With his rugged good looks and tattoos that discreetly hide underneath his oversized T-shirts, Joseph Lor looks like he could be the owner of a streetwear label. But don’t let his too-cool-for-school nonchalance fool you; he means business.
The CEO of homegrown bag brand Tocco Toscano, Joseph took over the company in 2016 and successfully turned it into a seven-figure business in just a matter of years. Today, the brand has become a symbol of luxury and innovation, with its leather bags and accessories being a must-have for anyone who values fashion with function.
The story of Tocco Toscano began in the early 1980s when his father, James, took an interest in leather craftsmanship after binding leather bibles as part of a rehabilitation programme funded by the church. When interest developed into a passion, he went on to make belts in 1983, selling them door-to-door.
To develop his skills further, James took an apprenticeship in a small workshop in Florence, Italy, to learn the intricate techniques of leather-making from a local craftsman named Mr Stefano, whose brand then was called Toscano. After he returned to Singapore, James launched Toscano in 1987 as a licensed brand selling handbags and wallets to local department stores.
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Following Stefano’s passing in the mid-1990s, his family decided to sell the trademark Toscano to James, who later rebranded it to Tocco Toscano, which means “Touch of Tuscany” in Italian. Rather than follow trends, James made classic designs that withstood the test of time. One of the bestsellers was the Duran, launched in 1988, featuring a unisex collection of green PVC bags with reddish brown trim.
Entering the digital age
Now close to 40 years on, the stewardship of the luxury leather label has been passed on to his son, Joseph, a dual degree holder in electrical engineering and biomedical science from the University of Western Australia.
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The 38-year-old entrepreneur took over the reins as CEO in 2016 when the company faced a rough patch. Mired in debt and outdated processes, Joseph was forced to make some tough decisions to help turn things around. “I looked at the business model and saw many issues in processes and protocol. I had to let go of many people and hired the bare minimum to get us back to cash flow positive,” he says.
He paid himself a salary of only $1,000 a month and handled almost every aspect of the business, from being the salesperson to handling inventory, uploading online content, customer service, and even accounting.
He worked long days and nights, sleeping in the office almost every day for six months. By the end of the year, he pulled the business out of the red and generated almost $10,000 in profits. It was humbling, but Joseph didn’t give up and felt hopeful.
With a newfound focus on growing online presence, Joseph pulled out of several department stores and hired a young, digital-savvy employee to streamline operations through technology and pivot into the e-commerce space in 2018. “I didn’t see a real future in the department store business because it was getting too expensive. I knew it was time to build something online,” he adds.
Since the brand’s online launch, Tocco Toscano has seen a year-on-year annual revenue of seven figures and is now in four markets regionally: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Plans are also underway to expand into the US, starting with a new, improved website running across all markets.
Functional, beautiful and relevant
Under the helm of Joseph, Tocco Toscano now represents the amalgamation of tradition and modernity. The brand’s new mission is to create products to suit everyday needs so you can live easier and be fashionable.
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Not to scare away their older clientele, Joseph took his time to roll out new designs, ensuring they maintain that classic elegant DNA that Tocco Toscano is known for. But rather than make safe basic colours like dark green, black, burgundy and dark brown, the bags look brighter and happier.
One of his first new designs was the Aimee, named after his mother — a roomy leather tote spacious enough to carry a laptop for work. To differentiate the bag from other brands, Joseph created organisational inserts to fit within the bag.
Prices are also kept low because the family owns its factory. “We control every process from production to delivery. So, the savings we make are passed down to the customer,” says Joseph.
Today, Tocco Toscano carries close to 10 collections, ranging from compact sling bags to stylish work totes, small leather goods like wallets and passport holders and colourful add-ons such as bag straps and wristlets. One of the most sellable items is the Idula Mobile Phone Bag Joseph created during the pandemic, and the limited edition Hello Kitty collection, launched in November 2022.
Combining multiple compartments with a subtle debossed exterior design of the iconic bow of Hello Kitty, the new collection, available in five shades, adds a touch of functional elegance to its existing array of luxury staples to redefine functionality in design that is both practical and aesthetic.
“Co-designed with my father, this collection offers a refreshing take on the iconic Hello Kitty design, incorporating functional elements central to Tocco Toscano’s design principle for the past 30 years. It is also symbolic of our brand’s official return after years of fine-tuning our brand image,” adds Joseph.
An eye on sustainability
Well-attuned to the evolving needs of younger consumers, the bagmaker looks to adopt more sustainable practices by offering bags made of plant-based leather. Currently, the products from the Iduna collection are made with apple leather that comes from the waste of apples left behind after making juice, jams and compote.
Apple leather is also featured in a limited edition series of products in collaboration with Singapore Airlines to promote upcycling aircraft materials. “I’m always on the lookout for something new. Besides using apple leather, I am currently reviewing mushroom leather as another alternative, but it’s very stiff and only comes in black. The manufacturers are working on improving the material first, and maybe we can consider that for a new line in future,” says Joseph.
Something for the men
To cater to the male demographic, Tocco Toscano has a diffusion label, Faire Collective, managed by Joseph’s marketing head and business partner, Ryan Choy. It launched on Kickstarter in 2018 with a briefcase and a padfolio and successfully raised $406,228 — more than 10 times its target.
The unique quality of the briefcase is what is inside it. It looks sleek on the outside, but when unzipped, it reveals a diverse array of compartments and slots and holds everything from USB cables, keys, name cards, a power bank and more.
“There was a lack of products that combined functionality with aesthetics. As someone who carries a lot of stuff daily, I wanted a hassle-free way of finding what I need in my bag. That was a bag I designed for myself,” adds Joseph.
After 10 months of operations, Faire hit $1 million in sales. Today, it carries a collection of briefcases, backpacks and clutches, and smaller accessories like wallets, card holders and passport sleeves. The company also has a bespoke arm called Sondermade, managed by Joseph’s brother, Daniel, a former banker and auditor.
A positive outlook
A Made With Passion brand, Tocco Toscano, has come a long way from almost closing to becoming a million-dollar business, but Joseph is not content to rest on his laurels. He has big plans for the future, including expanding the brand’s reach to new markets, reassessing digital marketing strategies, and launching new products that will continue to push the boundaries of luxury leather goods.
He continues: “I have this idea of creating a multi-purpose pouch with different modes — stationery mode, cosmetics mode, jewellery mode, toiletries mode — but it’s still in the ideation phase. And in terms of product collaborations, I’d love to work with a sports or yoga brand to make a versatile gym bag that is stylish enough to be used for work.”
In a world where many businesses prioritise profit above all else, Tocco Toscano is a shining example of a company that values quality, customer service, and social responsibility. With Joseph Lor at the helm, the brand is poised for even greater success in the future.