“You will forget you are wearing them on your up-stroke,” exclaimed Dr. Steven Fleming, the renowned American architectural theorist specializing in urban design for cycling.
With over 100 distribution channels in 17 countries, Quoc Pham is a chic cycling shoe(*) brand selling more than 1,000 pairs a month. Born in Vietnam and raised in Britain, Pham created his eponymous brand in Taiwan in 2009. Featuring linear-styled sleek leather and a V-cut shoe tongue, Quoc Pham provides cyclers with shoes to “show off” their look.
“Geared,” a new Japanese media covering outdoor gear, has said that Quoc Pham has “re-explored and redefined cycling shoes for this generation.”
As a cycling enthusiast and a design graduate, Pham had trouble finding a pair of cycling shoes suitable for both dating and cycling. Deciding to manufacture his own shoes as an entrepreneur, he came to Taiwan to look for shoe factories. At that time, he had just closed down his own fashion brand and had only $2,000 left, while a flight to Taiwan cost at least $1,300. When asked how he managed, he shrugged and said, “There are always ways to make money. I went to a holiday market to sell the remaining stock of my fashion brand. Trust me, I am good at selling. Then I saved enough money to buy the ticket to Taiwan.”
“A product sells as long as it’s beautiful enough, but the universal concept of aesthetics tends to be forgotten.”
Via the Internet, Pham found a shoe factory making shoes for top sports brands in Taiwan. He excitedly flew back to London with samples, and showed them to the channels he had worked with before. The gorgeous leather shoes soon attracted orders of over 1,200 pairs. The number not only surprised the factory owner, but encouraged Pham to build up the cycling shoe brand under his own name “Quoc Pham.”
In the beginning, he sent thousands of emails to potential channels all round the world to introduce his new brand. “I believe that as long as the product is beautiful enough, people will buy it, no matter what their skin color is and what languages they speak. Right?” said Pham confidently.
His confidence stems from the fact that his business has achieved a certain level of success across Britain, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. “You may say that people from different places have various standards of beauty. I agree. But it is often forgotten that there is a universal concept concerning aesthetics. We often spend too much time on market analysis or planning, rather than focusing on the product itself.”
His business seemed to go smoothly right from the start. However, the real challenge was yet to come—his shoes were pirated.
The culprit was none other than the shoe factory we was working with.
“I was so angry. I didn’t expect that something like this would happen in Taiwan,” Pham recalled the episode quietly, but resentment and frustration were still perceivable on his face.
The sudden setback forced him to immediately cease cooperation with the factory, and cancelled more than half of his customers’ orders. His revenues reduced 80% as a result. Without any local connections to find a replacement factory, Pham almost lost his way and his company.
“The quality of a factory’s craftsmanship is more important than how many high-end brands it has.”
“Of course I went to factories which made brand-name shoes in China as well, but the quality varied greatly. I then realized that it was not about how many high-end brands they have, but the quality of their craftsmanship.” In the following two to three years, with over a thousand orders all on his shoulders, Pham looked for factories wherever he could to gather enough shoes to fill those orders.
The key to quality shoes still lies in how much of the shoe is handmade. Eventually, Pham chose Taiwan again. After receiving the shoe factory list from the Footwear & Recreation Technology Research Institute, he made phone calls one by one, and finally found a small factory that could provide shoes with a larger proportion of handmade manufacturing. Despite higher costs, the quality met his expectations, and brought him back onto the path of growth for his brand.
Along the way, has he ever regretted choosing Taiwan to start his business?
“Apart from the manufacturing equipment, I decided to come back to Taiwan because the labor and rent are relatively cheap here, and the Internet usage rate is high. Also, the VAT tax rate in Taiwan (5%) is much lower than in the U.K. However, it’s not easy to find talented staff to work for you here. For some reason Taiwanese employees only follow orders from their bosses, instead of giving their own opinions. It’s such a pity.”
If one day he could find a Vietnamese factory with better quality, will he consider moving his business there?
“In terms of business, it would be smart decision to move. But I will still stay in Taiwan. I believe what I have taken from Taiwan should be used in Taiwan. I am a modern entrepreneur.
Even though Taiwan is not my main market, I still want to give back to this island. If my business continues to grow in Taiwan, I can hire more local employees, share with them the know-how of fashion design, and teach them how an international company works.
I really hope that what I do here can benefit Taiwan.”
*A pair of cycling shoes is required to have multiple holes so that the feet can breathe. The sole is often made of carbon or carbon with glue to make the shoes stiff enough to transfer all the power generated by the feet to the pedals. The lugged sole prevents slipping, and makes the shoes pedal-compatible.
About Quoc Pham:
Quoc Pham has always had a passion for both fashion design and sport. After graduating with a BA (Hons) in fashion from London’s Central St. Martins, he decided to merge the two. In 2009, Quoc designed his first smart bicycle shoe, combining fashion with an active lifestyle – the eponymous brand was born.
Quoc Pham designs original collections of cycling shoes for the urban enthusiast, commuter and weekend tourist. Classically-inspired design and quality craftsmanship appeal to a newly design-aware, velo couture audience. Authentic leather uppers and contoured soles provide a comfortable, durable fit that allow for smooth transitions from cycle to sidewalk to office.