How did a wedding in North Carolina help pave the way for a budding shoe designer in Malaysia? Christy Ng started her line of shoes with just a few creations sold on her social media channels. A unique request from a bride in the United States helped this shoe architect take new strides toward success. Today, with retail shops throughout Malaysia and a powerful online presence, Christy Ng is a fashion force.
As part of our series on women entrepreneurs, we sat down with Christy Ng of Christy Ng Shoes in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to learn how she got her start and what advice she has for other entrepreneurs.
FedEx: In the video, we started with you talking about the first pairs of shoes you designed, but you really started long before that in the shoe business. How did you get into the shoe industry
Christy: When I was 18, I was with friends in Thailand for a holiday. I stumbled upon a shoe factory and I bought a couple pairs. When I got home, everyone loved my new shoes, so I decided to buy the shoes from Thailand and sell them in Malaysia.
I was working out of my car, parking in front of nightclubs and discos. I’d open my trunk and basically sell to women going to the clubs. I did that for my first couple of years in university.
FedEx: Were you studying shoe design?
Christy: In school I majored in plant biotechnology, nothing to do with shoes at all!
Biotechnology wasn’t my passion, but I felt obligated to use my degree so I got a job in that industry. I got bored quickly, so I went back to Thailand and spoke to the shoe people I worked with to better understand the business in hopes of starting my own line. It was a lot of observation, trial and error, basically the school of hard knocks. Finally I designed and manufactured a small collection, took pictures and posted them on my Facebook page. I got tons of calls and that’s how we initially took off.
I was going back and forth to Thailand and realized I needed to set up my own shop in Malaysia. I did research. I knocked door-to-door at shoe factories, begging people to help me make my collection. I knew the basics, but that was about it.
I got rejected a lot. I was kicked out of many factories when I first started, but I never wanted to give up. Finally one factory basically said, ‘ok, we take pity over you, you are so desperate we will help you.’ I was desperate to succeed.
FedEx: Was it easy after that?
Christy: Not at all. There is no shortcut to success; you need to put in the hours. I learned how to run the supply chain, how to manufacture my shoes and how to make the perfect fit. We had come a long way.
FedEx: How did you make the jump from selling on Facebook to an e-commerce site?
Christy: I started the online store because I had no money. That was the cheapest, most cost effective way of starting the business. With just a couple of hundred dollars you can set up one very quickly. I was operating from home so my expenses were low. I had my mom there every step of the way to help me. She was my rock.
When we started picking up traction, I hired my first employee. She was my shoe customer and I said, “I am desperate. I can’t find any workers because I can’t afford any job ads. Would you just come in and help me? I don’t have any money but can I pay you in shoes.”
She said yes.
I gave her three pairs a day so that’s how I hired my first employee.
As we grew, we continued to hire more people, but were still desperate for money. That changed when I won an entrepreneurship competition and was awarded seed money to help get the business off the ground.
That’s one of the best pieces of advice I give to anyone starting a business. Wherever there’s a competition, wherever there’s free money, got for it! If you lose one, try another.
FedEx: So you started a successful e-commerce business, then you opened retail shops?
Christy: We had no plans to open a shop; we were just running the e-commerce store. In 2016, a prominent department store in Malaysia approached us and offered us a temporary shop space for a good deal. We just expected to break even. But we made good money, and our name got out. As of fall 2017 we have more than 5 stores throughout Malaysia.
FedEx: You’re wildly popular in Malaysia, how did you make the jump internationally?
Christy: I had a life-changing experience from a bride in North Carolina who wanted nine pairs of shoes for herself and eight bridesmaids. The bridesmaids were between five and six feet tall, and she wanted a very specific design that would make everyone similar in height for the pictures.
She couldn’t find anyone who would tailor shoes based on these requirements, so we designed nine pairs of shoes in the same design but different heel heights and colors. The six-foot bridesmaid was in ballerinas, and the five-foot bridesmaid was in stilettos. All the shoes matched. We posted her picture to our site and word got around.
After that we had lots of requests just like hers.
I realized there was such a great opportunity in customization. It was our blue ocean, our huge, endless market. It was also an untapped market where the big retailers weren’t playing.
I came up with a 3-D design feature so that customers could design their own shoes on our website. I knew that it could be the master key to unlocking a huge market potential.
Now, customers can customize shoes on christyng.com, then rotate the shoe they created online to see every angle BEFORE ordering.
Today we sell shoes, accessories and handbags in over 30 countries. My goal is to keep expanding the Christy Ng brand. We want to keep growing internationally and eventually I want to open stores outside of Malaysia.
FedEx: What advice do you have for a woman entrepreneur, or any entrepreneur, wanting to start their own business?
Christy: Never give up and follow your heart. Being passionate is important, but also use your brain, have common sense and take calculated risks. You need a positive mindset, a lot of tenacity, a lot of grit. You need to handle rejection and never give up. You will fail at times, you may lose money, you may be close to broke but never give up.