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Julie Tzeng, Founder and CEO of Arshae

Julie Tzeng, Founder and CEO of Arshae

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Published by Leonardo Calcagno


Who are you and what is your background?

I am originally from the states and did my undergrad at UCLA where I studied Fine Arts, Psychology, and had my first real job in marketing at a startup. A study abroad experience at the London College of Fashion introduced me to the world of fashion and I’ve been a footwear designer ever since, working at companies like Aldo Group and Techstyle Fashion Group. I became passionate about sustainable fashion during my time at Aldo thanks to a supportive manager and CSR team and left the company in 2019 to build my ideal shoe from scratch.


Your current job and title?

Founder and CEO of Arshae


In what city are you situated?

Montreal

A word to define what type of worker you are:

Passion-driven

Congratulations on winning the ELLEvate Women Entrepreneurs Pre-Accelerator Pitch Competition. What does this program, and this award mean to you?

Entrepreneurship is a huge rollercoaster. ELLEvate really helped support me through the amazing cohort of peers, business coaches and mentors by celebrating wins and problem solving through challenges together. When I think of my award, I think of the people who walked every step of the way with me to demo day and beyond. It’s also the first award I’ve won for Arshae and it’s extremely validating!

What was it like to be in a program that was focused on and consisted of solely women entrepreneurs?

Just like every other accelerator program, ELLEvate pushed us to think about our business in a new light and brought all of us to the next level. The difference was how founder-centric the program was and how relatable the mentors’ experiences were to the cohort. I believe these qualities were direct because they focused solely on womxn entrepreneurs.


What makes your company unique? Why?

Arshae is a zero-waste footwear company powered by 3D printing that produces well-fitted shoes and innovates every step of the product’s lifecycle. We deliver trendy high-end footwear to the fashion and environmentally-conscious consumer who refuses to compromise between their values and sense of style.

There is a gap in the market for fashionable and ethically made footwear. Plus, the industry has a hard time shifting from business as usual because the supply chain is colossal. We’re completely redesigning the supply chain and manufacturing process from the ground up to offer our customers personalization, ensure social responsibility, and to facilitate the recycling of our shoes.


How big is your company?

While I am currently the sole founder, I am surrounded by five supportive advisors that are experts in technical footwear design, 3D printing, and marketing. Recently I added two people in R&D including a mechanical engineer and an intern from ETS through the Mitacs Accelerate program.


What tools are essential to your life (app, software)?

Illustrator, Procreate, Google drive

Julie Tzeng_2

What does your office space look like?

I don’t have my own real workspace yet so I work wherever I am! This photo was taken during our ELLEvate Demo Day while I was traveling in Portland and it required some pillows and poufs to get the right desk height. To be honest, my desk at home is a huge mess and I’m always tripping over shoes- it’s nowhere near my ideal workspace but lean is the name of the game at my stage.

The everyday reality of my work-from-home office space is that it’s a perpetual mess and I am constantly drowning and tripping over books and shoes. I completely took over a corner of our living room and I can’t even stand the green walls, which my boyfriend intended to “emulate the forest.” It’s hard to imagine from the photo but my dream workspace is minimalist and industrial chic.


Do you have a way to organize your days in order to optimize your work?

When I first left the corporate world, I had a hard time adjusting to being my own boss. I had FOMO and tried to attend every networking event and barely slept. Now, I cap my networking meetings per week and schedule blocks into my calendar. There are blocks for working on specific topics, and I even block out time for exercising, and for times I’m not allowed to work. I am a bit of a scatterbrain so I need to live by my calendar. 


What “tips” would you recommend for improving productivity?

Accountability Partners! I grew close to a couple of women entrepreneurs in the last few months and we try to check in with each other once a week.


How do you control your company growth?

As a pre-revenue company, I don’t have any tips for this yet. Stay tuned.


About design, what does your brand represent/reflect? 

Arshae is bold and empowering. We are targeting the conscious fashion consumer and want to invoke confidence in our customers. What more, we are striving for inclusivity through fit by offering many options of sizing that anyone can buy any style regardless of their foot shape or gender. Underneath it all, the company’s DNA gravitates around circularity. It’s our definition of sustainability that we strive for and is even embedded into the name (Arshae is derived from the French word “arche”, or “arc”).


Design: how was it designed? By whom?

To date, all the designs and aesthetics have been executed by myself and my branding advisor worked closely with me to develop the brand attributes. We plan on taking a portion of the award money to work with a professional branding agency.


What inspires and motivates you to go to work every day?

My raison d’être is to make a positive impact and show my industry that it’s possible to enjoy fashion without the waste and pollution that comes with it. Knowing that fashion needs to change and that I am working towards that future keeps me passionate about my work. 


What is the best advice given to you?

Entrepreneurs who want to pursue the venture capitalist growth path need to understand the reality of what it’s like. One of my mentors, Laith, gave me a really good analogy. “Consider the momentum you have when you’re running down a steep hill. It’s pretty hard to stop right? Now imagine that a VC is someone who is pushing you as you run down the hill.”


What is your online strategy?

Arshae is expecting to start pre-sales early next year and launch the brand’s first collection in summer. We are targeting direct to consumer eCommerce strategies with a focus on social media and micro-influencers. To engage our customers, we are working to personalize our website, educate the community on sustainability, and building a points program that accrues when customers send old worn-out shoes back to us to recycle. The points can go to new pairs of shoes and can even be translated into carbon credits or monetary donations to the charity of the customer’s choice.


What’s your best tip for saving time?

A multitasking tip: I’ve started to listen to podcasts and watch things like Shark Tank while working out so that I’m exercising the brain and body at the same time.


What are your end and start day routines?

For the start of the day, I always need a good breakfast and a pot of tea. To wind down, whenever possible I need to make sure that I stop working at least a few hours before bedtime.


What were your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur?

My ideal vision is extremely ambitious and contains many elements that companies have not successfully done at scale. On-demand localized manufacturing, mass customization, and integrating 3D printing are several examples. For me to build something replicable and scalable, I will be walking a tight rope in terms of margins, which sometimes can be devitalizing and sometimes a source of motivation to keep pushing through.

What have been your biggest supports and resources in navigating your company through the covid-19 pandemic?

Being forced to hole up at home has really helped me develop the framework of my business and I am really lucky that I am pre-launch. Although developing prototypes has been slower than I would like due to the pandemic, building my network is easier because people are more willing to meet over a video call these days. With freelance projects dried up at the beginning of the shutdown, the CERB program gave me the opportunity to focus solely on Arshae.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business?

If you’re willing to take the large risk of leaving the security of a 9-5 job, you’re already one huge step farther than many others! Resilience has been my mantra and is the key to keep pushing through. Also to avoid burning out, make sure to take breaks whether it’s a little bit every day, or one day a week you don’t touch work.


Apart from your computer and your phone, what gadget can you not do without?

Work-related, it would be the iPad Pro/Apple pen combination.  Work aside, I’d have to say my instant pot!

arshae.com | facebook.com/arshaeshoes

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