Elim Chew is the founder of teenage street-wear chain 77th Street and the winner of numerous entrepreneurial accolades.
Started more than 20 years, the teenage street-wear chain 77th Street has firmly embedded itself in the Singaporean youth culture. Similarly, its founder Elim Chew has also established herself as one of Singapore’s most recognised and respected entrepreneurs.
Starting a clothing chain was not something Miss Chew had planned for. She spent three years in London learning hairstyling and came back to Singapore in 1987 to start her own salon.
After a prolonged exposure to London’s retail fashion, it dawned upon Miss Chew that there was a lack of fashionable clothes in Singapore. When her customers expressed interest in buying the clothes she was wearing, she saw a business opportunities and started importing and selling clothes from overseas.
A year later, Miss Chew decided to move into the business of street-wear retail fashion full-time. Thus, 77th Street was born.
77th Street faced a unique challenge when it started. Due to the rock and punk-related merchandise the shop carried, many people associated the business with cults.
Parents even told their children not to visit the outlet. So Miss Chew needed to find a way to convince people that 77th Street was purely a fashion business.
In the early 90s, fashion mostly referred to high-end Italian and French brands. But Miss Chew firmly believed that you don’t have to splurge to look good. She wanted people to have confidence in whatever they wore, regardless of how simple it was.
To her, fashion was about giving people a sense of identity which in turn inspires confidence. More than 20 years on, 77th Street has lived up to this mantra, giving youths of today a way to express their individualism.
Miss Chew’s approach to business expansion is not merely about capitalising on market opportunities. She will only start a new outlet if she can find someone who believes in the vision of the company to run it.
Her reasoning is simple: when you put people without the passion and love for the business in charge, the shop will just be a shop. But if you put people who love what they do and can align with your vision, the shop, and inevitably your vision, will flourish.
Every stage of running a business starts off difficult, but Miss Chew says that the only way to get over this is to go through it.
While there are no shortcuts to success, she adds that there are ways entrepreneurs can better prepare themselves for the journey ahead. This includes learning from business books and getting advice from those with invaluable experience in the field.
While all this might give budding entrepreneurs a head-start, Miss Chew says that they will still have to take the next step by themselves.