he took a job at the handbag factory that pays him Rm15 a month.
3. He was a natural at working with his hands.
With no experience or skills, he was eager to learn everything in the small factory, which only employed about 10 people. He easily took up designing and sewing skills during his two years there.
He was doing everything from cutting polyurethane and PVC and fashioning the piping around the edge of the bags, to stitching and glueing the pieces together.
4. After that, SS Chiang moved from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, and later to Singapore in 1971.
He started work in another bag factory and was earning SGD 60 a month. He moved again and the tenacious man had worked his way up to a design supervisor, with a monthly salary of SGD 200.
5. His entrepreneurial journey started in 1974.
Before the age of 20, he had SGD 1,200 savings. He borrowed another SGD 3,800 from relatives to start his own factory with seven workers, three of whom were his younger brothers.
The team produced bags for other companies whenever orders were placed, making 50 to 60 bags a day. SS Chiang delivered the goods personally, on his motorcycle.
6. The name Bonia was a tribute to an art piece.
In 1977, SS visited the Leather Trade Fair in Bologna, Italy, where he was inspired by the artwork of 16thcentury sculptor, Giambologna. He finally registered BONIA as a brand name.
7. The brand’s first factory was located in Geylang, Singapore.
SS moved Bonia’s headquarters from Singapore to Malaysia in 1978, when he was aged 21. He had 70 to 80 workers in Singapore and had set up a factory in Johor Bahru.
8. 1981 saw the opening of Bonia’s first boutique was at City Plaza, Geylang.
At the same year, SS also moved the Johor factory to Kuala Lumpur. In 1990, he opened another factory in his hometown of Malacca.
9. Bonia was only producing high quality handbags and luggage when it first started.
It was in 1992 that Sang Sem finally made the most strategic decision to manufacture a variety of products such as menswear, timepieces and eyewear. Bonia eau de toilette Pour Homme and Bonia eau de parfum Pour Femme was launched in 2010.
10. The company is listed in the main board of Bursa Malaysia in 1994.
Listing the company in Malaysia in 1994 where he served as Group Executive Chairman at Bonia Corp Bhd. His two younger brothers also sit on the board.
11. SS Chiang’s darkest hour was in 1997.
Due to the Asian financial crisis, SS had to close his Singapore factory after two rounds of retrenchments and sell off nine properties at a loss to pay creditors.
The company’s share price dropped from more than RM10 to about 50 cents.
12. The group has over 883 sales outlet and 103 boutiques across the world.
Apart from Malaysia, the brand can be found in Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Japan, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Oman.
13. The largest boutique is 5,000 sq ft in size, located in Sogo, Kuala Lumpur.
Also, Bonia runs three factories in Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou. The China factory is a joint venture. In all, the factories employ 4,000 workers. The company has about 7,000 employees on its payroll.
14. Ex-Burberry and Loewe designer Pepe Torres is the creative director of Bonia.
The brand has also collaborated with Italian designer, Studio Pelletteria Alessandra of Italy as one of the strategic business alliance.
15. Sembonia and Carlo Rino are part of Bonia.
It also holds the licence for the distributorship and dealership of Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, Austin Reed, Valentino Rudy, Carven and Jeep.
16. Bonia Corp purchased Singapore base Jeco Pte Ltd in 2010.
The acquisition of Jeco adds Braun Buffel, Bruno Magli, Renoma and Pierre Cardin to its brand portfolio.
17. The Sonia bag launched in 2013 was named after Taiwanese model-actress and Bonia ambassador Sonia Sui.
It is estimated to value in years thanks to its unique hat-like shape. The brand hopes for it to become a classic like the Hermes Birkin.
18. He is currently the executive director of Bonia Corp Bhd.
As of September 2018, he has left his position as the group executive chairman and chief executive officer. His 30 year old daughter Chiang May Ling assumes the role as alternate director to SS Chiang.