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 23:52:55 in SportIan Poulter insists his mind is not on the Ryder Cup after shooting a promising 67 in the opening round of the Deutsche Bank Championship.
At 23:32:27 in WorldPakistan needs and deserves better leaders - but it also needs stability and an end to games played by politicians and generals, argues guest columnist Ahmed Rashid.
At 23:14:57 in HeadlinesRescue workers in Nicaragua are trying to reach at least 24 workers trapped by a cave-in at a gold mine in a remote region in the north of the country.
At 23:14:27 in SportAndy Murray will return to the Louis Armstrong Stadium for Saturday's third-round match against Andrey Kuznetsov at the US Open.
At 23:01:35 in HeadlinesThe International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed confidence in its leader Christine Lagarde, despite her being investigated for negligence in France.
At 22:58:57 in EnglandGeorge Galloway has been left badly bruised after he was attacked on a street in London, his spokesman has said.
At 22:50:18 in SportManchester United manager Louis van Gaal wants England boss Roy Hodgson to clarify comments made about Luke Shaw.
At 22:42:36 in SportAlgerian international Saphir Taider is set to complete a loan move away from Southampton before kicking a ball for the club.
At 22:39:54 in SportWarwickshire will play Kent at Edgbaston in the semi-finals of the One-Day Cup as they continue their quest for the treble.
At 22:17:59 in HeadlinesA former US navy sailor who led a spy ring for the Soviet Union has died in a prison medical centre at the age of 77.
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 30th Aug 2014]
News In Other Categories
Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger will be switched off in China in October, marking a final end to the 15-year-old service.
George Galloway has been left badly bruised after he was attacked on a street in London, his spokesman has said.
Two women have been taken to hospital after being hit by a car at a bus stop in Glasgow.
The complete line-up for this year's Strictly Come Dancing series has been revealed ahead of the BBC One talent show's launch night on 6 September.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed confidence in its leader Christine Lagarde, despite her being investigated for negligence in France.
The only clinical trial data on the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp shows it is 100% effective in monkey studies, even in later stages of the infection.