Putting her best foot forward
by Irene Kim
Alice Chen never believed in sacrificing comfort for style, or vice versa. But she was frustrated to find that the beautiful shoes that she admired in store windows weren’t very comfortable, and she determined to make a better shoe – one that was as wearable and ergonomic as it was stylish.
“I felt compelled to figure out a better solution than what was offered in the marketplace,” says Chen, who began to study shoemaking for fun, and learned the myriad processes required to construct handmade shoes. “It was then that the proverbial light went on: I had the skills and background necessary to design a line of shoes that would help women like me put their best foot forward.”
Chen continued to work at her day job as a senior marketing manager at American Express while devoting nights and weekends to her startup. “It was during those odd hours where I formulated my business strategy, conducted informal focus groups, and networked with people in the industry to truly understand if this business was sustainable.”
She went full-time with her startup at the end of 2010, launching the first Alice Alan collection. While the depressed economy made her nervous, she received invaluable advice from entrepreneurial peers: “I could always go back to a corporate job, but a well-thoughtout business idea doesn’t come along frequently.”
Each pair of Alice Alan shoes is hand-engineered in New York City and designed for women who want stylish shoes that won’t hurt their feet – whether or not they have foot problems. The target customer is a successful, professional, down-to-earth and tasteful woman who “wants a great pair (or two or three) of go-to shoes that she can wear wherever, whenever,” says Chen.
Chen says she owes much not only to the coursework, but also to Johnson’s environment and culture. “The community really promotes taking calculated risks, thinking about issues thoughtfully, and capitalizing on an idea when it arises,” she says.