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

Malaysia Tatler - - FACES -

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.

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