She makes the shoes that pop and movie stars like Jolin Tsai (蔡依林) and Vivian Hsu (徐若瑄) step out in. But Chloe Chen is heading west rather than east to expand her small fashion realm.
The director of Omni — a retro furniture and style store run in collaboration with Taiwan's chairman of pop Jay Chou (周杰倫) — Chen also heads up Honey Daniels shoes.
She has opened two outlets in the fashionable East District and Xinyi District, where her shoes sell for around NT$3,000 to NT$6,000.
And if the name Honey Daniels gives you deja vous it's because the company is named after the feel-good movie starring Jessica Alba, as a dancer who makes it in New York.
Chen says her current dilemma is whether to ship shoes to the US and compete with brands like Manolo Blahnik, or manufacture cheaper products at factories in China and take on the mass market.
As much as Chen is a designer of shoes she's also a pretty experienced 30-year-old businesswoman. Her philosophy is: “If it's a good product, it should sell.”
“Our pricing is kind of high, so our segment of the market is quite narrow. We've come to a point where there's no growth. So, either we sell just to stars and rich people, or we reduce our costs and go to China.”
The fact she recently attended an English-language school in the US indicates she has already made her decision.
“We would rather look at other markets and take our shoes to places like New York where prices are relatively expensive. For instance, Manolo Blahnik are not that well made. They just have great marketing. Sex and the City tripled their price.”
Chen says of a visit last week to the Big Apple that she went to the store Barneys and had a chance encounter with Gwyneth Paltrow's agent, who expressed an interest in her shoes.
Though Chen designs and has what one of her China-based agents calls “great taste,” she's also adept at marketing. She majored in advertising at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.
“Studying advertising gave me a lot of background, it was a major influence. If I had only studied arts I don't think I would have done this. I thought advertising was creative but actually it turned out to be business,” Chen says.
Her first job was gopher at an advertising firm, but she realized it wasn't her. Her businessman father said, “Follow your dreams” and instead of going to the office she opened her first shop in Tienmu, Taipei. She mainly imported Hong Kong fashion and it was a big hit.
While her father backed her financially, Chen credits her mother with inculcating a sense of fashion, nurtured by what she speaks of as a fairly idyllic childhood in Taitung.
“At school I was a fashion leader, a trend setter rather than a sheep. At university there was a nearby flea market run by foreigners with second-hand clothing and furniture, a lot of good stuff at reasonable prices. I used it and altered it to make it stylish.”
“I always buy what I like and I thought if couldn't sell the clothes then I could wear them myself. That's why I only bought a few items of a kind — in case they did not sell.”
“We were different from other stores. We picked a second-floor location because we did not want walk-in traffic. We wanted it to be special, alternative. I put up a big heart with our name and painted the window. We bought an old fridge and cleaned it out, using it for display. There wasn't a set formula.”