We had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Chung, Director of Chinelas by Michelle. Chinelas by Michelle is a fantastic foldable ballet-flat shoe that girls can wear after a long night out on the town, or if they just want a comfortable/beautiful footwear! Michelle studied industrial design at UTS, Sydney, Australia and has started her own business revolving around this exciting shoe product. Please read on to find the adventures of a self made entrepreneur and the challenges from going from an industrial designer to a business manager!
website – http://www.chinelasbymichelle.com
Interview by Embody 3D – Twitter – 22.03.2010
Hi Michelle, welcome to Embody 3D and thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. To get started could you please give me a quick introduction to yourself and Chinelas by Michelle?
I graduated from Industrial Design at UTS in 2003 and worked in the fashion industry doing graphics and product design for a few years, as well as in the souvenir and toy industry. After being made redundant from a good product development manager position I realized that it was a great time to start my own business, developing an idea for a gap in the market – which is how Chinelas by Michelle folding shoes was born!
My innovative range of foldable footwear came from the social concept of women wearing high heels that became too uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. Creating a product that was durable, compact and hygienic enough to go in the handbag is the concept behind the brand, and I did a lot of self study in business, marketing and PR to get it to where I wanted it to.
Small minorities of industrial designers once they’ve finished university decide to start their own business often based around a product they’ve designed themselves. What made you decide to take this leap of faith and a very steep learning curve, rather than perhaps working for a consultancy or a manufacturer?
I definitely recommend working in the industry for other companies before taking the plunge yourself – it gives you so much invaluable insight and experience.
It’s very difficult to run a business if all you want to do is design products, I would not recommend running a business on your own. If you did want to have your own company I would suggest finding a business partner who can run this side of things while you work on the product development. It’s often very difficult to do everything yourself (as I found for myself) but I really liked learning and implementing the business and sales side of it, as I wanted to grow my skills in this area.
Also the fact that I was made redundant from what I thought was a secure, great job in 2007, made me not want to rely on others for my career or financial security. I did a lot of research on how to secure my future with investments (hence the reason why Chinelas shoes are patented, with the plan to earn royalties as a form of passive income).
In hindsight would you have taken this same path? What would you change if you had to do it all again?
Yes I would have started my own business eventually. It was part of my career growth and personal plan.
I would probably had more of a marketing plan and hit the market harder with my invention, as copycats catch on so quickly. I would have invested more money into a PR campaign and also paid more attention to the quality control and production side.
I would also have invested more capital so I could have employed more people to look after most of the work rather than trying to do everything myself – once you have productive employees, it all takes off much quicker and easier and break even much faster.
You studied industrial design at UTS what did you think of the design program? Has the course helped you develop business or commercialization skills in any way?
I would say no, from what I remember we did not learn any practical business or commercialization skills. We did have some advice from Marc Veenendaal who runs his own design business, but on the whole we were trained to work for consultancies.
Most of the skills I have today are from working in different companies, even my Illustrator skills were mostly learnt from time as a graphic artist and fashion product developer.
Do you have any general advice for students studying industrial design who are perhaps contemplating starting their own business once they’ve finished?
I would recommend working for someone – especially a small business so you can see first hand how someone else runs it.
It really depends on what kind of business you want –offering design services is much simpler and straightforward. But for those who want to manufacture their own products – this is a massive job that usually requires a handful of experts such as production, marketing, sales and financial, and unless you have all those skills yourself, you will need to find someone who does.
Or you can develop your own products and sell or licence them to trading companies who will take them to the world market and pay you royalties if they do well. You need to be very careful here too, to ensure you find the right people to work with and a proper licence agreement so you don’t get ripped off.
What do you tend to spend the most time on with Chinelas by Michelle? Designing and making iterations? Communicating your ideas and manufacturing? Or just simply trying to sell and market your product?
It depends what phase of the business, but definitely sales is an ongoing job. Designing is only 10% of what needs to be done, but if we don’t make enough sales, we won’t have the cashflow to continue business operations.
Chinelas by Michelle is a very practical product and I can tell many girls who will read this interview will be asking where they can buy them. Not to mention guys who are perhaps growing tired of hearing complaints from their girlfriends/wives about the discomfort of their heels. Where did the idea come from initially to design this product? Was it from first hand experience or was it very research based?
First hand experience was definitely a factor here! A lot of entrepreneurs have taken products very successfully to market, simply because they saw a need and were able to solve that problem efficiently.
If you are searching for a product to design, ensure to do your research – ask questions, search the net, find out if enough people will want to buy what you’re designing. There is no point making something if no one will buy it, then it will just be art.
Could you tell me a bit more about the design process for Chinelas by Michelle and how you ended up with the design in its current state?
I knew that the execution would be the most important factor in ensuring this project would be a success. Firstly I had a few brainstorming sessions with my ID friends from uni, over some pizza and drinks! We came up with a whole bunch of crazy concepts, and eventually (taking months) developing a concept that was essentially practical and functional yet simple. There was no point designing the most amazing design, if the user could not figure out how to use it.
I made some moulds using silicone and polyrubber outsole samples initially and then some rapid prototypes once I was happy with the initial ideas. I took them to a manufacturer (ensuring I had a confidentiality agreement) who further developed it into something easily manufacturable.
I understand you spend a lot of the design process optimizing the hinging and locking of the shoes what were the main challenges there?
Making sure the manufacturer was able to replicate the working sample cheaply and that it would still work! Their technology was not very advanced and a lot of things are hand crafted.
What styles, and colours do the sandals come in and how much do they cost?
They come in just one style for now in black, silver, red and purple. I wanted some practical colours as well as fashion colours. They cost $39.95
And most importantly where can girls pick up their very own pair of Chinelas?
www.chinelasbymichelle.com and some markets and expos (sign up to the mailing list or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chinelas-by-Michelle/91253457158?) for all the updates
You also run a design entrepreneur blog that can be found at michellechung.uwcblog.com which is just loaded with great first hand advice around starting your own business, importing, sampling, marketing, just about everything! Could you tell me more about the blog?
There’s two main reasons – to help other designers get some great, practical info from someone who’s done it all and what works and what doesn’t. The second reason is to help bring a targeted audience and provide quality links to the website.
Michelle thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Embody 3D. Do you have any last thoughts for the Embody 3D readers?
Don’t be scared to start your own business but do make sure you are prepare and well researched. You can always go back to a job if it doesn’t work out, but you do need the determination and motivation to succeed ☺
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