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Designing Women: Put Your Best Foot Forward with Alice Chen

October 17, 2012

Alice Chen of Alice Alan

Interview by Jennifer Markas, Photography courtesy of Alice Alan

Finding the selection of comfortable, yet stylish shoes for women to be woefully lacking, Alice Chen traded in Corporate America to develop her own line of ‘go-to’ heels called Alice Alan.  Damsels in Designs sat down with Alice to talk about how she went from office to design studio, and what she’s learned along the way.

DID: When did it become clear to you that there was a need for your product?
AC: I found my way to footwear design after a long layover in Corporate America. I have always had a lifelong passion for shoes and spent my early years admiring shoes I could never wear – shoes designed to make a statement but not to support my body. I could not be the only woman who constantly had to trade style for comfort or give up my heel habits. And let’s face it, you can’t have your “A game” on in frumpy shoes.

The idea for my business started in 2008, so I studied shoe-making for fun. I apprenticed under a footwear and fashion professor and learned all about pattern making, sewing and the countless other steps that go into constructing shoes by hand. It was then, the proverbial light went on. I had the skills and background necessary to design a line of shoes that would help women like me put their best foot forward. And Alice Alan was born with the launch of my first collection at the end of 2010.

DID: How do you manage all of your daily to-do’s? Have you adopted rituals to help you get through the day? If so, which ones have had the greatest impact on running your own business?
AC: I have a long to-do list! It is the only way to stay organized and sane. I focus on the highest priority items first thing in the morning. If I get too busy with another aspect of the business and do not get to #2, I will have finished the most important item for the day.

DID: What is your favorite part about running your own fashion business? What inspires your aesthetic and creativity? How have your past experiences shaped what you’re doing today?
AC: The best part about being an entrepreneur is doing something I am passionate about. I also love that my company and collection help to improve a woman’s life and give my customers a product she can actually wear. I draw a lot of inspirations from the streets of New York City. The diversity pushes me to reinterpret what I see into something that is unique. I am also inspired to do what is right for my customers which means I balance style and wearability in my designs.

DID: What advice can you offer women who would like to pursue a career such as yours?
AC: Manage and scrutinize your costs. As a new entrepreneur, you do not have the luxury to be extravagant with your expenses. When I started, I focused only on the things that mattered most to a start up, such as a producing a high quality product, building a website and creating brand awareness. Any work I could do myself meant I did not have to pay someone else to do it. I did as much as I could with as little money as possible, asking friends and family for help, negotiating with suppliers, and even bartering for services. Everyone is willing to help, so do not be afraid to ask.

DID: If there is one thing you could change about the design industry what would it be?
AC: One thing that I would love to see more of is the return of footwear manufacturing back to the US. Footwear manufacturing has all but disappeared, and along with that the skilled labor, technology and those who supply to the industry. While there has been resurgence in recent years to bring footwear manufacturing back to the US, it will take time. Every pair of Alice Alan is crafted in NYC and it is extremely rewarding to have the opportunity to work with the local community and feel that I am making a difference.

DID: Let’s talk about the future. What are your plans for Alice Alan? How do you know when to expand and when to sit tight? And, you’re expecting a little one soon — how will that change your priorities?
AC: Our goal is to stay focused and listen carefully to what our customers are telling us and what they want from our products. As a small business owner, I have the flexibility to tailor my own schedule. Even with other priorities, with technology, I can always stay in touch wherever, whenever.

DID: Damsels in Design fosters a supportive, engaging, and non-competitive environment for professional women. We believe this is the only way to secure successful opportunities and to give back to the community. How important is it that women support and assist one another along the way? What steps can we take to ensure we’re maintaining this camaraderie and creating opportunities for one another?
AC: It is so important to be a part of a supportive women’s network because we have similar experiences and challenges. I have learned so much through my network. It has been extremely rewarding to meet other strong and fabulous women who are making it happen. It is critical to network, ask for much needed help and pay it forward.

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