Q&A 4Her – Alice Chen, President of Alice Alan Footwear
After earning a BS from the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business and an MBA from the Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management, and spending several years in marketing in NYC, Alice Chen decided to study shoemaking just for fun.
She apprenticed under a footwear and fashion professor and when she had mastered pattern making and sewing and the countless other steps that go into constructing shoes by hand, the proverbial light went on. She had all the skills and background necessary to design a line of shoes that would help women like her put their best foot forward. And Alice Alan Shoes were born.
Alice took a moment to chat with MyCity4Her about her business, the best advice she’s ever received, how she defines success and more in her Q&A 4Her interview. Read on for the full feature!
Did you ever imagine yourself achieving what you have?
I honestly have not given much thought to my achievements thus far in my career and business because there is still a long journey ahead. However, I am proud of the many milestones I have reached during my short time in the industry. There have been four distinct collections and I continue to expand the collection to meet the diverse needs of our customers. I continue to build retail distribution despite the tough economic environment. Lastly, I have built a flourishing local direct-to-consumer business focused on online sales, in person private appointments, as well as hosted trunk show events.
What in hindsight would you say you underestimated about your industry or business and why?
I did not enter the industry with any preconceived notions, but as a newcomer in any field it is always a bit unnerving at first. This may sound odd, but I never thought I would meet so many wonderful people along the way and it has been a pleasant surprise. First of all, we work with amazing skilled artisans who are so passionate about what they do. Everyone I have met in the footwear industry, especially my mentor, has been so encouraging, supportive and helpful with their pearls of wisdom.
What is the best business related advice you have ever been given?
Don’t be afraid to ask! There is an old Taiwanese saying and the literal translation (and it gets a little lost in translation): A mother duck should quack. It sounds funny even in Taiwanese but the meaning is insightful. My mom would always say this to me growing up and it basically means that it does not hurt to ask and that one does not have anything to lose by asking. As an entrepreneur, I have taken this saying to heart. I always nicely ask for a lot of things because you never know what will happen: ask for help, ask for lower prices, ask for alternative options, etc. By “asking” you could end up better off, and the worst is that someone says “no” which isn’t all that bad to begin with.
What do you love most about what you do and why?
I love the look of a woman’s smiling face when she puts on a pair of Alice Alan’s and tells me how beautiful and comfortable they are. I love that my company and collection helps to improve a woman’s life and give my customers a product she can actually wear.
What if you knew then what you know now –would you do differently and why?
Hindsight is always 20/20. I do not believe you can grow as a business and entrepreneur without experiencing the ups and downs of starting a company. I would never have gained the knowledge I have today and gotten to this point in my business without the trial and errors I encountered.
I do not have regrets but some aspects I might have done differently would have been to do more networking earlier on, build up a larger group of trusted advisors, and launch the company at a different time during the economic recession.
When you’re not working how do you like to spend your time?
What free time? Actually, it is very important for me to balance work and personal as much as possible so neither aspect suffers. Speaking from experience, overworking can lead to lower productivity and an unhealthy physical and mental state. I make trade-offs and compromise all of the time—it is a delicate juggling act! I try my best to plan downtime into my schedule so I can spend quality time with my family. We love doing all sorts of active pursuits such as biking, traveling, and hiking.
How do you define success?
For me, success is defined by my realistic expectations of a situation or outcome, not by someone else’s benchmark. Success cannot simply be measured by the amount of money made or a ground-breaking win. Even a small win is considered a success if it achieves my objective.
For example, success is seeing a customer walk out of my Showroom with a huge smile on her face and holding a pair of Alice Alan’s. I know she is thrilled to have found the perfect balance of style and comfort when it comes to footwear.
If you had to share one final thought with our audience of thousands of women in business –what would it be?
Keep your eye on the prize! Trust me, there will be haters along the way. Do not let their negative energy get you down or sidetrack you. Listen to their feedback with a grain of salt and keep moving ahead. Your passion and thoughtfulness will get you to where you need to be.