How 77th Street's Elim Chew brought London street style to Singapore
Published: 20th Dec 2010 13:52:11
Returning to Singapore in the 1980s after three years in London, Elim Chew was shocked.
"There was nothing here. I couldn't even find coloured hair products. Nobody had coloured hair," she remembers.
It was a huge contrast with the urban street fashion which had surrounded and captivated Ms Chew while she was training in the UK's capital city.
Back in Singapore, she determined to bring some of London's edgy styles to the streets of the city state. At the time she was running her first business, a hair salon. It was a good marketing tool, she says. "I was wearing very funny clothes."
"People came up to me and said 'I like your bracelet, I like your vest, I like your jacket, can you sell it to me?' And I just called a price and they would buy it off me."
The popularity encouraged her to begin trading in her hair salon but within a year she had opened up her own retail outlet. Her company, 77th Street, is now involved in both the retail and wholesale ends of the fashion industry across Asia.
To begin with, 77th Street was funded solely by Ms Chew's hairdressing business. To her, it was the perfect launch pad to start-up her second venture.
"Hairdressing is actually a cash business so it was good because there was a service line and we were able to collect cash and keep the cash flow going."
Indeed, 77th Street took a few years to become profitable. "It was tough in the beginning because if the products didn't sell, we got stuck… There were a lot of times where we made a lot of mistakes, we lost a lot of money."
But she says that the financial leeway provided by the hair salon gave her the time to learn from her mistakes in retail.
For Ms Chew, "having a cash flow is a blood line for the whole entire business." She says she even branched out into other jobs to ensure that she didn't run out of funds while starting up 77th Street.
"I was doing every other thing. I was in the iron-on business. If you remember that they were the patches for all over your jackets…When Hard Rock Café first opened in Singapore, I was printing t-shirts for them, making their patches for them, even products like their hurricane glasses where they print their Hard Rock logo."
For Elim Chew, good staff are essential to any company because "you can only grow as much as the good people that you hire."
She says that at the beginning she shed tears over difficult employees. "Managing people is one of the toughest things. Managing products is easy because it sits there, it doesn't answer to you, it doesn't question you."
In the first few years of 77th Street, we were able to tell customers what was the direction, what's the trend ahead.”
Now she has three requirements when looking to hire staff; that they love people, smile and are happy. Even then she admits it is difficult.
"It's not that easy to find people who are happy and people who smile…but, you know, it's something that is needed in a service industry."
"That's something that we place an emphasis on because the company believes in people, the company believes in our customers."
Elim Chew believes the challenges to creating a successful retail business have increased. She says demand for lower prices and increased rental and labour costs now require greater skill from businesses if they are to be profitable.
In the case of 77th Street, she says the widespread use of the internet has created a greater pressure on the business to stay ahead of the market.
"In the first few years of 77th Street, we were able to tell customers what was the direction, we were able to tell customers what they should look for in terms of what's the trend ahead," she remembers.
Now that they're able to find out the information themselves, she says the business has to be far more nimble.
Ms Chew believes that anyone can become an entrepreneur if they are prepared to see beyond their immediate surroundings.
She says, "I think as entrepreneurs we are driven by ideas… When I have my free time, I like to go onto the internet and really explore the different things that people are doing; what are the different ideas popping all over the world."
But above all, Elim Chew says people who start new businesses need to be rebels: "Being an entrepreneur is like being a juvenile delinquent... The more you tell us that we can't do it, the more we want to prove you wrong."
She is convinced that it is that defiance which has led to her success: "If we were to listen to people who keep telling us not to do it, then 77 Street would never have happened. Because in the early days everyone was telling us we would fail... Today we have proved everybody wrong."
At 07:00:12 in WalesCampaigners calling for a Cardiff reservoir to re-open will visit the prime minister to press their case to restore fishing and sailing there.
At 06:59:50 in EnglandA man and woman found dead in a Nottinghamshire house were stabbed, it has been confirmed.
At 06:56:53 in BusinessGeneral Motors has asked a US court to bar some lawsuits relating to its recall over faulty ignition switches.
At 06:55:04 in EnglandOne person has been arrested after three children were found dead at an address in south London.
At 06:38:57 in Northern IrelandThe Orange Order and a republican ex-prisoners' organisation have lent their support to a new course at Queen's University (QUB) that examines the use of public space to express identity.
At 06:36:03 in Northern IrelandTwo tributes to the late poet Seamus Heaney are to be held in Dublin later.
At 06:32:35 in EnglandA man has been charged following a fire at a house in Teesside.
At 06:16:09 in Northern IrelandAn ex-IRA man has made new allegations about Gerry Adams, in which he raises questions about the Sinn Féin leader's claim to have never been in the IRA.
At 06:11:26 in EnglandThe number of rats being reported by the public across Cornwall has increased by almost 50% in the past 12 months, council figures have revealed.
At 06:05:27 in EnglandSix historical buildings have been added to a register of "at risk" properties in Gloucester.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2010. How 77th Street's Elim Chew brought London street style to Singapore [Online] (Updated 20th Dec 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/117053/How-77th-Streets-Elim-Chew-brought-London-street-style-to-Singapore [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]
News In Other Categories
William Shakespeare is the UK's greatest cultural icon, according to the results of an international survey released to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
High food prices mean a third of UK adults are struggling to afford to eat healthily, warns a charity.
Campaigners calling for a Cardiff reservoir to re-open will visit the prime minister to press their case to restore fishing and sailing there.