It all started with PASSION, do you have what it takes like Christy to leave your boring job behind for your passion?
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1. Hi Christy, to start off, a quick introduction of yourself?
Christy Ng is a women’s multichannel shoe and handbag company. We started off as E-commerce in 2012. In 2016, we went offline as well so now we’ve got 10 stores. We just opened our newest store last week in Queensbay Mall, Penang and we ship worldwide, most of our customers are from Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and here and there. We have customers from about 30 different countries but most of our customers are from Southeast Asia.
I love footwear design and handbags were just like a natural progression for us because when we started opening retail stores in the malls, our landlords commented that we should have complimenting assortments for the shoes. So they suggested that we start adding bags to the assortment. Malaysia is actually a shoe making country, we’re very much the Italy of Southeast Asia. A lot of really, really talented shoe makers are all from Malaysia but they’re aging and it’s very sad to see the younger generation has not really picked up on the art of footwear making.
2. What’s the one thing you didn’t expect to face when you first started a business? How did it turn out?
When I started, it was just a passion project, something that I love and enjoy doing. I didn’t expect to go on like this for the next 10 years. It’s very challenging, running a business is a lot of work. There are lots of ups and downs especially throughout the pandemic, it was really, really bad for us as well. I didn’t expect things to be so uncertain and it’s actually a lot tougher than I imagined it to be.
Yes of course, there are a lot of naysayers like my own auntie. She thinks that I will not make it, I will go bankrupt. A lot of people think that because I don’t have experience in footwear design or manufacturing. I don’t come from a business background or fashion background so a lot of people didn’t expect us to even be here today. I did biotechnology and I majored in plants. It’s a lot about working in the lab doing research. That was my degree and after that I worked in a pharmaceutical company for two years before I started this business. So my background is totally unrelated to what I’m doing now. My previous job was very good. They paid me very well but it was more of an interest or a passion that got me started.
3. In general, when was the last time you encountered a frustrating situation and what did you do to make it better?
Now, we have a manpower shortage, there’s not enough workers and production has been very slow because of all the supply chain bottlenecks that have increased in raw material pricing. Cost has increased due to inflation, everything costs more even my shoe glue, the glue I used to make my shoe and bags right? The price has skyrocketed. I overcome it through automation, trying to reduce costs whenever I can without affecting the quality of the product and embrace digitalization more, bringing down my staff costs, my labour costs and things like that. That’s the best I can do. I can’t fight the price increase in raw materials, it’s impossible. So I think e-commerce helps a lot because it’s a lot cheaper to run online compared to the retail stores. We’re still opening retail stores but a bulk of our sales come from e-commerce.
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4. How and where do you look for inspirations for your business?
I think it’s from my customers because they always tell us what they want. So I think it’s very important to listen to what your customers want because you will find your next hero product just by listening to what your customers want to buy. We are a very data driven company so we have a lot of data for the past 10 years of what kind of colours they like, what kind of style, what kind of heel height, we have all this information in hand. As a Malaysian designer, we want to put Malaysia on the map so you can see that a lot of our designs represent Malaysia, you can’t find it anywhere else. If you see our latest Merdeka collection which we launched on 5th August, Friday, you won’t see things like that anywhere else. If you go to other brands, you won’t see that kind of assortment.
5. After your Merdeka launch, what’s next for Christy Ng, what’s your future plan?
We will be opening our new store in IOI City Mall, Putrajaya at the end of August and we’ll be expanding more retail stores. In the next three to five years, I think I see ourselves as a pan asian player, we’ll be opening stores around Southeast Asia and hopefully more customers around this region.
6. As a leader, how do you deal with criticism whether it’s from customers or yourself?
I’m used to it. I’ve been very thick skinned for the past 10 years. People criticized me everyday so I can’t feel anything, I don’t really think much about it. You need to first assess whether the criticism is valid, you learn from your biggest critics. If what they’re saying has substance, I’ll definitely think about it and think how I can improve myself but if I feel that there’s lack of substance or it’s not valid then I would just ignore it.
I think that you need to be resilient, you need to be able to take all the stress and carry the burden. It’s a marathon, it’s a really long journey, entrepreneurship is not for everyone. If you’re the type that likes a very chill life, then don’t do entrepreneurship because it’s not chill at all. If you have a passion or a really good idea and you think that you have the mental strength to pursue it for the long run and you’re not afraid of failure then you can do business. You know, you can fail, doing business doesn’t mean making money, you can be losing money all the way so if you’re ready for that kind of failure and if you fail you know you still got a roof over your head and food on the table then I think you can consider.
If you cannot take risks, if you have a family to feed and you have a mortgage to pay then maybe not. For many years, we were not making any money, I didn’t pay myself a salary for many years because as an entrepreneur, you’re the last person to get paid. In fact, if the company doesn’t make money, you have to pump in money yourself, your savings will also deplete so you need to have a lot of cash reserves if you want to start a business.
7. I’m sure there are times where you feel unmotivated, how do you regain your motivation when you face this issue?
I think being an entrepreneur, you need to be self motivated. You still have to go to work even if you don’t have the mood. You still need to pay your staff salary even if you don’t have the mood. No one cares if you have no mood, you need to settle it yourself. I have a lot of responsibilities, I need to pay for salaries and rent so I don’t have a choice.
8. How does your daily routine look like?
Wake up, go to work, probably by 9am or 10am will reach office then I’ll meet my team and start to get things done. We start with all the problems that we faced the week before and then we work on new designs. We typically plan almost six to one year in advance for every collection. Like today we’ll be talking about the Chinese New Year Collection. We do very early planning because of all the supply chain disruptions. So it’s design first, order all the parts, the components, the materials and start planning for the next season. After that, I will meet all my department heads and see what issues they face and try to help them resolve the issues and maybe squeeze in a few store visits in a day or go to the factory and squeeze in a few hours there depending on my schedule and the time will pass very fast.
At night, I will have dinner, go home and sleep then repeat everyday. Entrepreneurs have no life, everyday working like mad. That’s why if you like work-life balance, don’t start a business. We work seven days a week. In the earlier days, when I first started, it’s seven days a week but now it’s a little better because I got a bigger team. So on Saturday and Sunday, I’ll go to the gym or run some errands and do my own stuff but I still go back to the factory on weekends to just have a look.
9. What is the most important trait you are looking for in your team?
I think they need to be resilient, they cannot give up so easily and I think aptitude is very important. The ability to learn new things is very important and it’s as important as attitude. Technology is changing, the industry is evolving constantly and you need to be able to adapt. We hire people who can adapt easily and learn new things. You can be the best today but if you can’t learn in 10 years, you are nothing. It doesn’t matter where you start even if you’re not the greatest or the best, what really is important is you’re able to learn along the way and constantly improve yourself.
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10. In your life, what are the top three things you’re grateful for and why?
I’m grateful to be given this chance to run this business because a lot of people who start businesses, they’re not as lucky. I’m grateful to have this platform to express my creativity and design things that people love and people will buy. I’m grateful for my health that at least I’m I’m well and I’m just grateful that I have enough and I’m able to pay all my staff salary every month.
11. Who or what do you think of when I mentioned the word “love?”
I think about all the beautiful shoes and bags that we create for our customers. I really hope they love what we create. The products are really amazing products which we create out of love for the consumer.
12. Last but not least, what do you want to say to the readers who may be having a difficult time today?
Don’t worry. The sun will rise tomorrow. Don’t think too much. Just enjoy yourself. Life is short. Do whatever makes you happy. Problems are here everyday, it will not end so don’t care.