Standing Tall: Q&A with Elizabeth Tan, Managing Director of Heatwave Shoes

“My advice is to define success on your own terms. That sometimes means that you may not “have it all” but then to really evaluate if that is important because that is what society expects a successful woman to have or if that is really what YOU want at the end of the day,” Elizabeth Tan, Managing Director of Heatwave Shoes. 

Heatwave started in 2001 with a small humble store in Far East Plaza catering the young office ladies looking for affordable heels. With aspirations to become an international brand with 200 stores worldwide, Heatwave is seeing expansion in developing markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

LadyBoss caught up with Elizabeth Tan, Managing Director of Heatwave Shoes and also a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Singapore, on continuing the legacy of her father’s experience in shoe making and her personal vision for the company….

To maintain this vision and DNA, our company is fully family owned having turned down lucrative offers from investors who did not have the same values. We are also unique for having evolved from being shoe manufacturers to becoming a retailer and hopefully one day, a household brand.

Q: Tell us about Heatwave Shoes. How it started and how long you’ve been doing it? 

A: Heatwave Shoes is about empowering women’s daily journeys. We believe in the simple principle that a well made, comfortable  pair of shoes can give women the confidence they need from day to night.  We want to make great products that serve as reliable companions to the busy, modern women.

We started with a small store in Far East Plaza in 2001,  back then selling affordable heels to the young office lady.  I joined 8 years ago with the goal of growing the brand and taking it global by sharing our vision and growing a community of like minded partners and customers.

Q: What sparked your interest in entrepreneurship and joining Heatwave? 

A: To me, entrepreneurship the process of having a dream and turning that dream into reality through a mixture of resource, opportunity and ultimately, perseverance. In that sense, I’ve always been entrepreneurial in all aspects of my life. I joined my family business because I saw it as an opportunity to fulfil my personal vision to make a positive impact on others and create a purposeful life.

I wanted to take our heritage of making comfortable and affordable shoes to a new level by creating a brand that stood for the values I believed in and giving access to the majority of women a well made product at an affordable price. I’ve been very fortunate to take on this journey, I’ve had the support of many mentors and peers, like those at Entrepreneur’s Organization Singapore.

After a life changing trip to the Himalayas, where I served as a volunteer teacher, I learnt about gratitude and the meaning of creating positive impact and I wanted to do the same in business.

Q: What were you doing before entrepreneurship? Tell us about your background and how it helps you with what you are doing now?  

A: I graduated with a B.A in History (Hons.) in 2008, specialising in cultural heritage and anthropology – a degree that was as far from business or its “discontents”. Ironically, I spent my university days making as much money as I could to support myself and my education- selling phone plans, credit cards, working part-time at events and eventually I started my first business organising university events.

After a life changing trip to the Himalayas, where I served as a volunteer teacher, I learnt about gratitude and the meaning of creating positive impact and I wanted to do the same in business. With my father’s experience in shoe making, we decided to move into a new business model focusing on retail rather than manufacturing and create a brand that women would love.

Q: What are your best-selling shoe designs? Any plans to launch other product line?

A: Heatwave Shoes is known for our high heeled stilettos and comfortable pumps. However, since we launched in new countries like India, Dubai and Qatar, we began moving towards expanding our product line that includes a wider range of casual ranges, trendier and upmarket looks, bags and limited collections such as evening wear.

Q: What makes Heatwave Shoes different from other shoe retailers that we know?

A: What sets us apart is that we driven by purpose and that often means that we do not take the easy route up. For example, our commitment to empowering women through shoes is first to ensure that these quality heels are affordable and accessible despite the time and money we spend on developing a comfortable and stylish designs.

To maintain this vision and DNA, our company is fully family-owned having turned down lucrative offers from investors who did not have the same values. We are also unique for having evolved from being shoe manufacturers to becoming a retailer and hopefully one day, a household brand.

I am also proud to be a continuation of a 2nd generation family business and to have the multiple perspectives of being a woman – mother, daughter, employer, employee and sometimes even my own customer. It is a unique time to be an Asian brand from Singapore, exporting what we represent to the world and have the opportunity to operate stores in the developing countries around us, where there is a rising middle class in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Knowing that our shoes can give any woman a sense of confidence and satisfaction and ultimately happiness, is what gives me satisfaction.

Q: Where do you see the future of Heatwave Shoes?

A: Our aspiration is to become an international brand with 200 stores worldwide, a brand that is recognised for putting modern women and her needs first. To strive to be a company that is driven by our purpose, creating a valuable work environment while staying true to our roots. Personally, I hope to be able to empower and inspire others and through that, leave behind a legacy that my father has started.

Q: Tell us about your Number 1 business challenge?

A: I see a fundamental challenge in the cost structure of running a business in Singapore as an SME and I do not believe it is sustainable. I also feel that the skill sets we have in our talent pool is not conducive for the kind of thinking required to scale businesses here in Singapore. So my two biggest challenges is always cost and manpower.

Q: As an entrepreneur, what motivates you personally?

A: I believe that business is a channel to drive purpose and create a positive impact. Knowing that our shoes can give any woman a sense of confidence and satisfaction and ultimately happiness, is what gives me satisfaction.

Q: What would be your advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs keen in pursuing family-owned businesses?

A: My advice is to define success on your own terms. That sometimes means that you may not “have it all” but then to really evaluate if that is important because that is what society expects a successful woman to have or if that is really what YOU want at the end of the day. I feel that balance is key and I measure myself on my own terms rather than comparing myself with others.

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