If the Shoe Fits
A lover of shoes, Dato’ Normah Ibrahim takes her passion a step further and turns it into a thriving business, writes Aaron Pereira
Like many women, Dato’ Normah— also fondly known as Emma—has a weakness (an Achilles heel, if I may) for shoes. Unlike most other women however, she has turned this passion of hers into a lucrative shoemaking business, called Red Profile; as this connoisseur of footwear believes that one shoe can change your life, just like Cinderella. She shares that, while growing up, she wanted at first to be a lawyer. “I really liked debating, and would normally win any argument,” she said with a laugh. Just one of the reasons she figured that she would excel at the profession. But, as fate would have it, she initially started her career by stepping foot in the banking industry. Now known as CIMB Bank, Dato’ Normah Ibrahim entered the world of banking while it was known as Bumiputra Commerce Bank. A move that she would later on hold with high regard, as it proved to be the platform she needed to get to where she is today. During her time as a financial advisor to a number of successful, business-minded clients, Dato’ Normah took the opportunity to learn their methods and drew inspiration from them. Then, after having worked for a decade with the bank, she decided to venture out and start her own business. At first unsure as to what to invest her time and effort in, her friends who knew she loved shoes, nudged her on to give shoemaking a try. “They (her friends) know that I own around 100 pairs of shoes! And suggested that I take up a course on shoemaking.” She heeded her friends’ advice, and enrolled herself in the International Shoemaking Design School. “There I learnt how to craft a shoe right from scratch; it gave me a greater appreciation for shoes and the art of making one. There’s a lot more that goes on than meets the eye, in the making of a good quality shoe.” However, setting up the business was not a walk in the park. “I decided to start the business in Kuching because I realised that there’s no shoe factory yet in the area,” she explains. “There were many things to consider, like procuring raw materials, managing staff and such. It was difficult to begin with, but you learn to get things done through experience.”
The business started off with only seven staff, and now the company has grown to more than 45 workers
The factory in Batu 10, Jalan Kuching is currently the only licensed leather footwear manufacturer in the city, and started off with only seven staff. Now the company has grown to more than 45 workers—comprising artisans, designers and highly skilled individuals—plus a branch in Kuala Lumpur, as well as an outlet store branded as Emma Daniel in Kuching, Sarawak. Now, 11 years since its inception in 2006, the brand now mass produces shoes—being a supplier to the civil service, protecting the feet of men and women in the police force, firefighters and more. On top of that, some of her creations have also donned the feet of local celebrities. And the business is set to expand as Dato’ Normah has plans on gaining a foothold in the overseas market as well.