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

Los Angeles Business Journal,  August 2, 2004  by Rebecca Flass

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.

Creating Comfort in Heels Print E-mail

Fashion and function rarely go hand in hand, but when an orthopedic surgeon takes to designing, possibilities abound.

Dr. Taryn Rose, a Los Angeles resident of Vietnamese descent, revolutionized the footwear industry in 1998 when she introduced a line of luxury shoes that were not only fashionable and feminine, but also surprisingly well-designed and functional.

Inspired by her own aching feet, after hours in three-inch heels, and by the patients she saw—countless women with serious injuries caused by their own high–heels —Rose was determined to make shoes that felt as good as they looked. “It’s a very fine balancing act,” she says. “And it’s a matter of adjusting things by millimeters.”

Taryn Rose designPointing to her line’s classic, black wedge with a peep toe, she explains that they went through three versions of the shoe, each time making slight adjustments, to get the perfect balance for the design. “First of all, they’re made so that they fit a real woman’s foot, instead of Barbie’s,” Rose says. “My shoes are not pointed. They tend to be round or square toed. Many of them have an arch built in for support and to redistribute the weight evenly.”

Born in Vietnam, Rose and her family relocated to Arkansas in 1975. She moved to California in 1981 and later earned a medical degree from the University of Southern California. After moving from medicine to fashion in the late 1990s, Rose opened her first boutique in Beverly Hills in 1999. Since, she has added locations in New York, San Jose and Las Vegas. In October 2006, another Taryn Rose storefront opened its doors in Seoul, South Korea.

In 2003, she expanded the business in another way by adding a men’s collection, and she has also moved into handbag design, something she feels is a natural extension for the brand especially with the growing demand from her shoe fans. “People don’t necessarily match anymore, but they like things to coordinate, and they know I would always do things with function,” Rose says.

East West caught up with the foot-friendly designer, just two days after her return from the opening of the South Korea store, to talk about family, feet and the future.


What does an average day at work consist of for you? Or is there such a thing as an average day?

What I love about being an entrepreneur is that every day is different. I just came back from a trip to Seoul to open up the store. There, I gave interviews all day for two days. Then, I flew to Paris to do market research there, so I was walking around Paris. I came back here on Tuesday and went trick-or-treating with my kids. Yesterday I came in and had a marketing meeting where I had to approve of photos for our brochures and ads. I looked at an ad budget to approve of where we are going to run advertisements. Following that, I met with my financial team to get the results, the monthly numbers. And this morning, after parent-teacher conferences, I was on a conference call for a panel I’m going to be at in New York on Monday. It is for the Women’s Leadership Exchange. No two days alike. 

You support a lot of charities. Tell us about that.

Breast cancer research is important to us because we get support from so many women that we wanted to support a cause that would affect women. I also contribute to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles because I trained there. They’re very good and I really believe in their mission to treat the children of Los Angeles, no matter what their income is, in the highest standard of care. We also contribute a great deal in New York to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. And then also, besides our monetary contributions, I also allow each of our employees one week off per year for volunteer work.

How do you balance your professional and personal life?

It’s never a balance. It’s very difficult. I call it equilibrium because priorities change from moment to moment. I have a lot of help, and I just have very little time for myself. I guess that’s what gets left out.

Has your ethnic background, the Asian culture, affected your work?

I think the stereotypical work ethic is very true. I have a very strong work ethic, a lot of dedication. I think it’s really helped me through all the tough times. Even now, as glamorous as it is to travel, it’s very exhausting. You need to have the strength and the inner resolve to get through those moments when it’s not so fun.

What are you most proud of so far?

I think to create an entirely new brand that didn’t exist before from nothing. I had very little capital. When I started, I didn’t have major investors. I still remember someone telling me, “Forget it. You’ll never be able to do it because you need $5 million to create a new brand.” And I was like “ I don’t have $5 million.” But I managed to do it against great odds.

How did you overcome those odds?

By doing this in a different way. Because I didn’t have money to advertise, I did a lot of work through P.R. and guerilla marketing. And just being more resourceful. As most entrepreneurs do, I wore many hats when I first started.

What does the future hold for the company? What are you looking forward to most?

To continue to grow, especially internationally. To make Taryn Rose a household name. To become one of the great American brands such as Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren  . . . to be that recognized.



Taryn Rose
9536 Brighton Way
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 273-5331
For more locations, visit www.tarynrose.com

Taryn Rose Bio

March 20, 2007

Dr. Taryn Rose
  Taryn Rose changed the footwear industry in 1998 by creating a line of luxury shoes that are as fashionable as they are functional. Her idea of being well dressed with a sense of well being touched a nerve with women from coast-to coast, creating a dedicated following for her footwear collection.

After her first year of business, she opened a boutique in Beverly Hills, California in 1999. Women traveled from as far as New Hampshire and purchased up to 20 pairs of shoes before returning home. This inspired Rose to immediately open a second boutique in New York and by 2002, opened a third in San Jose, California. Most recently adding a fourth store at the Forum Shops in Las Vegas.

Formally trained as an orthopedic surgeon, Rose saw patients with many serious foot problems that were caused by fashion footwear, high heels and pointed toes. Being a lover of beautiful footwear, her own feet ached after 14-hour days in shoes with three-inch heels.

With her own appreciation of designer goods, Rose created her collection using the most luxurious materials available and crafted the line to be worn with the finest clothing. The shoes are made by highly skilled artisans in Italy, with almost three hours of hand labor in each pair.

In fall 2003, Rose launched a complete men’s collection that spans from dress to casual. Celebrated by retailers, the men’s collection is carried in select specialty stores and Taryn Rose Boutiques.

Rose has been featured on CNN News Night with Aaron Brown, Oprah, Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer, Discovery Channel’s Berman and Berman, National Public Radio All Things Considered, Fine Living Network’s Radical Sabbatical, Later Today Show and news shows across the country. Recent editorial profiles include Fast Company, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, Entrepreneur and Los Angeles Times Magazine. Fashion editorials include Instyle, O Magazine, Vanity Fair, WWD, Cargo, Vitals, Entertainment Weekly, LA Magazine, Shape and Real Simple.

In addition to earning her medical degree from University of California School of Medicine in Los Angeles, Taryn Rose has been recognized for her numerous honors: Women’s President’s Organization and Fast Company magazine ranked her first in a new entrepreneurial competition of distinction, “25 Women Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing The Game” (2005). New York Moves magazine recognized her as one of the most powerful women in New York City (2005), distinguished role model and entrepreneur in the city of Los Angeles during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (2003); recognized by the Women’s Venture Fund as an outstanding entrepreneur during the Highest Leaf Awards in New York (2003), and by the Small Business Administration as one of four outstanding women entrepreneurs honored during the 50th Anniversary of the SBA in Washington DC 2003).

Close to her heart, Rose regularly participates in projects to support the Breast Cancer Research Center in New York City, The Joyce Eisenberg Keefer Breast Center at John Wayne Cancer Institute, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Aids Project Los Angeles and the Clothes Off Our Back Organization.