Taryn Rose interview!
March 20, 2007
Toe hold: Taryn Rose fled Vietnam at 8, starting a journey that led to medical school and high-fashion design
A Vietnamese refugee whorled Saigon as it fell in 1975, Taryn Rose landed in Fort Smith, Ark., at the age of 8. Her family moved to Southern California while she was in high school, and she attended the USC Medical School with the intention of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. But in 1998, after seeing a number of her patients suffering damage from high-heels–as well as experiencing her own struggles to find comfortable, stylish shoes that could hold up under her 14-hour days as a resident–she decided to start a footwear company. Rose, 37, now heads Taryn Rose International, which employs 64 and is projected to reach $20 million in 2004 sales. Her products are available at high-end department stores and in company-owned boutiques in Beverly Hills. New York and San Jose. A fourth will open in Las Vegas later this year.
Question: It seems your life, and your career, have been marked by a series of very stressful transitions. Did leaving Vietnam under pressure inform your approach to things?
Answer: We left three days before the fall. At the time, no men were allowed to leave, so when my father left the bus to get onto the plane, he had to wear a woman’s blouse and carry my two younger sisters to hide his face. I remember the take-off: the machine guns going off, artillery fire trying to stop the plane from leaving. Maybe that’s part of my need for speed. I wasn’t frightened, I thought about it as an adventure. I’m not surprised I became a surgeon because it’s an intense, risky field. Then I became an entrepreneur to keep standing on the edge. I’m an adrenaline junkie.
Q: Your first stop in the States was Fort Smith, Ark. What was that transition like?
A: It was a real blessing because the people were so kind, so welcoming and helpful from adults down to children. I can still remember my very first little friend, a beautiful blond little girl who helped me on the playground. I didn’t speak any English. The first phrase I learned was, “Do you want a bite?” It was from a little girl who offered to share her popsicle with me during recess.
Q: How did you come to medicine?
A: I was undecided whether I would go into law or medicine. My legacy was in medicine (her lather was a pathologist). So, I went into medicine, probably because it was just the easier route to take because it came naturally to me and it avoided a lot of family issues. I didn’t want to have to deal with that revolution at that time.
Q: Yet you had just completed your residency when you decided to leave medicine and start the footwear company.
A: I started to see female patients who came in with foot problems, and I also started to look for footwear that I could wear for long hours while I was working. I realized that there was a big need for footwear that combined great design, high quality materials as well as comfort.
Q: What was the transition like?
A: It took a lot of soul-searching. I slowly started to make contacts; it was much more transitional than abrupt. It wasn’t like one day I just said, “I’m quitting.” It got to the point where I had taken my boards and I felt like, now is the time to move on because if I continue down the track of patient care, it will be more difficult to leave down the line, because I’d be abandoning more patients.
Q: Who guided you through the process?
A: I didn’t really have any advisers. I contacted Miranda Morrison, a very talented designer at Siegerson Morrison. Their shoes are very successful. Miranda gave me a name of her manufacturer in Italy and talked to me about the different trade shows in Europe I should attend.
Q: You’ve since dropped that manufacturer. What happened?
A: They were counterfeiters. They would make the same shoes and try to sell them for less. It’s actually a very common practice, but that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with it.
Q: How did you learn about the counterfeiting?
A: Our segment of the industry is quite small. Everything gets back to us. Our retailers police what’s going out on the street. It was a phone call from a client who said, “We just want you to know this is happening”–a competing retailer sent in an ad that used our shoes and our name to promote these counterfeit shoes.
Q: Los Angeles isn’t exactly a hotbed for footwear designers. Why have you chosen to remain here?
A: I’m a firm believer in downtown Los Angeles. It is my hope that one day we can actually purchase a building and have permanent corporate offices in downtown Los Angeles. I’m in love with the diversity of cultures and the economic diversity down here. From a fashion point of view, this is where a lot of the youthful, more casual trends start. You can always pick some element of that and interpret it to the higher-end consumer by using higher-end, more exotic materials.
Q: Have you built the company with people who had experience at competitors?
A: Typically not. I prefer to hire young talents who haven’t developed bad habits. It took years, but I finally have a team I feel is right on. Out of our entire employee mix, we have four to five team members who came from other shoe companies. The others are either out of school or came from a different industry.