Crocodile started off selling singlets (The Straits Times)

Crocodile International started out selling singlets almost 60 years ago and has since grown into an international fashion brand.

The label is named after a “tough animal with a long lifespan”, said its founder, Mr Tan Hian Tsin, who is now almost 90 years old.

Mr Tan migrated to Singapore in 1947 from Vietnam, and started the company with his eldest brother that year. His family was originally from Swatow in China, but moved to Saigon where his father set up a garment business after the Japanese invasion of China.

Mr Tan chose to come to Singapore as it had a more stable political scene and currency, compared with other countries in the region then.

“At that time, there were many competing brands from Hong Kong and China. Crocodile was the first major local brand,” he added.

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The company’s first shop was at 6, North Bridge Road – where Parliament House now stands.

Crocodile opted to sell singlets – a popular clothing item then – as they were easy to produce. It ran into stiff competition from better- known global brands, Mr Tan said.

To compete, Crocodile chose a “single brand, multiple products” strategy and added shirts, trousers, underwear, ties, socks and handkerchiefs in its first year.

This was a departure from the “single brand, single product” strategy most international brands focused on back then, and helped the firm enlarge its customer base very quickly, said Mr Tan.

The company expanded into footwear and travelware in the 1950s, and timepieces and eyewear in the 1960s – a strategy that “no other international brands followed until the 1980s”, he added.

The Crocodile brand made inroads elsewhere in South-east Asia, including Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand, in its early years. It now has 50 licensees across Asia, and its annual turnover is more than US$500 million (S$693 million).

China is its biggest market today.

The demographics of the Asian market have changed over the decades, Mr Tan noted, adding that rapid shifts in consumer demand are typical of the fashion industry.

“The growing wealth of average consumers enables them to understand and appreciate quality,” said the father of three.

“This is where we find opportunities for our brand and due to our strong presence and recognition in many countries, we are well positioned to take advantage of these demographic shifts and to expand into new emerging markets.”