CROCODILE - Proud to be 'made in S'pore'

TOUGH: Mr Tan Hian Tsin founded Crocodile International in 1947. TNP PICTURE: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Live crocodiles were part of their marketing arsenal back in the 50s.

It drew attention and the crowds, confesses its founder and chairman Tan Hian Tsin.

Now 88, the business-savvy Mr Tan says that it was this, along with other marketing gimmicks in the 50s, that allowed Crocodile International to become what it is today: It has sales outlets in 20 countries, including Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

His family in Shantou (then Swatow), China, have always been in the garment trade, once making knitting machines.

He and his oldest brother expanded into trading when World War II dried up the supply of materials, importing clothes from Hong Kong to Singapore.

He says: "I knew I could not compete in price, so I had to compete on quality. People are once bitten twice shy, so quality must be there.

"I had 12 sifu (master) working from morning till night. All of them produced clothes with different cuts and shapes. All 100 shirts would look different."

With his business in a crisis, he then hired workers who could sew straight lines. Using his system, they were able to produce clothes with a standard look.

He chose the unlikely reptile because "the crocodile is a very tough animal and lives a long life, which represents the long life of the company".

Unfortunately, the crocodile is also the source of its legal troubles with Lacoste.

Lacoste, established in 1933, has a right-facing crocodile while Crocodile, established in 1947, has a left-facing one, but both logos otherwise look very similar.

The man is sanguine about it and maintains that there was no copying involved.

Ultimately, it means that Crocodile brand is stymied from growing outside of Asia for the moment as the legal battles are still pending.

But Mr Tan is still happy with its achievements and is proud of the fact that it's made in Singapore.

He says: "I'm extremely proud that Crocodile was created in Singapore 67 years ago when trademark, franchising and licensing were not something familiar then."